Dark Clouds Over Saddlewood Downs

guest blog by Nila Ridings

Homeowners are frustrated and tension is high in this Kansas HOA. One of the residents asked me to speak to a large group of homeowners with hopes of shedding some light on how HOAs are structured and lawsuits are financed.

The history of this HOA started with a developer that went broke. Sigh. Yes, another one. Residents claim the CC&Rs state between 1 and 15 people must serve on the BOD. For now they have 5, but until this meeting most of the homeowners had no idea who and how many people are serving on the board. For the most part, the HOA has been dormant for several years. It suddenly erupted back to life with the filing of a lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed over a homeowner constructing a cover over their deck. According to the homeowner, 52 attempts were made by phone or email to the property manager seeking the architectural control approval. Not one response was received. The homeowner had no clue who the board members were and finally gave up seeking approval. There are several other deck covers in the neighborhood so the precedent was already set.

Homeowners were telling me they had been assured by the board that the defendants would be paying for all of the HOA’s legal bills. I hated to burst their bubble, but the Kansas Uniform Common Interest Owners Bill of Rights Act has a provision for recovery of legal expenses for the homeowner. Somewhere between the deck cover construction and the lawsuit the property management company was eighty-six. The HOA board president claims no records were left behind. How can he be so gung-ho to sue a homeowner with no records to prove their deck cover was neither approved nor denied? And there are no board meeting minutes to indicate a discussion ever took place regarding the deck cover and the vote? Fortunately, the homeowner does have documentation. I’ve sat through a number of HOA legal battles. This is one where I’m predicting the homeowners will prevail. Especially since they’ll probably add deceptive practices to their petition. Did I mention they have already been through a failed mediation?

$22,000 is the annual intake from dues. The swimming pool was never built so the money is spent on mowing some common ground, insurance, and a monument at the entrance. One homeowner asked why the dues did not go down when they stopped paying $4,000 per year for the property manager. That was an excellent question that met with no answer. Those familiar with HOA litigation know $22,000 is a drop in the bucket in an HOA legal battle.

The board president is the only person with access to the bank accounts and he has a publicly-documented history of financial problems. He played the “just a volunteer” card yet refuses to accept the signed petitions that were done to initiate a board recall. He demonstrates the classic ‘bully board’ behavior. He has written vulgar and condescending postings on a public website about one of the women that took the initiative to start investigating. His open discussion and admission of selective enforcement on violations sent shock waves through me. The longer he talked the more red flags I saw. After the meeting, I offered to talk with him privately. He sternly refused stating, “NO! I do not believe one word of what you said tonight!” That’s too bad because I was willing to try and save him the embarrassment that awaits him in the courtroom when the judge smacks him down and sends him back to tell his neighbors they need to get out their checkbooks because the lawsuit was not reported to the insurance company.

Rogue board members. We’ve read about them. We’ve known them. Lest we ever forget every HOA is just one vote away from putting a rogue homeowner on the board and suddenly life becomes a living hell. In this case, the rogue board member was not elected but appointed to the board.

There were some very professional and articulate people at the meeting who truly wanted to learn about HOAs. I hope they either take control of the board or sell and run before their property values start to sink!

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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.

2 thoughts on “Dark Clouds Over Saddlewood Downs

  1. Leo Horishny

    Wow. That makes the 30 plus thousand dollars a year our HOA takes in seem like a drop in the bucket and our HOA has no community area, no pool, no club house, minimal dead space “common areas” to lackadaisically maintain AND NO OTHER SERVICES rendered for that 30K+ a year they take in!!! 133 houses at $240/year. Oh wait, they do offer a service, arbitrary and capricious legal threats about sundry weeds, paint condition or piddly aesthetic “concerns”.
    It’s so sad to note that the fact that we don’t face excessive legal battles is the sole reason we should be “thankful” for our HOA’s current practices….

    Reply
  2. Nila Ridings

    Leo,

    You’re right. It’s a sad day when your reasons to be thankful amount to a lawsuit-free HOA.

    This HOA is a good match to yours. 113 houses paying $200 per year. No amenities which they should be thankful for. However, they should be taking a close look at what that $22K is being spent on, in my opinion!

    Reply

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