News 2 I-Team: Dealing with problem HOAs

The homeowners at Palmetto Place Condominiums are staring down thousands of dollars in fees and an increase in their monthly dues.   One fee for $649.73 is being used to address a budget shortfall from 2016 and another $3,080.35 assessment is being used to address deferred maintenance like exterior painting and siding replacement.

“I would describe it as a really disgusting situation,” Nora deLyra told Rebecca Collett.

That situation keeps getting worse the more the homeowners find out. Bills the HOA pays haven’t been paid on time.

“Our water bills are past due,” deLyra explained.  “Our electric bill is past due.”

While the News 2 I-Team was meeting with the concerned owners, they called the insurance company to confirm if those bills were being paid. On the phone, the agent told deLyra there was a lapse.

The owners said they weren’t getting resolution with the HOA board members.  The board members don't live in the condos.

“The biggest issue here to me is that someone is infringing on my property rights,” deLyra explained.

So the I-Team tracked them down to get answers. Former board president Max Mazzone, who lives in Florida, referred the I-Team to a public relations firm who sent us a statement answering our questions. The statement on behalf of the board, explained the bills were late because the community transitioned to a new property management company. Some of the bills were late in the transition.  The statement insisted there wasn’t a lapse in insurance.

The statement further explained the increase in dues was in part because many homeowners weren’t paying their part.

“The board had determined that the increase in dues was appropriate and necessary to ensure financial health for the association going forward. The board surveyed the market and found that the new monthly figure is comparable on a per-unit basis to the association dues found at other condo projects in the area,” according to the statement.

But that’s not the biggest problem for deLyra and the other Palmetto Place owners.

“The biggest issue here to me is that someone is infringing on my property rights,” deLyra explained.

In 2016, Mazzone signed off on an easement agreement that stipulated condo owners would share the pool, other amenities, parking spots and community entrance with future tenants in apartments being built on the adjacent land. Mazzone represented both the HOA in his capacity as a board member and the new apartment complex in the agreement.

When the I-Team pressed for answers about the easement, we were told the pool isn’t actually on the condo owners’ land, and the easement gives them continued access to it.  The condo master deed granted access to the pool all along, and the owners’ dues have maintained it.

“The pool was only required (by the master deed) to be conveyed to the association if the land contemplated for Phase 2 was submitted to the condo regime. That never happened,” the statement from the HOA board explained. “The owner of the Phase 2 land continues to look for ways to enhance the property for the benefit of all owners and residents,” the statement continued.

Questions to ask before buying

Some 62 million Americans are governed by HOAs.  Builders craft the rules before the first house is constructed. Before buying, local realtor Jayme Knoll cautions buyers to read the covenants in their entirety  and review the financials.  She says pay close attention to what’s in the reserves.

“If there’s not enough to do something that is necessary, you will get assessed,” Knoll explained.  “It can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars.”

Before entering into a contract on a property, get these questions answered:

What’s the price for the HOA?

What does it cover?

What is required of you?

And what does the HOA restrict?

HOAs can mandate what kind and how many pets you can own; when you have to take your trash in and out; how many cars you can have in the driveway; and many other things.

If you’re already in an HOA situation, the best advice from construction law attorney David Parrish is to go the meetings.

“You can understand the issues that are going on,” he explained. “You can understand why your dues may go up. If nothing else, showing up tells them you’re at least paying attention to what they’re doing.”

Realtors say if you have an issue with your HOA, don’t stop paying your dues.  The HOA can take steps to foreclose on your home if you don’t pay.

With the jump in dues, the owners in Palmetto Place requested previous audits of the records. There isn’t one.  The board said they are starting the process to get one.

Other grievances will be addressed at a board meeting later this month.

 

*Correction: In the previous version of this story Max Mazzone was listed as a current board member.  He is the previous board president. 

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