Dumber Than Dirt In Delaware

The Maple Hill Homeowners Association is becoming the laughingstock of Bear, Delaware. There are only 23 homes in this HOA, but these idiots have picked the most unbelievable fights with each other and have made their own neighborhood toxic to anyone thinking of buying a home there.

Dues are cheap. About $280 a year. But the petty bickering and the downright nastiness has churned up more than $45,000 in legal fees as various neighborhood crybabies run to the courts to try to get their problems solved.

Ken and Joanne Holbert have tried for years to pay their homeowners association dues by sending checks to the HOA’s mailbox. The president, Jutta Douglas, refused to accept the certified mail in a patently obvious effort to slander the couple with terms like “deadbeat” and “freeloader.” Those actually are actionable terms and the Holberts could probably win a good-sized slander lawsuit.

The numb-skulls at Maple Hill then filed liens against the Holberts’ home. Under Delaware law, you don’t even have to notify a homeowner that a lien has been filed. Just file and foreclose. It’s mean. It’s vulgar. It’s the kind of thing that’s led to violence in a number of other states.

A couple of Delaware politicians are talking about creating an Ombudsman’s Office to deal with petty strife like the viciousness in Maple Hill.

You can fix a law. You can change the way that some HOAs operate.

But you just can’t fix stupid.

(HOA disputes in Delaware)

 

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About

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.

9 thoughts on “Dumber Than Dirt In Delaware

  1. Dave Russell

    Here in Arizona, they attempted the “Ombudsman Act” several years ago. No surprise here, the CAI shot it down. Amazingly enough, the Arizona Legislature passed a number of controversial laws, that screws homeowners to the wall. I guess the CAI dropped the ball in Delaware, thankfully.

    Reply
        1. Deborah Goonan

          My mistake, Dave. I didn’t realize Delaware chapter has merged with Pennsylvania. Thank you for pointing that out.

          Reply
  2. Dave Russell

    No problem. If the CAI isn’t in a state, I’m sure they will be soon. I’m simply dumbfounded that this “Not-For-Profit Group” still maintains that status, when we all know well, they are nothing but a sinister lobbyist group.

    Reply
  3. robert

    Ward e-mailed me an update to this story two weeks ago (March 10 2015), when the final decision was rendered in the case.

    You can read the court rulings “Decision After Trial” (submitted August 21 2014, decided September 19 2014) at
    http://courts.delaware.gov/opinions/download.aspx?ID=211770

    There is a “Memorandum Opinion And Order On Plaintiff Maple Hill’s Motion For Re-Argument, Motion To Amend And Application For Attorneys’ Fees And Defendant’s Nancy Neweton’s and Kenneth and Joan Holbert’s Motion For Attorney’s Fees Based On Bad Faith”, submitted February 23 2015 and decided March 09 2015, available at http://courts.delaware.gov/opinions/download.aspx?ID=220590

    There were nine defendants:

    – Nancy A. Newton
    – Chiquita L. Bradley
    – Kenneth E. Holbert
    – Joanne M. Holbert
    – Peter Meyer
    – Onjonet Moore Torry
    – Melaya Moore
    – Michael D. Bantum
    – Caroline P. Bantum

    but the “Decision After Trial” (Sept. 19 2014) mentions only three. I’m guessing the other settled.

    Nancy Newton. It sounds like she was in some kind of payment plan for previously delinquent assessments, and stopped paying current assessments after “she became frustrated” when the Maple Hill H.O.A. corporation put a lien on her home.

    – the Holberts. They had been paying their assessments, but the H.O.A. corporation refused to accept those payments from 2007 through 2014.

    Chiquita Bradley. She had not paid any assessments since moving into her house in 2005. “Bradley cites not being provided with documentation regarding the maintenance corporation and not knowing to whom she should send her money, as her reason for not paying the fees.”

