Article Courtesy of The
Pensacola News Journal
By Kevin Robinson
Published May 11, 2020
Caleb Leitch's wife passed away unexpectedly in 2013, six months after they
bought a new home in Beulah.
Leitch, now 31, has spent the last few years putting himself through school,
working as a counselor for folks trying to quit tobacco and raising his
elementary school-aged son. The last thing on his mind was his homeowners
Now, in the midst of
the COVID-19 pandemic, he is about to lose his $230,000 home
over an $8,800 debt to his HOA and its attorneys.
According to Leitch's attorney, the First Judicial Circuit
appears to be one of the few court systems in Florida that
is proceeding with lien foreclosures despite an executive
order from Gov. Ron DeSantis suspending foreclosures and
evictions while more than one million Floridians are out of
Christine Kelly Fausel, a senior attorney for Legal Services
of North Florida, is representing Leitch in his foreclosure
case. Kelly Fausel said she believes this case and others
are moving forward based on a hyper-literal interpretation
of the governor's order, an interpretation she thinks is
both legally flawed and contrary to the spirit of the
"Obviously the intent is not to have people homeless during
COVID-19," Kelly Fausel said.
Homeowner Caleb Leitch is facing foreclosure on his
Beulah home because he owes $8,800 to his homeowners association.
Issued April 2, the governor's order put a 45-day suspension on any statute
providing for a mortgage foreclosure — the process which allows a lender to
evict a homeowner and sell their property if the homeowner defaults on their
Foreclosures suspended: Gov. Ron DeSantis orders foreclosures and evictions
suspended for 45 days
More testing: Gov. Ron DeSantis aiming at increasing test availability in
However, the governor's order contains no explicit prohibition on "lien
foreclosures." That process allows homeowners' associations and condominium
associations to place liens on the homes of members with unpaid fees and
assessments. The process can ultimately result in a "lien foreclosure" where the
home is auctioned off to pay the HOA or COA.
Kelly Fausel said the state statutes that govern the lien foreclosure process
are interdependent with the statutes that govern the mortgage foreclosure
process. She believes both should be paused under the governor's order.
Via email, a spokesperson for the First Circuit said it would not be appropriate
ethically for judges or staff to discuss their interpretation or application of
the law in this case, since it relates directly to a pending case and cases that
could arise in the future.
In a press conference Friday, DeSantis said that he was not aware lien
foreclosures were happening, and that he would have to find out more details
before addressing any specific case.
Speaking generally, however, DeSanits said, "We obviously put that in, in order
to give people a reprieve. It didn't mean that they never have to pay their
mortgage again. We were very clear about that. But just given the circumstances,
you may have had people who all of a sudden, if the economy stops, they didn't
have the ability to put food on the table. So we wanted to be doing things that
recognize that hardship and weren't compounding it."
He said all institutions were expected to comply with the order, and he
recommended that any citizen facing foreclosure reach out to their local
legislators, who could in turn coordinate an appropriate response with his
Leitch's HOA put a lien against his house for $856
When Leitch and his wife, Amy, bought their home in quiet, idyllic Blackberry
Ridge, they knew it was probably a bit more than they could afford.
"We were young, so we were a little bit above our means, but hopefully growing
into it," Leitch said. "I was finishing up school within the next year and
hopefully getting a better job. So we knew we were going to be in a little bit
of a bind for little while, but we'd be able to get our bills paid."
Amy's best friend moved into a spare room, and with three incomes, things went
smoothly for a while. However, Amy passed away suddenly halfway through their
first year in the house, and her friend moved out soon after.
Coping was difficult for Leitch and his young son, Jayden.
"I ended up quitting my job. I ended up flunking out of a bunch of classes,"
Leitch said. "As you can imagine, any time something like this happens in life,
it's never expected, and you just don't really know how to deal with it,
especially being 24 years old."
He said over the next few years, he started to get back on track, but he ended
up accruing a lot of financial baggage.
Court records indicate in 2015, attorneys for the Blackberry Ridge Homeowners'
Association sent a notice to Leitch that they intended to place a lien against
his home for $856.56 in outstanding fees.
Leitch said he didn't really pay much attention to the HOA communications until
"That was kind of in the back of my mind, but honestly, homeowners' association
dues were literally on the back of the back burner," he said. "I'm trying not to
lose my home, I'm trying to pay all these bills, and it was just a lot."
Still, he said, he reached out to the HOA in June 2017 to try to work out a
payment plan, and after three weeks of calling, he never got a call back. He
said he gave up for several months, but began reaching out again in early 2018.
After some back and forth, he reached a verbal agreement with the HOA that
whittled a roughly $2,000 bill to around $1,500. He said when he received the
paperwork, however, it was for the full amount, and when he tried to ask
questions, the HOA again failed to return his messages.
The Blackberry Ridge Homeowners' Association could not be reached for comment
for this story. An attorney and property manager for the HOA did not immediately
respond to requests for comment.
Leitch's debt went to collections, and in late 2019, Blackberry's attorneys
filed a complaint against Leitch in county court. A judge issued a final order
on April 9, 2020 — roughly a week after DeSantis' order — that determined Leitch
owed $1,564 on the principal balance, $1,044 in interest, $128 in late fees,
$1,780 in court costs and $4,380 in attorney fees.
Attorney estimates about a dozen similar cases throughout Panhandle
His house is going up for auction Thursday, and with COVID-19 social distancing
cutting his hours as a smoking cessation coach, Leitch said there's virtually no
chance he'll be able to pay off what he owes in time.
"I'm honestly not getting almost any hours at all," Leitch said. "I did file for
unemployment, but because I'm considered a personal contractor, they denied me
for employment. ... So it's been it's been a rough couple months, that's for
Leitch's attorney, Kelly Fausel, said she filed a memo to the court explaining
her argument for why the auction of Leitch's home should be put on pause.
"My argument would be that once (statute) sends you back to statutes that are
already stopped and suspended, then you've got to stop the foreclosure," she
She said by her count, there are about a dozen similar cases happening in
Escambia, Okaloosa and Walton counties. While she hasn't verified with all 67
counties, the only other place she has identified that's still processing lien
foreclosures is Hillsborough County.
"It's not a high number, and that's probably why nobody said anything: because
there's not that many people that it's affecting," Kelly Fausel said. "But in a
way, they've given homeowners' associations more power than a bank has right
now, and the bank is the one who gave you money to buy the house."