and Video Courtesy of WFTV Channel 9
By Todd Ulrich
Published February 18, 2021
A Central Florida couple claimed the homeowner’s
association threatened to foreclose on their house for a debt they did
Cindy Decker and her husband raised six children in
the home they’ve lived in for 26 years.
Their bitter, two-year battle with the homeowner’s association to save
their house still seems unreal to them.
“They put me through hell,” Decker said.She had not paid her
association’s annual dues on time.
The Lake Harney Woods Property Owners Association added late fees.
Decker delivered a check for $892 to cover everything she owed.“ Did you
fear losing your house?” Action 9's Todd Ulrich asked.
“Yes, they told me all the time, ‘You have 30 days or
we’re foreclosing,’” Decker replied. One month after Decker says she
paid in full, the association filed a lien against her home to collect
unpaid dues and fees.
It’s the first step toward foreclosure. The motion was filed by DHN
Attorneys, a new law firm the association was using. But Decker had paid
the association’s previous attorney right before the switch.
She has a receipt to show the full payment was received. But according
to Decker, DHN Attorneys kept insisting she owed $1,300.Decker said she
took her case to a Lake Harney HOA meeting.
“I thought for sure once I showed all the evidence in front of the board
with all my neighbors it would be done and over,” she said.
But she claims the HOA president blamed her for paying the wrong law
firm, then refused to end the foreclosure threat.“ Did it feel like a
runaway train coming right at you?” Ulrich asked. “Oh yeah! And there
was no stopping it. That’s why I had to get an attorney involved,”
Decker hired consumer attorney Jared Lee.“Did this HOA and its law firm
cross the line?” Ulrich asked.
“It did, in a dramatic way,” Lee responded. Lee says it’s common for
some HOAs and their law firms to hit homeowners with punishing fees for
late dues and he says Florida association laws offer little protection.
But this time, Lee filed a federal lawsuit claiming the HOA and its law
firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
“Both of those statutes protect consumers from collections that had
already been paid, from harassment and abuse in the collection process,”
Lee said. The association and DHN settled before trial.Without admitting
wrongdoing, both agreed to pay Decker $33,000 in damages.
Lee says that sends a message that abusive associations “need to be
careful when collecting from consumers, careful to follow the law.” The
HOA did not respond to Ulrich’s questions.
DHN Attorneys told Action 9 its firm relies on information provided by
others and issues arise on rare occasions. The law firm also said it
took the homeowner’s claim seriously and couldn’t comment further
because of the litigation.
“Now they’ve got to pay you $33,000?” Ulrich asked.“Karma, yep,” Decker
replied. Homeowners doing battle with their HOAs should document all
payments, get receipts and if the dispute involves debt collection,
homeowners have rights that will be honored in court."