    The court later goes on to uphold the legal fiction of “constructive notice”:

    “Bradley testified that if she had received copies of the documents, she would have paid. The Declaration is a document of public record and it requires all home owners in the Maple Hill Community to pay fees. Bradley is a homeowner in the Maple Hill Community, and therefore a party required to pay under the Declaration. The Declaration is a contract between Bradley and Maple Hill. Thus, the Court will consider the first element of a breach of contract claim, the existence of a contract, to have been proven by a preponderance of the evidence.”

    The Court ruled that

    – “The total amount due and owing by Newton, including late fees and lien fees, from May 2010 through September 2012 is $791.18” ($700 assessments plus fees). An additional $1,972.79 claimed by the H.O.A. corporation was not awarded, because they prematurely filed a lien in violation of the prior payment arrangement.

    – “Because the Holberts did not breach their obligation to pay assessment fees, Maple Hill cannot recover any damages from them. However, within thirty days of this opinion, the Holberts will be required to pay Maple Hill the total amount of unwashed checks for the past assessments from 2007 through 2011, which were unclaimed” by the Maple Hill H.O.A. corporation.

    – “While Bradley argues that she did not pay because Maple Hill failed to provide her with the operative documents, the multiple invoices sent to her provided her with sufficient notice that assessment fees are required. . .Therefore, the Court finds that Bradley’s explanation for her failure to pay is not persuasive, nor does it provide a reasonable excuse to overcome her payments obligation.”

    The Maple Hill H.O.A. corporation claimed that “Bradley owes a total of $4,213.763 to Maple Hill. As with the other Defendants, the Court calculates Bradley’s delinquency from the date of the last lien filed against her, as referenced in the Complaint. Thus, the principal amount owed by Bradley from January 2006 to April 2011 is $1,540.00. The lien fees total $94.00. The late fees for that period total $301.44. Accordingly, the total amount due and owing, including late fees, for Bradley is $1,935.44, as of April 2011.”

    So the judgment against each Defendant was

    Nancy Newton: “$791.18, plus post-judgment interest at the rate of 6% per year until paid in full.” But see below.

    the Holberts: “The Court finds in favor of Defendants Kenneth and Joanne Holbert and against Maple Hill. However, the Holberts shall pay the principal amount of their past assessments from the second quarter of 2007 through September 2011 to Maple Hill”.

    Chiquita Bradley: “The Court finds in favor of Maple Hill and against Defendant Chiquita Bradley in the amount of $1,935.44, plus post-judgment interest at the rate of 6% per year until paid in full.” But see below.

    On March 09 2015 (two weeks ago), the Court decided the issue of attorney fees.

    Chiquita Bradley: “In the Opinion, the Court held that Bradley was responsible for $1,935.44 in HOA fees, late fees and lien fees through the period of the Complaint. At the hearing on the Motion for Re-argument, Bradley admitted that she is responsible for non-payment of fees. As a result, the Court adds $1,671.29 to her amount through and including January 2014, which represents HOA fees, late fees, and lien fees. Accordingly, Bradley is responsible for a total of $3,606.73 in HOA fees and expenses through January 2014”.

    Nancy Newton: “In the Opinion, the Court held that Newton owed $791.18 in HOA fees, late fees and lien fees through the period of the Complaint. Because Newton did not posit a justifiable defense for non-payment through January 2014, the Court finds that she owes an additional $892.61 which represents HOA fees, late fees and lien fees from the Complaint to January 2014. Accordingly, Newton owes a total of $1,636.79 in HOA fees and expenses through January 2014.”

    the Holberts: “As a result of this egregious behavior [by the Maple Hill H.O.A. corporation], this Court ruled that the Holberts were not liable for any late fees or lien fees assessed by Maple Hill that was the subject of this action. The Court did, however, rule that the Holberts were required to submit the HOA payments that they attempted to make to [the Maple Hill H.O.A. corporation] through the filing of the Complaint. That amount was $1,540. As to payments due by the Holberts after the filing of the Complaint, the Court holds that they must pay their HOA fees through January 2014, however, without any late fees or lien fees. . . the unique circumstances present in this case require that late fees for non-payment by the Holberts not be assessed. . . Accordingly, the Court find that the Holberts must make HOA payments in the amount of $2,360 to Maple Hill for the period from 2007 to January 2014.”

