Thursday, January 17, 2019

Deja Vu - Sand Lake Hills In Crosshairs of New Association

While posting on The Midnight Review has been sparse these past few years, there are a handful of topics that warrant a response.  While this site likes to take a look at some of the absurdity of politics, there is one extremely absurd subject that cannot go ignored - Homeowners Associations, or HOA for short.  And while HOAs are a ridiculous concept for numerous reasons, The Midnight Review had spent years advocating for a couple local neighborhoods in particular because of locality and also because they clearly highlight what is wrong with how community associations operate and how the government deals with them.

It has been nearly six years since I had last written about HOAs and a recent situation has sprung up that deserves some attention.  I had written numerous times about the Central Florida neighborhood Sand Lake Hills.  To some things up if you are new to the community, Sand Lake Hills was a large neighborhood made up of 12 separate smaller communities in Doctor Phillips that did not have a HOA but over time one of those sections decided they were going to be in charge of everybody and they lawyer shopped until they found someone willing to draw up paperwork to rewrite the covenants and restrictions and they went through a twisted process of granting themselves supreme authority.

The section presented themselves to the rest of the community as the HOA, going as far as to legally rename their organization. Their new covenants and restrictions forced everyone - members and non-members - into owing their corporation an amount of money determined solely by the board of directors.  And the board?  They had rewritten the by-laws of the corporation to allow non-residents sit as officers and hold titles and as a result multiple residents from a single property gained control, as well as individuals from neighboring communities.  They also misrepresented themselves to the county for grants, abused the municipal service benefit unit process to build a shoddy brick wall and speed bumps, and paid police officers to serve and protect only members of their association.  Their attempted conversion landed them in a lengthy legal battle which (spoiler alert) bankrupted their corporation and forced them to shut down.  The courts had found that they had been illegitimate for decades.

So why is this relevant?

Recently a real estate investor by the name of Tarsus Hunt was behind the incorporation of a Not For Profit Corporation called Sand Lake Hills Community, Inc., not to be confused with the now-defunct Sand Lake Hills Homeowners Association, Inc. (formerly Sand Lake Hills Section Two, Homeowners Association, Inc.), the Sand Lake Hills Property Owners' Association, Inc. (which became East Bay Homeowners Inc.), or Sand Lake Hills Homeowners Association Section 3, Inc.  Hunt is also a resident of Sand Lake Hills, Section Ten. 

The Sand Lake Hills Community, Inc. is currently being run by acting president, Vice President David Vanz, who is also a real estate agent and resident of Sand Lake Hills, Section Six.

What exactly is the Sand Lake Hills Community, Inc.?

According to them they are not a HOA but they sure want to act like a volunteer homeowners association but not just for their respective sections but for every section. They also seem to be entertaining various improvement ideas like security cameras, irrigation, electricity, wall maintenance (which is another different and hugely complex matter), and representation and/or maintenance of other non-Sand Lake Hills communities like East Bay or the entirely encapsulated Orange Bay.  This is also evident in their articles of incorporation, which insist they were established for "community improvement and enrichment of the Sand Lake Hills Subdivision."

If this doesn't sound familiar, this is exactly what the previous non-mandatory volunteer association did before they eventually got tired of some homeowners not wanting to participate in some of their costly endeavors and decided to force them to pay.  While this new group seems to be insisting they will be some merry band of volunteers their website and public comments seem to be rather vague and the professions of the board can leave the impression that they do not have the best interests of the actual residents of the community in mind.  I say this because I am reminded of another local real estate agent who decided to meddle in various associations and county projects. 

Paul McGarigal is a real estate agent who had sat on various neighborhood boards and was also director of the short-lived Dr. Phillips Preservation Association, Inc., which appeared to be a community enrichment association guise meant to benefit property investors. McGarigal used to be a featured "expert" with the old Sand Lake Hills folks, writing misleading articles for the newsletter, giving improvement "grants" that only benefited select properties, or pushing a tax on thousands of homes to fund flowers and foliage along Apopka-Vineland Road to benefit the neighborhoods that held his investment properties. His motives were dubious and while this new set of individuals may very well have the best interests of the neighborhood at heart, past experiences tells otherwise.

This new association is in its infancy so it is a question as to what their goals are but there is some suspicious behaviors that have already set off the alarms for some.  For instance, when it was pointed out that they provided little notice for their meeting or held private Facebook groups, there was nothing but excuses.  The neighborhood was given such short notice due to indecision and the private online group is supposedly to prevent "bots," although this is a completely disingenuous excuse since Facebook provides for authentication processes that weed out automated accounts. 

They have established a very low threshold to establish quorum and conduct business on behalf of nearly one thousand homes, with such power resting in that of the board, which requires residents to pay a membership fee to serve on (although one does not have to pay to participate establishing different classes within the organization).  They also have already amassed a few thousand dollars in money but have no clear use for these funds, or they have and have just not disclosed them, and have filed for tax-exempt status. 

All of these may not seem too big of a deal but combined they are alarming.  Either they show a group of inexperienced do-gooders who are in over their heads or a couple of ambitious real estate investors who believe in duping residents to buy into a supposed not for profit organization so that they can benefit professionally. Either way, residents get left behind and screwed, as was evident by the actions of the past association that caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal expenses and headaches for the county.

As Yogi Berra once said, "It's like deja vu all over again."

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