Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Another renter evicted by homeowners' association
Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times
Published May 8, 2012
The Bridgewater homeowner's association doesn't own the house Connie Hicks rented.
But that didn't stop the association from evicting Hicks, giving her 24 hours to pack up and leave. Now a new family lives there and they're paying $250 more a month in rent.
What's more, the money is going to help pay off a lien the association filed against the homeowner.
"It created a big mess for me," said Hicks, who lived there for seven months. "I wouldn't want any other renter to go through this." Hicks was shocked because she thought she did everything she was asked to by the association and by the courts.
Still, she was booted from the house as part of Bridgewater's controversial legal strategy, first reported by The Tampa Tribune earlier this month and now the subject of news coverage nationwide.
The association's aggressive interpretation of Florida law has legal experts debating how much power a homeowner's association has. One Bridgewater homeowner is taking her case
Connie Hicks says she was given 24 hours to leave the Wesley Chapel home she was renting. The notice came not from the landlord but from the homeowners association.

to court this week, and the outcome could set legal precedent statewide.
The association's president, Mark Spector, and its attorney, Geraldine Holloway, didn't respond to requests for comment from the Tribune. Holloway did send a letter to Media General of Richmond, Va., which owns the Tribune and News Channel 8.
The letter said the association's "goal is to ensure that all owners in the community pay their share. It has no desire to 'dispossess owners' and utilizes the rent demand procedure when other collection efforts fail."
Court records show that so far this year, the association tried to evict tenants in six houses. The association is using a Florida law that says an association can evict a tenant if the homeowner fails to pay association fees.
Bridgewater goes through the legal process of evicting, but what happens next has some real estate attorneys and homeowners crying foul.
The association asked the judge to appoint a receiver -- an accountant who manages the property and rents it out to a new tenant. After expenses are paid, the money left over goes to the homeowners association.
"The HOA can't rent out a home it doesn't own," said south Florida attorney Jean Winters, who represents associations and homeowners alike. "And the association can't force the homeowner to rent their home. What would happen if they want to move back in?"
Hicks' case highlights how frustrating Bridgewater's legal strategy can be for tenants.
Under Florida law, if a landlord faces a lien for unpaid fees, an association can require the tenant to pay rent to the association until the lien is satisfied.
If the tenant refuses, the association can evict. But Hicks did pay, and the association asked a judge to evict her anyway.
Hicks said she received a letter from the Bridgewater association Jan. 10 directing her to pay her rent to the association. But she said she had already paid rent for the month to her landlord.
In such a case, Florida law says, the tenant must submit a receipt to the court then start paying the association.
Hicks submitted her February rent to the court, along with a receipt showing she already paid January rent to her landlord.
But the judge ruled Hicks should have deposited December and January rent with the court, too, and approved the eviction.
In addition, Hicks' landlord, Nixon Chanea, said he tried to pay the association, but Chanea said the president and attorney would not return his calls or letters asking what he owed. Chanea said he missed a yearly $225 association fee and is willing to pay what he owes, but he questions the thousands of dollars the association billed him, mostly for attorney fees and late charges.
Chanea's story is similar to Joanne McCarn's.
The lien amount on McCarn's home was $2,565. McCarn doesn't fully understand the itemized accounting the association later provided her, but it appears to include special assessments imposed broadly in Bridgewater because so many homes are in foreclosure.
Still, most of the lien appears to be fines and legal costs unique to McCarn and a $500 "rental fee."
She said she had been keeping up with her annual homeowners association dues of $225 but missed one payment when her mother died. She said she's willing to pay what she owes but thinks the association is tacking on fees just to rack up her bill.
"We did everything we thought was right to resolve this," McCarn said.
"I even went to Mr. Spector's house to try to resolve it. He threw me off his property. He threw my husband off his property."