Article Courtesy of The Tampa
By D'Ann Lawrence White
March 7, 2017
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Joelle Ann Ober has upheld
the sale of the Riverview home where Tina and Luis Lopez have lived 12
years and raised their two children. The home was sold to an investor at
a public auction for $19,000 and a new certificate of title has been
Tina Lopez shared the bad news with her 16-year-old son, Anthony, but
hesitated to tell 8-year-old daughter, Jessica.
"This is the only
home Jessica's ever known," Tina Lopez said. "I don't
know how I'm going to tell her. We're just devastated."
The Lopez family isn't packing their bags just yet,
though. They've hired Tampa attorney Ryan Torrens, whose
practice specializes in homeowner association
foreclosures, for a last ditch attempt. Torrens filed an
emergency request Monday to vacate the judge's decision.
The Lopez family's story, published last month in the
Tampa Bay Times, drew widespread reaction from others in
the same boat and from critics of those homeowners
associations who use aggressive means, including
foreclosure, to collect dues and fees.
In Lopez family's case, the Rivercrest Community
Association failed to record a $150 annual payment they
made in 2009. They even have a canceled check showing
they made the payment.
But that didn't stop thousands of dollars in late fees, lawyers costs
and liens to accrue in the seven years afterward. Combined with a
notification system that favors homeowners associations over homeowners,
their property landed on the auction block.
"Many of the association foreclosures in this state are nothing more
than a scheme for the associations to take someone's home over failure
to pay very small fees and for their attorneys to hit homeowners with
excessive attorney's fees," attorney Torrens said.
Tens of thousands of property owners in Florida have incurred excessive
fees for delinquent homeowner association dues or deed restriction
violations, he said.
"It's happening every day in this state."
Torrens blames state laws that relieve associations of responsibility
for notifying homeowners when they are late with dues or face fines. The
laws even allow the payments, once made, to be applied first toward
attorney fees, allowing the amount owed to continue piling up.
No change in the laws to address this concern has been introduced in the
legislative session that gets underway this week, but Hillsborough
County Commission Chairman Stacy White said he has spoken about it with
"The state of Florida is the only level of government with a measure of
oversight capability for citizens who have difficulties with their
homeowners associations," White said.
Meantime, more people find themselves in a situation similar to the
Richard Amisson, who lives in Canada in the summer and Sun City Center
in the winter, got a letter from the Bush Ross law firm in Tampa — the
same firm that went after the Lopez family — saying he failed to make
three monthly homeowner association payments of $455 each.
Amisson purchased a home in the Kings Point development in February
"I never missed a payment," he said. "I have records showing they cashed
my check every month."
The letter from Bush Ross arrived Oct. 20, eight days after the firm
already had placed a lien on his home for $2,670.
While the Lopez family agreed to make monthly payments to Bush Ross,
"We love this place but I'm stubborn and I won't be blackmailed. This is
nothing more than legal extortion, racketeering."
Steve Menendez, a resident of Tampa Villas South in South Tampa, also
refuses to pay Bush Ross for a debt he says he never incurred.
"We always paid our association dues of $179 but there were two months
when we got behind and paid late," said Menendez, who is disabled and
lives on a fixed income. Instead of applying the late payments to
Menendez's annual dues, Bush Ross used them to cover interest and its
Now, Menendez is facing foreclosure and will argue his case in mediation
"These people have no conscience," he said.
Law firms like Bush Ross represent homeowners associations without
taking payment from them directly, collecting instead from the dues and
fines they win. Attorney Torrens said this violates the intent of state
laws, which only allow collection of attorney fees by the associations
Bush Ross attorney Charles Glausier said last week the firm does not
comment on pending litigation except through court filings.
In a previous interview, though, Glausier said all actions taken by his
office — involving contracts with hundreds of homeowners associations —
require association approval under state law.
"No attorney can take action without the client's instructions," he
said. "We follow the direction of the board of directors."
Amisson said that wasn't his experience.
"We sent proof of payments and got a letter back saying all the missing
money had been found," Amisson said. "We reported this to the
association president and that was the end of it, although we did have
to pay lawyer fees and a penalty to our association. For what I do not
Still, Bush Ross has not taken the lien off his home.
"Once it starts, you can't call them off," Amisson said.