What We Can Learn From Dispute Between Brentwood HOA & Homeowner

The story that broke on Channel 4’s WSMV about a Brentwood elderly homeowner, whose Homeowners Association (HOA) threatened to sue over a wheelchair ramp installed without permission, brings to light something that most of us don’t think about, until we have a problem.

Charlotte Broadnax had a wheelchair ramp installed at her home in The Woodlands of Copperstone so her husband could come home for rehabilitation. Broadnax hired a contractor to install the ramp last November. ramp

However, within the rules and restrictions of The Woodlands of Copperstone HOA guidelines, Broadnax needed to get approval before having the ramp built.

It can be easy for homeowners to make this mistake simply because they don’t understand, know the rules and restrictions, or sadly in some cases, associations report, people just break the rules.

Homeowners Associations are usually managed by outside professional sources, in this case Ghertner and Company, was the managing group. Within the community HOA, a volunteer group of neighbors who manage common areas and community property, creates its own covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). These CC&Rs cover: resident behavior, architecture and responsibilities including fee schedules and fines for non compliance.

Most HOA’s have rules in place requiring approval for any exterior improvements, including adding additions, building fences or altering the look of the property. Typically an addition also has to be approved by the City’s Codes Department.

On June 1, 2015 a letter was delivered to Broadnax from the legal team for Ghertner and Company, seven months after the installation had taken place.

Channel 4 shared a statement from Kathleen Sutherland, Director of Training and Technical Services at Ghertner and Company that reads:

The governing documents for this community require that all exterior improvements receive prior approval. A letter was sent to the owner regarding the ramp as no application for approval had been received. The board did not know the ramp was for the homeowner, Mr. Broadnax, The association would like to work with the owners on a compromise regarding the appearance and location of the ramp and compliance with any applicable codes.

This story represents why its important for homeowners to read and understand their neighborhood’s rules and regulations.

See the story from WSMV  Channel 4 here.

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  1. Did the HOA and Ghertner follow their own rules in giving notice to the homeowner? The article notes they sent one letter before the 14-day notice arrived. A contract provides that both parties, not just one side, must abide by the terms: http://m.nwitimes.com/news/local/lake/rule-violation-may-prove-costly-for-st-john-neighborhood/article_9823c5a4-d3e3-50ae-8e79-042d6a093377.html?mobile_touch=true
    It also seems clear that the HOA was focused on forcing a location change of the ramp (among other things) and call it a “compromise”.

    Using the argument that homeowners failed to read their documents, should homeowners be fined over children’s lemonade stands, because their parents “failed” to interpret documents preventing lemonade stands? What about the homeowner who interprets, as in The Woodlands at Copperstone documents, “an exterior improvement” as just that: an improvement, a remodel, an upgrade. . . . and not a necessity such as a wheelchair ramp?
    This doesn’t even begin to address the nuttiness of citizens paying taxes for “health inspections” of children’s lemonade stands.

    At some point, Americans must use common sense as a starting point for rule making. Secondary to common sense comes the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Those two, common sense and the Golden Rule, go a long way towards resolving issues without attorney involvement.

    Ghertner recently ran a Fair Housing training in February 2015. Their blog reads, “Angelita Fisher led February’s lunch and learn workshop to an audience of Board members and Community Association Managers at Ghertner & Company’s learning center. Though some may think that the Fair Housing Act does not apply to Homeowner Associations, it does!  Fair Housing applies to entities and associations that provide services and facilities in connection with housing.  Your CC&R’s and Fair Housing Laws may conflict, and if they do, Fair Housing Laws trump your CC&R’s.  So next time you have a request for reasonable accommodation or modification be sure to do your research and seek legal counsel. A wrong decision could be very costly.”

    Ghertner’s employees are paid to manage and avoid these types of issues by communicating with homeowners.

    Our Bentcreek HOA has had many issues with Ghertner’s failure to communicate. Elecia Lewis, the same property manager at The Woodlands, was removed from Bentcreek. Elecia Lewis mysteriously accessed our community Facebook group, and noted to the Board – and homeowners – that she was “reviewing comments”. She proceeded to post private infraction information of a homeowner, after the HOA’s attorney (Mary Beth Hagan) hand delivered a letter to us from Elecia Lewis, denying my family copies of similar records, citing privacy concerns. Neither the HOA, nor Ghertner, will answer how Elecia Lewis accessed the page. The HOA and Elecia Lewis now maintain that neither they nor Ghertner are involved in the Facebook page or the silencing of homeowners, who wish to speak about how their money is spent.

    Elecia Lewis has noted multiple interpretations of one rule. In the end, our Association filed a lawsuit against a homeowner whose trash container was “in view” of the street, a new rule. The homeowner has noted that it was behind a tree and only seen from an angle. One homeowner put into writing that she gave them permission to ignore the rule.

    The new property manager, Tim Struzynski, has loitered outside my property, despite a clearly communicated request to refrain from this behavior. Neither Tim Struzynski, nor Scott or Steve Ghertner, will answer to confirm a conversation wherein we discussed the need for an accommodation. It is not surprising that Ghertner is at the center of the Woodlands issue, or there is a need for an attorney to pick up the pieces after a failure to communicate.

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