guest blog by Deborah Goonan
Spencer’s Plantation homeowners association is in the midst of conflict, according to a report from First Coast News, Jacksonville.
Defunct developer, Mercedes Homes, ended business operations in 2012. Since that time, SPHOA’s Board leadership has changed several times, dwindling from 5 members a few years ago to only 2 members as of June 2015. The management company has been changed twice, most recently a few weeks ago, according to public records.
According to the report, the new Board has been aggressively pursuing homeowners for various minor covenant violations, issuing hefty fines. A search of the Clay County Clerk’s database confirms that the past 2-3 years have seen a fair amount of activity, with the HOA filing liens upon properties that were later paid and satisfied by those owners.
Recall attempts by homeowners have failed to remove the Board President and Treasurer, and it looks like the matter will now have to go to arbitration with Florida’s Division of Business and Professional regulation (DBPR).
Do low annual assessments = fewer HOA conflicts?
One fact that caught my eye in the news report: Spencer’s Plantation includes 222 homes, with annual assements of only $250. Reading the Declarations online, this HOA’s common areas consist of a few storm water “lakes” and a small green space. This is a relatively small, no-frills HOA, especially for Florida.
There is sometimes a misconception that HOAs with minimal common area maintenance and low annual fees are somehow less of a hassle than elaborate gated communities with golf courses, club houses, pools, and the like.
But when I read through the Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CC&Rs) for Spencer’s Plantation, I noticed that the Use Restrictions and aesthetics standards — what I like to call “Keeping Up Appearances” — or KUA Rules, are every bit as elaborate as those fancy master planned communities such as Celebration or The Villages.
So that means that the HOA Board can, and often does, end up with a few members who are gung-ho on enforcing those elaborate rules to the letter. And often, there is a property management company and an HOA attorney aiding and abetting those efforts. After all, these “service” providers make a living as HOA Enforcers.
Apparently, that’s what’s going on at Spencer’s Plantation, according to the homeowners that contacted First Coast New. It’s a familiar story that we hear about over and over again.
Don’t be fooled by the size or simplicity of the community. Be sure to read all of the CC&Rs, plus any related Rules and Regulations, very carefully. Better yet, hire a qualified real estate attorney to represent your interests from the time you execute a sale contract through closing. If reading and understanding the fine print and details raises red flags, better to walk away before the deal is done!