LAKEWOOD RANCH — Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President and CEO Rex Jensen is calling for reason and common sense following the latest disputed homeowner’s association fine in Lakewood Ranch.
Greenbrook Fields residents Malcolm and Karen Ronney last week paid a $2,250 fine for a small plaque they had placed on their home in 2006. The Ronneys, also owners of MacAllisters Grill & Tavern on Lakewood Ranch Main Street, are natives of Scotland, and the sign was part of their heritage.
“In Scotland, it’s (customary) to name your home,” Karen Ronney. “The sign says, ‘Albanach,’ which his Gaelic for ‘Scotsman.’”
But the sign, measuring about 12 inches by 4 inches, violated Greenbrook regulations. And more than three years later, the Greenbrook Homeowner’s Association sent the fine plus interest to the Gulf Coast Collection Bureau.
Jensen, who has remained silent on the issue since Summerfield resident Joani Ellis told her story to The East County Observer Feb. 11, now is asking community leaders to reevaluate their practices.
“I see the equity on both sides,” Jensen said of the fines. “But it comes to a point: Can’t we all just get reasonable? A plaque is not the world’s biggest problem.
“Had it been me (on the board), I wouldn’t have said, ‘Rules are rules,’ he said. “I wouldn’t have taken a cannon out to shoot a fly.”
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Natives of Scotland, the Ronneys moved to Lakewood Ranch in 2004 specifically to open their Scottish-themed restaurant on Main Street. They bought their home in Greenbrook Fields and then a condo a year later. Finally, in 2006, the Ronneys were among the first restaurateurs on Lakewood Ranch’s retail crown jewel.
As with their business, the Ronneys wanted to show their Scottish pride at home and placed the “Albanach” sign on the front of their house. But it wasn’t long before they received the first letter alerting them of the code violation.
The Ronneys initially disputed the violation. The HOA then held a hearing on Nov. 22, 2006, and established that it would fine the Ronneys $50 per day until the sign was removed.
According to current Greenbrook HOA President Tom Headley, the Ronneys sent a letter to the HOA Dec. 4, 2006, asking for a procedural variance. On Dec. 12, 2006, the HOA left a voice mail for the Ronneys and then about one month later, on Jan. 4, 2007, sent them a letter notifying them of the $2,150 fine they faced because the sign was still up.
Four days later, on Jan. 8, 2007, the Ronneys removed the sign.
The sign had been up for 47 days total. At $50 per day, the fine totaled $2,250, Headley said.
PLUS THREE YEAR’S INTEREST
After removing the sign, the Ronneys say they did not receive any more communication from the HOA. They did not pay the fine and allowed it to stay dormant for more than two years.
“We’re not innocent in this,” Karen Ronney said. “We didn’t hear anything, and we thought it had gone away.”
And in a way, it had. Headley noted the previous HOA board had decided it would not send to collection any fine of less than $5,000. But in July 2009, the current board voted to send all unpaid fines to collection. Headley could not recall the number of fines, but the Ronneys’ violation was among them.
Last November, the Ronneys received a notice from the Gulf Coast Collection Bureau of the fine — which had increased to $3,278.59 because of interest that had accumulated in the last three years.
In December, Malcolm Ronney called Headley to appeal the new fine. Headley advised him to present his case at the Feb. 25 board meeting.
The Ronneys did not attend the meeting but sent a letter asking for a reduction in the fine.
“What I am asking to be considered is a reduction in the fine, a new amount to be (issued) and the existing fine to be deleted,” Malcolm Ronney wrote.
The HOA decided it would eliminate the accrued interest and bring the Ronneys’ fine back to $2,250.
“We took off more than $1,000,” Headley said.
The Ronneys paid the reduced fine — primarily to put an end to the dispute and preserve their credit, they said. They don’t know what they will do with the “Albanach” but are considering placing it in MacAllisters.
With their dispute over, the Ronneys now hope their story can elicit change in the governing practices of Lakewood Ranch’s HOAs.
“I wish SMR were still in charge,” Malcolm Ronney said. “If SMR were in charge, this would have been nipped in the bud. Common sense would have prevailed.
“Something has to change,” he said.
Some things have. Headley noted the Greenbrook’s HOA has changed its fine structure and eliminated the daily fine. According to the Greenbrook Homeowners’ Manual, the fine for signs is now $25 per month. Not counting interest, the Ronneys’ fine would have been about $50 under the new fine structure.
However, Headley cautioned that the board cannot change drastically its rules for any one resident.
“As a board, we need to be careful about what we do,” he said. “We set precedents that affect every homeowner.”
Furthermore, Headley said many HOAs are facing budgetary restrictions because of the increase in foreclosures and vacant properties. Last year, those properties added up to $32,247 in uncollected Greenbrook HOA dues, Headley said. Moreover, the HOA is incurring additional costs to keep the lawns and landscaping of those empty homes up to HOA standards.
And although Jensen said SMR will not become involved in HOA matters, he encouraged leaders not to take SMR’s original rules as gospel.
