Listen to WSOS Radio interview attorney Theresa Carli about Home Owners' Associations (HOA) in St. John's County.

Host:And we hope you're having a good Saturday morning and we are joined right now in the studio by Theresa Carli. She is an attorney with Heekin Law and, of course, they have offices all around St. John's County and Northeast Florida. We're going to talk today a little bit about HOAs, Home Owners' Associations, and whether or not you as an individual have any rights within them if you received a nasty-gram letter from an HOA. So let me give you an actual true story Theresa, are you ready?

Theresa:I'm ready.

Host:Alright, she's always ready. We can't get her off her guard. So, I actually did have this, I was walking my dog in a neighborhood in World Golf Village the other day. A lady has this patch of grass that's on the other side of the sidewalk. Okay, so she has her yard and then she has a patch of grass on the other side of the sidewalk, which she claimed to me she did not own, obviously, but she's supposed to be responsible for maintaining. That that's part of, she says she's been told, that that's part of the HOA rules. She can't get this patch of grass to ever grow. I mean, and right now it's the most disturbing shade of yellow and it has nothing to do with frostbite, you know, I mean it's just, we don't know what's happened. Whether somebody poured too much insecticide on it or what the heck happened. So, she's been fretting over this, she's an older woman, and then she get's a letter from the HOA saying that she's going to be fined if she does not get this patch of grass fixed in a way that's acceptable to the powers that be. So, if she were to call you and retain your services after she gets this, has to pay this fine, what would you do?

Theresa:The first thing I always do is ask for the declaration, the covenants, the bylaws, anything that governs the neighborhood, whether it's an HOA, Home Owners' Association or a Condo Association. That's the first thing I always do because that mandates everyone's responsibilities, duties, etc. The second thing I would do is obviously ask for the letter and see what rule beneath the bylaws or the declaration the HOA is threatening to fine her in. At that point, if the rule that they are citing matches up with what's in the declaration, then we can respond to the letter and request what's called a CEC Meeting. Usually HOAs have a CEC Board and a CEC Board is in place to review any alleged violations and listen to the homeowner and listen to their side of the story. And at that point they make the recommendation to the actual board on whether or not a fine should actually be pursued.

Host:Okay, alright, so that would be pretty good advice I would think. So, what if it continues to go down the road. Let's kind of play this out a little bit and maybe she does what I know a lot of my neighbors do and just choose to ignore the letter from the HOA. How does that play out and is that a good policy to have, to ignore it?

Theresa:It's never good to ignore any notice you get that threatens any type of violation. The board has to send you a certain amount of notices before they have a CEC Meeting and then before you actually get fined. Usually it's two warnings and then a final notice. That's usually the policy. So, by the time that third one hits you, you really need to stop ignoring it because at that point you can fined $100 per day.

Host:Theresa Carli, once again, is an attorney at law and she is with Heekin Law. You can learn more by going to HeekinLaw.com. Maybe you know somebody in your circle of friends who is doing battle with an HOA, either one that you're a part of or one that they're a part of, or maybe you know a friend or a neighbor somewhere in Northeast Florida who's having to deal with these circumstances, we would encourage you to reach out to Theresa at HeekinLaw.com. Hey, we're going to play a couple of songs, we're going to come back and we're going to learn a little bit more from Theresa Carli at Heekin Law, here at 99.5 and AM 1170 WSOS.

[Commercial Break]

Host:And we're back with Theresa Carli, she's an attorney at law with Heekin Law and we appreciate her taking time out on this Saturday morning. And, once again, we're talking about HOAs, Home Owners' Associations. So, are HOAs worse than Condo Associations or are they about the same?

Theresa:They're about the same.

Host:[Laughing] Oh, man. So, we were talking in the last half hour, true story that I have about a woman in my neighborhood who was having a grass problem and she's getting these nasty notes and it was really upsetting her. So, here's a story from my own experience being in an HOA in World Golf Village. So, I decided as part of a little do-it-yourself project to build a stone patio pad near a pond that my house is up against and I'm probably not the best person at reading land diagrams and what have you, so I ended up building this pad inside of a buffer zone. So, Theresa's already looking at me like I'm going to the pen and I immediately get, I don't even get a letter from the HOA, I get a letter from Ansbacher Law, another law firm more on the corporate side of things, regardless, it was mean. It went on for three or four paragraphs about how I had done something that made me feel like I'd really screwed up. So, when you get that sort of circumstance, what do you do? I mean, the letter was very clear. It said, 'move the darn pad." And I felt like I didn't need to move the pad because technically it was still in my property, but it was inside this buffer zone area.

