Courtesy of Your Observer
March 11, 2010
LAKEWOOD RANCH — Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President and
CEO Rex Jensen is calling for reason and common sense following the latest
disputed homeowner’s association fine in Lakewood Ranch.
Greenbrook Fields residents Malcolm and Karen Ronney last week paid a $2,250
fine for a small plaque they had placed on their home in 2006. The Ronneys, also
owners of MacAllisters Grill & Tavern on Lakewood Ranch Main Street, are
natives of Scotland, and the sign was part of their heritage.
Scotland, it’s (customary) to name your home,” Karen Ronney.
“The sign says, ‘Albanach,’ which his Gaelic for
But the sign, measuring about 12 inches by 4 inches, violated
Greenbrook regulations. And more than three years later, the
Greenbrook Homeowner’s Association sent the fine plus interest
to the Gulf Coast Collection Bureau.
Jensen, who has remained silent on the issue since Summerfield
resident Joani Ellis told her story to The East County
Observer Feb. 11, now is asking community leaders to
reevaluate their practices.
and Malcolm Ronney were fined $2,250 for placing this sign on their home
for 47 days in 2006-07
see the equity on both sides,” Jensen said of the fines. “But it comes to a
point: Can’t we all just get reasonable? A plaque is not the world’s biggest
“Had it been me (on the board), I wouldn’t have said, ‘Rules are rules,’
he said. “I wouldn’t have taken a cannon out to shoot a fly.”
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Natives of Scotland, the Ronneys moved to Lakewood Ranch in 2004 specifically to
open their Scottish-themed restaurant on Main Street. They bought their home in
Greenbrook Fields and then a condo a year later. Finally, in 2006, the Ronneys
were among the first restaurateurs on Lakewood Ranch’s retail crown jewel.
As with their business, the Ronneys wanted to show their Scottish pride at home
and placed the “Albanach” sign on the front of their house. But it wasn’t
long before they received the first letter alerting them of the code violation.
The Ronneys initially disputed the violation. The HOA then held a hearing on
Nov. 22, 2006, and established that it would fine the Ronneys $50 per day until
the sign was removed.
According to current Greenbrook HOA President Tom Headley, the Ronneys sent a
letter to the HOA Dec. 4, 2006, asking for a procedural variance. On Dec. 12,
2006, the HOA left a voice mail for the Ronneys and then about one month later,
on Jan. 4, 2007, sent them a letter notifying them of the $2,150 fine they faced
because the sign was still up.
Four days later, on Jan. 8, 2007, the Ronneys removed the sign.
The sign had been up for 47 days total. At $50 per day, the fine totaled $2,250,
PLUS THREE YEAR’S INTEREST
After removing the sign, the Ronneys say they did not receive any more
communication from the HOA. They did not pay the fine and allowed it to stay
dormant for more than two years.
“We’re not innocent in this,” Karen Ronney said. “We didn’t hear
anything, and we thought it had gone away.”
And in a way, it had. Headley noted the previous HOA board had decided it would
not send to collection any fine of less than $5,000. But in July 2009, the
current board voted to send all unpaid fines to collection. Headley could not
recall the number of fines, but the Ronneys’ violation was among them.
Last November, the Ronneys received a notice from the Gulf Coast Collection
Bureau of the fine — which had increased to $3,278.59 because of interest that
had accumulated in the last three years.
In December, Malcolm Ronney called Headley to appeal the new fine. Headley
advised him to present his case at the Feb. 25 board meeting.
The Ronneys did not attend the meeting but sent a letter asking for a reduction
in the fine.
“What I am asking to be considered is a reduction in the fine, a new amount to
be (issued) and the existing fine to be deleted,” Malcolm Ronney wrote.
The HOA decided it would eliminate the accrued interest and bring the Ronneys’
fine back to $2,250.
“We took off more than $1,000,” Headley said.
The Ronneys paid the reduced fine — primarily to put an end to the
dispute and preserve their credit, they said. They don’t know what they will
do with the “Albanach” but are considering placing it in MacAllisters.
With their dispute over, the Ronneys now hope their story can elicit change in
the governing practices of Lakewood Ranch’s HOAs.
“I wish SMR were still in charge,” Malcolm Ronney said. “If SMR were in
charge, this would have been nipped in the bud. Common sense would have
“Something has to change,” he said.
Some things have. Headley noted the Greenbrook’s HOA has changed its fine
structure and eliminated the daily fine. According to the Greenbrook
Homeowners’ Manual, the fine for signs is now $25 per month. Not counting
interest, the Ronneys’ fine would have been about $50 under the new fine
However, Headley cautioned that the board cannot change drastically its rules
for any one resident.
“As a board, we need to be careful about what we do,” he said. “We set
precedents that affect every homeowner.”
Furthermore, Headley said many HOAs are facing budgetary restrictions because of
the increase in foreclosures and vacant properties. Last year, those properties
added up to $32,247 in uncollected Greenbrook HOA dues, Headley said. Moreover,
the HOA is incurring additional costs to keep the lawns and landscaping of those
empty homes up to HOA standards.
And although Jensen said SMR will not become involved in HOA matters, he
encouraged leaders not to take SMR’s original rules as gospel.
“I don’t buy the ‘These are the rules SMR gave us’ argument,” Jensen
said. “As a developer, we did not necessarily envision every little thing, so
as you go through life, you encounter it, and maybe it’s something you
“You can’t take these things as chiseled in stone, as commandments,” he
said. “If they aren’t working for you, then modify them. … You have got to
apply reason and common sense, and you need to look at what your priorities
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