    As for attorney fees:

    “Prior to its Motion for Re-Argument, Maple Hill sought attorney’s fees in the amount of $14,974.12. Maple Hill subsequently amended that amount to include fees in the amount $19,958.50 that were incurred in bringing its motions and responding to the Holberts’ and Netwon’s request for attorney’s fees based on bad faith.”
    . . .
    “This case started out with several additional defendants. According to the time records submitted by Maple Hill in connection with its request for attorneys’ fees, many of the entries reflect common tasks attributable to all or multiple defendants, and thus, should be allocated accordingly.”
    . . .
    “The Court finds that the total cost of services necessarily generated by Maple Hill as a result of the litigation against the remaining Defendants in this action is $16,183.13. . . The pro rata portion of those common fees attributable to the remaining Defendant’s is as follows: Newton $5,254.59, Bradley $3,748.95 and the Holberts $6,794.59.”
    . .
    “The Court finds that fees attributable solely to the prosecution of Nancy Newton total $275. When that amount is added to her share of the common legal expenses she is responsible for $5,529. As to the [sic] Chiquita Bradley, the Court finds that fees attributable solely to her total $110. When that amount is added to her share of the common legal expenses she is responsible for $3,858.95. Based on the Court’s ruling in the Opinion and in this Memorandum Opinion, the Holberts are not responsible for any attorney’s fees generated by Maple Hill in this litigation. Accordingly, when the Holbert’s fees are excised from the total fees, defendant Newton is responsible for attorney fees in the amount of $5,529.59 and defendant Bradley is responsible for attorneys’ fees in the amount of $3,858.95.”

    The H.O.A. corporation’s argument against the Holberts’ motion for attorney fees is worth noting:

    Maple Hill argues that it would be futile to enter a judgment for fees against it because its status as a non-profit entity would make such a judgment uncollectable. This argument is without merit.”

    “The Holberts’ attorneys’ fees in defending this action is $34,563.27. After deducting fees that the Court felt were not necessary to the defense of the Holberts’ in this matter, including time spent relating to issues at the Attorney General’s Office, and corporate governance issues, the Court finds that the reasonable and necessary fees incurred by the Holberts in defending this action is $8,500. Accordingly, Maple Hill is responsible to pay that amount to the Holberts”.

    So the final judgment was:

    Chiquita Bradley: $3,606.73 + $3,858.95 in attorney fees to the Maple Hill H.O.A. corporation

    Nancy Neweton: $1,636.79 + $5,529.59 in attorney fees to the Maple Hill H.O.A. corporation

    the Holberts: $2,360.00 + $0.00 in attorney fees to the Maple Hill H.O.A. corporation

    Maple Hill H.O.A.: $0.00 + $8,500 in attorney fees to the Holberts

    Reply
  4. Deborah Goonan

    So it still cost the Holberts $26K to fight a 7-year battle they did not even start.

    It cost the HOA owners roughly $15K in legal fees, most of which were unnecessary.

    We cannot put a price on the stress and strife to the Association members.

    Property values have probably tanked due to this nonsense.

    The winners are – the attorneys!

    Reply
  5. Deborah Goonan

    $15K divided by 23 members = $652 apiece in legal fees.

    It cost the Holberts more money to defend themselves than it cost the HOA to fight them. How does Holbert’s attorney justify these billable hours?

    Reply
  6. Joanne Holbert

    Maple Hill has not paid us the $8,500 judgment, plus interest. And, Ms. ____ ______, the only officer, still has not accepted our 2016 assessment payments of $180 for first half and $180 for second half. Both payments were mailed certified, return receipt. Then she mailed our invoice to the community saying that we have not paid. Property values have declined and neighborhood looks like ghetto, but no one is allowed to make improvements because she calls the police. She even called the police on me when I asked her when we can expect our court ordered judgment. She pushed me and just walked away. I called New Castle County Police and no one ever showed up or called.

    Reply

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