‘Decogate’ resident may take HOA to court

Article Courtesy of Lakewood Ranch Herald

Published March 28, 2010 


LAKEWOOD RANCH — Homeowner Joani Ellis says she may now sue the Summerfield/Riverwalk Homeowners Association after board members voted 5-0 not to waive a fine of more than $4,000 against her for excess yard decorations.

The board members — Shirley Surowiec, Vicky Horswood, Robert Swiatek, Marlene Van Pelt and Tom Cofer — didn’t comment during a board meeting Thursday at Town Hall on why they voted against an appeal letter read by Ellis.

But Friday, Surowiec, board president, said in a statement: 

“The Summerfield/Riverwalk board of directors followed the proper procedures that were established in our documents for the waiver request of Ms. Ellis. Residents are to sign and follow the homeowners’ manual when moving to a deed restricted community. The only issue before the board was her waiver request, and no other issue was discussed.

“Each board member was elected by Lakewood Ranch residents to follow the correct procedures, and not make any changes, when hearing a waiver. We are always reminded to have a high standard of care and conduct at our meetings. After study of the waiver statement and the compliance violation report, the vote was 5-0 against the waiver.”

Surowiec said Ellis can now take her case, if she chooses, to a restriction revision meeting July 21 to review or change any modifications covered in the manual.

“This committee is formed by members of all neighborhood committees, and chaired by one board member,” Surowiec said.

In a case that has become known as “decogate,” Ellis created a yard in 1999 that contains two metal poodles and two collages attached as one piece with shells and fish made from resin.

Ellis started being fined $50 per day in 2006. The fine was dropped for a period, then reinstated.

A homeowners association rule states that three decorative items per front yard are allowed.

Roughly 30 people attended Thursday’s board meeting. Ellis’ attorney, Dan Lobeck, was not present, but a board attorney was, Ellis said.

Ellis has argued that there are still scores of Summerfield homes with more than three decorative items.

She backed up her claims by taking photos of other homes, including those of Lakewood Ranch homeowner and district officials who were also in violation of the three-item rule.

Lobeck said Ellis’ case shows selective enforcement, as well as violation of statute of limitations, since her yard display was up seven years before she was fined.

“If the items were there since 1999, why did it take so long to be cited?” Ellis said. “I plan to continue to defend my rights as necessary,” she added. “I will use any means at my disposal to seek appropriate recompense and compensation.

“It is unfortunate for the homeowners that some of the board members and our property manager persist in pursuing personal vendettas, instead of serving in a representative way. Their actions will continue to cost Summerfield/Riverwalk homeowners more money and loss of reputation.”

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