Courtesy of Your Observer.com
By Pam Eubanks
April 1, 2010
— Summerfield resident Joani Ellis is standing by her decision to keep her
yard decorations as they are, even as fines against her accrue daily. So far she
owes about $4,000.
But Ellis isn’t the only one standing firm.
Despite her request for a waiver, during a homeowner’s association meeting
March 25, the Summerfield/Riverwalk Village Association board upheld a
Compliance Committee decision to enforce the fines against Ellis, without
discussion, and to continue fining her $50 a day until she removes excess items.
Ellis now will take her battle to court, maintaining her position that the HOA
is selectively enforcing the rules and has passed the statute of limitations for
imposing certain deed restrictions against her property, which has looked the
same for a decade.
“The SRVA board continues to selectively enforce the rules and disregard state
statues and business law,” Ellis said after the meeting. “Because of
tonight’s unfortunate decision, I plan to continue to defend my rights as
necessary, and I will use any means at my disposal to seek appropriate
recompense and compensation.”
Ellis said she expects to file the lawsuit sometime this week. Although the move
may end up forcing SRVA to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees, Ellis said
it’s an action that must be taken on behalf of homeowners.
“They need to abide by state law,” Ellis said.
Ellis also indicated she has been approached by about a dozen other Summerfield
residents who have asked her to start a class-action lawsuit. The notion is
something she is considering, but Ellis said she has no plans to act on it at
Ellis’ attorney Daniel Lobeck, whose firm normally represents homeowners
associations, said Ellis’ case is defensible.
“Ms. Ellis’ case is as good as I’ve ever seen,” Lobeck said. “She has
open and shut defenses against enforcement by the association — those are the
statute of limitations, selective enforcement and ambiguity and unreasonableness
of the restrictions.”
Lobeck also said he tells his HOA clients they must look beyond the restriction
itself and determine what their defense may be should the association be taken
SRVA’s attorney was on hand at the March 24 HOA meeting to make sure the board
was on “solid legal grounds” in its decision.
SRVA Board of Directors President Shirley Suroweic said the board followed
procedure in considering Ellis’ waiver request.
“Each board member was elected by Lakewood Ranch residents to follow the
correct procedures and not make any changes when hearing a waiver,” she said.
“We are always reminded to have a high standard of care and conduct at our
meetings. After study of the waiver statement, the compliance violation report,
the vote was 5-0 against the waiver. Homeowners were to sign and follow the
homeowner’s manual when moving to a deed-restricted community.”
Among deed restrictions spelled out in Summerfield/Riverwalk Village Association
documents is a provision limiting the number and style of decorative items in
homeowners’ front yards. Ellis was cited for having too many yard decorations
first in 2006, accruing a $1,600 fine for failing to remove them. After having
an attorney write SRVA a letter claiming the entity had passed its statute of
limitations for enforcement and was selectively enforcing the concept, the daily
Then, in December 2009, Ellis again received a letter about the violation. Fines
began accruing in February after the SRVA Compliance Committee decided to
enforce the fee.
Ellis said she believes some of the board members and property manager are
pursuing “personal vendettas” but declined to elaborate.
“I hold the specifics for court,” she said.
Surowiec said SRVA review deed restrictions are reviewed annually. Deed
homeowners are welcome to attend the meeting, which will be held July 21 this
year for SRVA, to review or change modifications covered in the manual.
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