Thursday, March 18, 2010

Winter Garden HOA Denies Access To Homeowner's Guests

From The Orlando Sentinel article by Mary Shanklin:
Melissa Solis said she understands that she can't use her community pool or clubhouse because she's late paying her homeowner-association fees.

But it's unfair, she said, that security guards at the gated entrance to her neighborhood prevent her friends, family, babysitter and even the delivery man from Winter Garden Pizza Co. from getting to her home. They wouldn't even allow her mother-in-law inside the gates for a family birthday party.

Instead, she has to meet her visitors outside the community's entrance, pick them up and drive them inside in her car. Unlike residents who are current with their fees, even Solis cannot enter through the automatic gates; she must instead get the guard's approval to access her home.

"I think it's more them trying to humiliate us," said Solis, who works in food services. "It's very embarrassing for our daughter. She's 10 years old, and she doesn't understand that the economy is tight and Daddy doesn't have a job."
I believe that this is horrible abuse of power on the homeowners association's part. While an association cannot restrict a property owner's ingress or egress, the association can limit use of common properties, and being a gated community, I would assume that the roads would fall under that classification, but I would agree with Solis' assessment that the HOA is using this strict rule as a method of humiliation to force payment, and as the article points out, the neighborhood that she lives in, Stoneybrook West, has enjoyed lower delinquency rates then the state average. I would think that the association's rules are hindering her use of her private property, and while the Solis acknowledges that she can't use her community pool or clubhouse, to go as far as to limit who can access her property is a little too far. Her children's names most likely do not appear on the title, so technically the HOA could deny them access into the neighborhood should they attempt to walk unaccompanied to their own home.

This is just another example of HOA abuse - a sort of corporate shakedown of a homeowner. The Sentinel article also points out that the state legislature is considering bills to help alleviate the stress on homeowners associations, but while the law is focusing on protecting HOAs, they fail to protect homeowners.

"We have to bring whatever lawful pressure that we have to bear on these folks. No one feels good about it, but it does result in collecting money," said Jim Gustino, who represents the Winter Garden community.

What I found even more alarming was comments made by homeowner-association board member Hobie Fisher. Fisher, who serves on two boards for the Avalon Lakes community, had said that his boards have been actively taking over properties in foreclosure, but denying guests access is going to far. To me, an association assuming control over private property is far worse then refusing people access to a property.

Legislation should be considered to protect the rights of property owners and restrict the authority of these corporate quasi-governments. Without such protections, HOAs, lawyers, and real estate agents will control every aspect of home ownership.

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