Theresa:Well, usually before you put something like this on your property, anything that's a permanent fixture, an add-on, something like that, you usually need approval from an Architectural Review Board, an ARB. And you basically submit an application to your ARB, usually it has to be accompanied by a diagram, something that shows exactly what you're going to do, where you're going to build it, what the material is, etc. At that point, the ARB reviews everything and either issues you an approval or declines your request. If you skip that process and you go straight to putting in your pad [laughs]...

Host:Come on Theresa, it was just some concrete bricks and some dirt! I wasn't building the Taj Mahal here! [Laughs] But I hear what you're saying.

Theresa:[Laughs] If you do begin something like this and you get a letter from a firm, Ansbacher Law is a very prevalent firm, they represent a lot of Home Owners' Associations, we are on the other side of Ansbacher very often, and as strong as that letter I'm sure was because there's very competent attorneys at that firm, we work very well with them. We have the same attorneys that we usually deal with on a daily basis and we can usually work out something that's amenable for all parties so that you can keep your concrete pad, but ensure that it complies with the rules and law.

Host:Well, the petty side of me would really want you guys to write as nasty a letter back to Ansbacher as I received from them, but now I realize that doesn't really get you anywhere.

Theresa:That's usually what we do. We usually do write a response letter laying out our position and telling them that either they didn't follow the correct steps before sending you a letter or you should have been approved for x, y, and z reasons in the first place and you were un-rightfully declined your right to even put the concrete pad there to begin with.

Host:Right, well, once again Theresa Carli is with me and she is an attorney with Heekin Law. We're talking about HOAs, or Home Owners' Associations, and many of you as your spending you Saturday around your home, maybe your thinking and reflecting upon some HOA requirement or two. You have any questions at all, maybe you've received a letter from your HOA, maybe from their law firm that represents them, this perhaps has been an on-going battle you've had with your HOA, then obviously we would encourage you to seek a consultation with Theresa Carli or a member of her team at Heekin Law. You can learn more by going to HeekinLaw.com. When we come back we're going to ask Theresa about other experiences she's had with HOAs in St. John's County, so stay tuned!

[Commercial Break]

Host:And we're back with Theresa Carli, she's an attorney at law with Heekin Law. She does a lot of work in the area of Foreclosures and real estate law, working with people with HOA issues, she also does some work in Family Law and some other areas and we'll talk about that as we work our way through this morning, but right now we are focused on HOAs and I wanted to ask Theresa, what's a typical case that you see? What's a typical problem someone out here in St. John's County listening to us this morning may be having with an HOA?

Theresa:A prevalent problem with Home Owners is when they see they've been fined or received a letter from the HOA for an alleged violation of the bylaws for, say, parking on the sidewalk or blocking a sidewalk, but their neighbor down the street or the President of the HOA has been doing this for two weeks and they haven't received a letter. We call that selective enforcement. It happens a lot. There's a select group of people who usually run HOAs and they seem to be immune from these types of violations, while home owners are finding themselves with violations and letters and they really feel harassed at one point for these types of violations, when in fact, they feel like the bylaws are not being enforced against everybody.

Host:If you've been listening to us for the last 30 minutes or so, I was talking about a real life story in my neighborhood where we have an HOA in World Golf Village and this particular neighbord who had an issue with the grass got a nasty letter from the HOA. She also got a nasty letter the week before talking about she needed to have gutters on her house, but as we stood there and she was complaining and pointing out the issues to me and I'm not on the HOA, we counted at least five homes around there that didn't have gutters! I almost wonder sometimes if the HOAs start piling on certain people. It's almost like once you have one violation they seem to look for more and more violations. Do you ever see that?