“I don’t buy the ‘These are the rules SMR gave us’ argument,” Jensen said. “As a developer, we did not necessarily envision every little thing, so as you go through life, you encounter it, and maybe it’s something you didn’t anticipate.
“You can’t take these things as chiseled in stone, as commandments,” he said. “If they aren’t working for you, then modify them. … You have got to apply reason and common sense, and you need to look at what your priorities are.”
Contact Michael Eng at email@example.com.
Currently 13 Responses
- For to long I have seen a lack of involvement of the residents in this community pretaining to Town Hall management issues and now fines for lawn ornaments and signs that are over the top. But I'm not suprised, it had to come to a boiling point at some time. Residents need to be more involved with how thier community is being run and by whom. Some suggestions; change the time for the District meetings that are held once a month to say 6:00p.m. in the evening so residents who work days would be able to attend. Same for the accounting and invoice meetings. Same for the IDA board meetings, deed restriction, your district be it 1 thru 5 budget meetings. If you want to make changes be involved. I have been to a number of these meetings and have seen little representation of the residents that live here. Not untill we have headlines that Town Hall is Toxic and Dysfunctional (which it is) and over the top fines for residents with minor attractions in their yards for people to start raising thier voices. Changes need to be made by the residents and for the residents.
- Bob Fernandez did come from Severn Trent in 07. Cynthia Wills came from SMR. Alan Roth was never with SMR, he was on the modifications committee for Summerfield
- Thank you Mr. Berns for jogging my memory. Mr. Fernandez worked for Severn Trent, the company that managed Lakewood Ranch for SMR (correct?), Cynthia Wills, & Alan Roth were both here under SMR (correct?). If Cynthia Wills is community manager and doesn't even live in Lakewood Ranch, and we have mostly the same people in place as before the transfer, exactly what homeowners are in charge of Lakewood Ranch? What has changed?
They are still fining people like crazy, the irrigation system still doesn't work, accounting is sloppy and no one is at home in the safety department because all the fire hydrants are covered up by bushes.
That doesn't sound like the caring actions of homeowners I know.
- I was sent letters asking me to "edge the flower bed", which in my mind was take the edge trimmer and cut around the bed. Three months later I got a bill for $2200 (a 'reasonable' $25/day). I was never explained what "edge the flower bed" meant.
Two years later, I haven't paid it, and they've tacked on $500 in interest, plus another $250 for their lawyer to read a letter I sent them. I plan to hold out until I move, at which time I'll be calling in the TV and newspaper reporters. The more I read about these abuses, the more irate I become. I live in Duluth GA..
- Mr. Fernandez was never employed by SMR. You are wrong and have now been corrected.
- Mr. Fernandez, was never employed by SMR. He came to the IDA from the firm that served as district manager for the various CDDs, a position mandated by statute.
- I think it is time to move.....
- In my opinion, Cynthia Wills is not fit to do her job. I feel she has done more to hurt this community then all the rules violators put together and then some.
Employees around her are quitting in droves, law suits have been filed, some residents are terrified of her and her tactics and others are boiling mad over the way she treats homeowners. What else needs to be said or done to get this woman off her throne? She is a disgrace to this community.
- And are people aware there are Bills being introduced to the Florida Senate that will allow the HOA Boards to FORECLOSE on a home for a $1000. 00 fine.
The state needs a homeowner bill of rights. Let your Senator and Reps know it is time to stop the insanity!
- With all do respect Mr. Jensen, Town Hall is a long way from fair and reasonable. Selectively enforcing the rules against one homeowner and not another is discrimination and a violation of the Florida Statutes and Fair Housing Laws. These people (mostly the same people that were in charge under SMR-control by the way, Fernandez came over from SMR during the switchover-please correct me if I'm wrong) should not be in charge.
Also, by violating the same rules, board members are in breach of their fiduciary duty, thus forfeiting any authority to fine homeowners at all. Give every one their fine money back and quit behaving like the Gestapo. Now that's fair and reasonable, not to mention lawful.
- I don't understand how these people can charge the Ronneys $2,500 and in the same time frame change the fees for the same offense to $50! Everyone knows the Ronneys and how much they do to help this community, and the community does THIS to THEM? Disgraceful!
- Common Sense is what needs to be restored! This is what Ms Ellis, the Ronney's, and Mr. Jensen all know as professional business people. Let's hope these Boards realize it is time to restore LWR to a Neighborhood.
We are all paying to help keep the foreclosed homes yards maintained. Stop penalizing individualism, and LWR will be a better place (like when SMR was in charge)
- It is nice to have a voice of reason being heard on HOA matters. I only wish that Mr. Jensen and others of his mindset were the ones controlling most of the HOA/CDD boards in the county. Greyhawk Landing has "patrols" that go looking for violations rather than dealing only with those that are brought to their attention. I do not think that this was the intention of any of the developers. It is truly getting out of hand with power-hungry, reactionary individuals governing the actions of their neighbors without regard for common sense and a "good neighbor" attitude tempering the chiseled in stone rules they feel it is their duty to administer. Please, let's start letting common sense and common courtesy prevail in our actions.
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