Harper Valley H.O.A.

Divorced, with an empty nest and a restless soul, in 2008 i bought a condominium in God’s Waiting Room*. A lovely home, two car garage with a deck and a lower patio, with landscaping, lawn mowing, and snow shoveling included. Use of a pool, tennis courts, shuffleboard, and clubhouse!

The price for this convenience is a monthly fee, paid to a Home Owners Association (H.O.A.) – led by residents serving on a board of directors.

Last August i rented the clubhouse to host the summer picnic for my former work colleagues and their families. Paid my $25, and wrote a check for another $25 as a security deposit, filled out paperwork, and set to organizing a party for about 50 people.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day, we hired a caterer and everyone in attendance had a chance to eat, relax, swim, and play outdoor games.

About a week later i received a letter in the mail from the H.O.A. “You have violated the occupancy of the clubhouse, and you let your guests use the pool, pool deck, lawn area, and tennis courts, which is not included in the clubhouse rental.”  The letter went on to state that as punishment, i would be fined $200, forbidden from using the clubhouse for 18 months, and that my security deposit would be withheld.

i. was. livid.

i requested a hearing. i had never seen anything limiting the number of guests at an event. i’d hosted my own 50th birthday party there, and easily had as many people there! A $200 fine for throwing a party? A party that lasted from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm on a Thursday afternoon?

Between my travel schedule, and that of the board, it took us a few months to get the hearing scheduled. i used the time to dig into rules, regulations, declarations, and as much information as i could. i prepared detailed notes, with a list of questions for the H.O.A. board.

i became quite familiar with the minutia of the rules and regulations. As i walked the dog every day, i documented several dozen violations – even catching one board member leaving his car parked at the clubhouse overnight without the required resident ID on the dashboard!

Last week it was finally time for the hearing – three months later i was still choking back anger. Studley came with me as my paralegal, with the job of taking notes and preventing me from getting stabby. i only had 15 minutes and didn’t want to waste it throwing punches.

Six men. One is a known rational, thoughtful, “pick up the phone, or stop by to chat” man. One is a retired military officer, with a haircut you can set your watch to, and is a stickler for abiding by rules. Another i know through our dogs – he has an elder doggo, and Mr. Pickles used to steal her toys on doggie splash day – nice enough man, but probably pushing 80 years old. The other three? Unknowns.

The H.O.A. chairman informed me of the rules of the hearing. A large man, with a Big Booming Voice, i immediately disliked him. “You have fifteen minutes to have your say. We may have things to say, too. We may ask questions, you may ask questions. After the hearing, we will make a decision in executive session, and you will be informed of our findings.”

“Got it. Thanks.” My standard “pinch off” line.

My first question was a genuine mystery. “i’ve looked through the regs, looked on the walls, searched records, but i can’t find the actual occupancy limit for this building. What IS the limit for the clubhouse?”

They squirmed a little. One of the Unknowns said “That is something we’re trying to lock down. It seems neither the Fire Department and the City have that information on file…”

My. Jaw. Unhinged.

i looked at H.O.A. Chairman and the Rules and Regs guy. “Let me make sure i understand this – you’ve charged me with violating an occupancy limit that doesn’t exist? Did i hear that right?”

More squirming. More discomfort. Once again, i said “Got it. Thanks.” and rolled into the next questions. i had been prepared to provide documentation on the actual number of people attending, but that clearly wasn’t going to be necessary.

For the next 10 minutes or so, i poked holes in their position. “In your own list of rules, dated October, 2015, you state that the H.O.A. board has the option to levy fines for violations of the rules, up to $50 per infraction. Why am i being fined $200?”

Rules and Regs: “That’s for each violation – you had people using the pool, pool deck, tennis courts and lawn area.”

“Got it. Thanks. [eyeroll] You also withheld my deposit of $25. That deposit was for the stated purpose (in your own regulations) of covering any damages, or cleaning deficiencies. There was no mention in your letter that i failed to clean, or left damages, so this is clearly punitive – amounting to an additional $25 fine.”

H.O.A. Board – [crickets, fumbling with notes]

So you state that clubhouse reservation doesn’t allow guests to use the pool, deck, etc. – but as a resident, i’m allowed to bring as many guests to the pool so long as i’m with them? i was with my guests all afternoon Isn’t that inconsistent?”

Rules and Regs: “We’re in the process of updating some of our rules and regulations…”

daisyfae: “Obviously.  That’s all i have. Thanks for your time.”

The rational board member gave me a grin and a wink and said “Daisyfae, now that you’re retired, i wish you’d consider joining the board!”

“Sugar, i’m not around much these days…”, smiled back at him, and put away my notes, while choking back a gigantic pile of rage.

i didn’t think it was possible for me to leave that hearing even angrier than i was when i walked in the door! What a bunch of incompetent bullies! Studley had to talk me off the ledge. i slept poorly, thinking that when those turdbags came back with their findings, i was going to contact my attorney and crunch more cherries!

By noon the next day, i received an email:

The Board appreciated your appearance at the hearing on November 27th, 2017. 

You made a strong case in pointing out the ambiguities currently present in the rules and regulations concerning rental of the clubhouse and usage of the pool.

Because of that the Board has decided to rescind all the penalties that were placed upon you and to refund your $25.00 deposit or I can simply credit your account $25.00. 

Although relieved, the anger hasn’t subsided much. If i weren’t going to be gone so much? i almost want to run for the board. Even if you can beat ’em, sometimes you should still join ’em.

Harper Valley PTA
* Not the actual name of the development, but as christened by The Boy. i am one of the younger residents – demographic of “Active Senior Citizens”, but with many not-so-active. Lately, we’ve had a run of younger people move in, and even a few with small children. Impact of this change in demographic? Probably just means more fecal matter in the community pool…
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