Theresa:That's very true. Sometimes just to put pressure on the home owner to comply with the bylaws, they will do that. The good thing for a home owner is they have a right to request certain documents and records from an HOA and a management office. So you can go and request via a qualified written request or you just send a notice to the HOA or the management company saying that you want to review documents and be very specific and if you see that there are other violations occurring, but you don't see any notices in those home owner files, it's your right to stop this selective enforcement somehow.

Host:There you go. Selective enforcement by HOAs, if you've experienced that, if you feel like you have been treated unfairly by your HOA when you see examples of maybe the officers of the HOA not having to deal with the same set of rules that you are, that's the type of work that Theresa Carli and her team at Heekin Law, they can help you with that sort of thing. So, we encorage you once again, if you know somebody in your circle of friends, you have a neighbor, family member, anywhere here in Northeast Florida, who's having a problem with their HOA or their Condo Board, reach out to Heekin Law. You can do that easily by going to HeekinLaw.com, that's HeekinLaw.com. Hey, we're going to come back and wrap things up this morning with Theresa Carli, she's an attorney with the Heekin Law Firm, we'll be right back.

[Commercial Break]

Host:And we're back with Theresa Carli, she's an attorney with Heekin Law. We're talking this morning about HOAs and Condo Boards, your rights, and, of course, she does this kind of work each and every day, where she's representing people who are having to do battle with their HOA. One of the issues that obviously comes up and I heard this at my recent annual HOA meeting that I was able to attend, by the way, that's my other beef: why is it that HOAs around here have meetings at like 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon when the rest of us are working and then, of course, the entire HOA board is made up completely of retirees?

Theresa:Because they don't want anyone to show up!

Host:I know! And it works amazingly well! So then they have this once a year thing where I'm sure they're dreading it because they do it at like 7:30 at night, so all of us dregs drag ourselves out to some community room somewhere, but during that you get to learn what's going on and how these little meetings work. But one of the things I noted at that particular annual meeting was the amount of money outstanding. People not paying their HOA fees. Help me, Theresa Carli, understand what happens when these fees don't get paid, do they ever get collected, could you potentially lose your home over this?

Theresa:Unfortunately you can lose your home over non-payment of HOA assessments. I always advise people if you're money is tight and you're looking at what bills you're going to skip or try to postpone, never let your HOA assessments be one of them. You can lose your home over a $300 assessment because once the HOA files a lien and they actually start foreclosure proceedings against you, they have every right beneath the Florida Statutes and beneath your governing documents to foreclose on your home for non-payment of assessments.

Host:Wow, so serious stuff. Once you start going down that road, I would image that's the time to get in touch with you. I imagine that you guys, and you in particular Theresa Carli as an attorney, you can help mitigate these circumstance, right? Sort of help develop a payment plan or some way. I would think it's in everybody's best interest, even the HOA, to get these fees paid rather than go through foreclosure.

Theresa:We can. Once you're behind on your assessments, statutorally you have to receive certain notices before foreclosure can be commenced against you. When you start to receive these notices give us a call because we can usually reach out to the HOA attorney or even to the HOA and come to an agreement with regards to a payment plan and get you back on track before it gets so bad that you can't get back on track.

Host:Does it ever happen where someone is way behind on HOA fees or maybe there's been a death in the family or something like that and then would it be possible to structure it where those fees would be collected at closing when the home is actually sold, so that there would be a delay in those fees?

Theresa:There is if there's a buyer or a prospective buyer states that they agree to pay past due HOA fees say if you're trying to sell your home, that can be worked out.

Host:Wow, well lot's of issues obviously and I'm sure many of you have heard all sorts of different issues relating to Homeowners' Associations in St. John's County and Condo Boards and all those sorts of issues. If you have somebody right now in your circle of friends, family members, or you yourself are dealing with an HOA matter, you've received a letter in the mail, that's a good time to pick up the phone and contact the Heekin Law Firm. They do this stuff each and every day and can make this a whole lot less painful for you and reduce the anxiety that these letters tend to promote. So, once again, reach out to them at HeekinLaw.com. Theresa Carli, thank you for your time this morning and we hope you have a great day!

Theresa:Thank you very much!