Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dr. P. Phillips Foundation Sits Idly By While Another Non-Profit Corporation Tramples On Homeowners' Rights

The Dr. Phillip Phillips was a prominent businessman and philanthropist, who was active in Central Florida, and whose name can be seen on numerous buildings around Orlando, such as the Orlando Regional Dr. P. Phillips Hospital, Dr. Phillips High School, Dr. P. Philips Orlando Performing Arts Center.  The Dr. P. Phillips Foundation and Dr. Phillips Inc. have played an important role in not only many of Central Florida's programs, but in the development of numerous communities as well, with some deriving their name from the once vast Phillips estate.  One particular neighborhood that owes it's existence to the Dr. P. Phillips Foundation and Dr. Phillips Inc. is Sand Lake Hills, which I have written about before.

Years ago, when Sand Lake Hills was being developed, problems arose with the original developer.  The Dr. P. Phillips Foundation stepped in and saved the neighborhood, but not without leaving their mark.  In the covenants and restrictions of several Sand Lake Hills subdivisions, the foundation had written a clause, that not only protected their interests in the neighborhood, but also would act as insurance for the homeowners, giving the foundation a final say on any changes proposed to be made on the covenants and restrictions, ensuring that no single homeowner could effectively rewrite the neighborhood's governing documents changing the intent of the neighborhood.  To be very clear, the foundation wrote the following:
Any Property Owner shall have the right to enforce the Covenants and Restrictions placed on the Property by this instrument and, in addition, Dr. Phillips, Inc, retains the exclusive right to amend, modify, change, or eliminate any or all of said Covenants and Restrictions on any of the Property which is owned in fee simple by Dr. Phillips, Inc. at the time such amendment, modification, change or elimination and further provide that no change in any of the said Covenants and Restrictions shall be made without the written consent of Dr. Phillips, Inc. or the Dr. P. Phillips Foundation even though such entity may have no real property to be benefited by
these Covenants and Restrictions.
These covenants and restrictions were filed in the seventies and eighties.  Earlier this decade, a section of the neighborhood, Sand Lake Hills Section 2, had a new group of people gain control of the Board of Directors of the homeowners association for the single section, but the board failed to grasp the concept of multiple separate subdivisions with multiple separate covenants and restrictions.  This Board recognized that there were multiple sections, but that each of these separate sections were part of their association, and this belief probably stems from the fact that in the 1980s, the then Board decided to amend their Articles of Incorporation, granting their corporation power over every surrounding neighborhood with similar covenants and restrictions, as well as similar plat names.  This change was made to the Articles fraudulently, considering the then Board did not even fit the requirements set forth by their own Articles to even be board members.

In this homeowners association's attempt to become the ruling association of every surrounding subdivision, the Board had decided to rewrite the covenants and restrictions of every surrounding subdivision so that they were in charge, specifically eliminating language in the original documents granting every homeowner the ability to enforce the covenants and restrictions, and naming their corporation as the sole authority in the area.  The Board then canvased the neighborhood, collecting signatures on joinder and consent forms from homeowners, and when they reached a simple majority, they filed their collected signatures, as well as their rewritten covenants, with the county, but they failed to take into consideration several facts, one being the Dr. Phillips clause, "no change in any of the said Covenants and Restrictions shall be made without the written consent of Dr. Phillips, Inc. or the Dr. P. Phillips Foundation".

The Board's response?  Ignore the clause and proceed.  With the filing of their covenants, the Sand Lake Hills HOA for Section 2 sent out letters to every homeowner in the annexed sections, where they then threatened legal action unless the homeowner paid their association a certain amount of money, and if the homeowner did not pay, they would face interest rates of 18% per month,contrary to the legal limit of 18% per annum.  Homeowners had even requested from the HOA's lawyer how they were able to legally make these changes and what laws they based this decision off of.  The lawyer responded with a reference to a collections court case and that it was the "fair" thing to do, implying that if the homeowner did not pay, they will take them to court and the homeowner would be forced to pay both party's legal fees in addition to the assessment.

Where does the Dr. P. Phillips Foundation fit in all of this?  When contacted by homeowners of these subdivisions who were threatened by the Sand Lake Hills Homeowners Association for Section 2, the foundation essentially took a stance that anybody could file anything with the courts, but that doesn't make it legally binding, and their view of the amended covenants and restrictions is just that - a bunch of meaningless paper filed with the county.  The foundation no longer has ownership rights for any of the property in the subdivisions, but they had written the clause years ago understanding that one day they would not own any real property in the neighborhood, but that they would still be the custodians of the covenants and restrictions.  Because the foundation currently holds no property in Sand Lake Hills, they refuse to enter into any legal battle with the association that is running amok, leaving the homeowners to fend for themselves, which is unrealistic considering the costs associated with fighting a homeowners association.  Florida statutes place the burden on the homeowner, who must pony up the cash to fight a corporation that has seemingly endless supplies of cash, mainly because they can levy assessments against the membership to wage their war, which often pits neighbor against neighbor.

The Dr. P. Phillips Foundation and Dr. Phillips Inc. are just as culpable as the homeowners association, because their inaction against an attack on the very covenants they authored is the equivalent of an implicit sanction of the HOA's illegal actions.

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