How to Wrench a Neighborhood Apart

HOA lawyers tell their clients, “Show no mercy on neighborhood scofflaws. Warn them about the violation. Tell them this is a “no tolerance” neighborhood. Then pop them with a lawsuit.”

That kind of advice can tear a neighborhood apart. It also means some pretty nice paydays for lawyers.

Sammi Goldsten lives in the Southern Oaks Society Homeowners Association in the Stevens Ranch area of north Los Angeles County. The HOA asked Sammi to repaint her house, so she painted it almost the exact color as a house down the street. But the HOA decided her choice of colors was wrong and they filed a lawsuit. Surprisingly, they got an $18,000 judgment against Sammi, despite the fact that she wasn’t even aware the lawsuit had been filed.

Sammi had two plausible reasons for being unaware of the lawsuit. She was never served with the subpoena. And at the time, Sammi was at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Her young daughter was deathly ill and was undergoing a series of surgeries as doctors attempted to save her life. Sammi never left her daughter’s bedside.

On the other side of the country, the Southern Oaks Society HOA continued its war against the Goldstein family. To satisfy the $18,000 court judgment, the HOA drained the savings accounts of Sammi’s two children. And when Sammi finally returned to her neighborhood she was served with a contempt of court citation that basically said, either paint your house or go to jail.

It’s not often that an embattled homeowner wins against an HOA. But Sammi’s lawyer, Kenneth G. Eade, appeared in court and asked the judge to set aside his prior ruling. Eade argued that fairness demands two elements; that a defendant to notified of the lawsuit and second, that a defendant be given a chance to be heard. Sammi was given neither.

The judge agreed and set aside his former ruling.

Still, it’s hard to believe there were any winners in this case. Certainly not Sammi Goldstein who now owes a small fortune in attorney’s fees. And it cannot be the Southern Oaks Society HOA, which has now built up a stack of its own legal bills. Finally, it cannot be the neighborhood itself.  Realtors who show clients any homes for sale in Southern Oaks must disclose any “defects” in a property. That would include the contemptible actions of a rogue HOA board that has no compassion for a family during its time of grief and distress.

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Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

4 thoughts on “How to Wrench a Neighborhood Apart

  1. Peg

    The attorneys and judges must be incahoots. Why would they make these rediculous judgments when these “violations” are not hurting anything whatsoever. I always say that the restrictions actually deter home improvement when homeowners have no say in them.

    1. Ward Lucas Post author

      I love the word or the phrase, “in cahoots.” You know what that means, of course? It means organized crime. A federal violation of racketeering statutes. Gosh, I love that phrase! We just need more people using it with more regularity. Someday, someone in law enforcement might start paying attention.

  2. Judith

    Sadly, this case illustrates more the norm than the exception in the single (and last) HOA that my family was unwise enough to buy into. We still own the home, thanks to the housing bubble we haven’t been able to sell it, even at a six figure loss. Still pay the $2300 per year dues. Still jump in obedience every time our HOA masters order us to do something. But we moved into a less expensive home a few miles away 4 years ago. And even though it’s a serious budget-cruncher to maintain two homes, especially the exorbitant HOA montrosity, it’s worth every penny not to feel like vomiting every time you come home. They dragged $180,000.00 total out of us, in a smack-down ugly lawsuit. For a brick flower bed border identical to a dozen others that they claimed wasn’t adequately represented or approved – on a submitted and approved driveway upgrade and expansion. And for an ‘invisible’ therapeutic jacuzzi tucked into a nook formed by our home and not visible to anyone – except Google Earth and helicopter shots. And that was after the Judge disallowed several blatantly false and ridulous claims. Like the one that my husband was ‘running a business from home’ – because his own construction company restored OUR OWN severely damaged home after Hurricane Katrina. Despte the fact he owns a company and has licenses and the experience to restore buildings up to and including famous historical buildings, it’s obviously preferred to hire any guy with a hammer that’s on the ‘approved’ (kick back?) list. Nauseous yet? We are every time we think of that ‘Dream Home’.


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