Henderson residents say HOAs can be a good thing, but only when they are homeowner-friendly

Doris “Penny” Vescio, 86, thought her worries and fears were done when her homeowners association signed and approved an addition to her backyard wall after a coyote jumped it and attacked her service dog. But for Vescio, the problems were just starting .

“The board is making their mistake my mistake,” Vescio said.

It all started when she awoke to shrieks in the middle of the night in October 2009.

Vescio investigated the noise and discovered her Shih Tzu, Mitsi, was being attacked by a coyote.

“Her head was in its mouth,” Vescio said. “My other dog (Babe) saved it.”

In the morning, Vescio took her injured Mitsi to the veterinarian .

While she was waiting, she called an iron company to get an estimate on an addition to her 5 -foot-tall concrete wall.

“He told me he was really busy and asked if I could get it approved,” Vescio said . “Everything has to get approved by the (HOA’s Architectural Committee).”

Two stamps and signatures of approval later, Vescio’s concrete wall had iron fencing added to it, bringing it to 8 feet tall and costing Vescio about $3,000.

Eight months later, Vescio received a notice from her HOA. The fence was 2 feet taller than allowed.

“They said I was illegal,” Vescio said. “I was told to take it down.”

Although it had it had approved the fencing , the HOA began fining Vescio $100 a week for her violation, which was having the wall 2 feet higher than code.

By December, she had collected about $7,000 in fines.

“I didn’t know how I was going to pay that,” Vescio said. “I am on a fixed income because my husband died. I didn’t even know how I was going to buy Christmas (presents) for my grandkids. That is too much of a burden to put on someone.”

Vescio appealed to the board, gathering statements from her neighbors, who supported it. Vescio said the board still denied it without any reason.

Jennifer Guilliams, the architectural compliance manager for Sun City Anthem, which approves or denies exterior modifications, said the board is prohibited from commenting because of a Nevada homeowner privacy law .

Guilliams said that, in general, the Architectural Review Committee does not have time to inspect all properties before approving the plans because the community has more than 7,100 homes.

“In assuming that all existing and requested modifications are correct, the plan is stamped ‘approved,’ ” Guilliams said via email.

Guilliams said the final approval is supposed to be the site inspection, and if it is later found out that the project is out of compliance, then a violation will be c ited.

Even after Vescio told the board about 10 other fences in the neighborhood that were as high or higher than her fence that were grandfathered in by the HOA, the board still denied her appeal and told her to take down the fence.

Vescio is one example of a homeowner who is dissatisfied with her HOA .

Gary Seitz, another Anthem-area homeowner , thinks HOAs can be a good thing.

“There are good ones out there,” Seitz said. “But some rule with an iron fist. Why should an association have more power than the owner?”

His problems started when he got a letter with a $1,000 fine for harassing the board, which Seitz said stemmed from a complaint about paying for another fine.

“There are no checks and balances,” Seitz said.

Instead of fighting the HOA, he tried to pay his fine on a payment plan only to be slapped with late fees he said weren’t appropriate.

“We weren’t late according to the guidelines,” Seitz said. “They sent our fine to the collection agency, which slaps on all these extra and ridiculous fines. We didn’t even know about it. We went down to make a payment. We took it to (the community manager), who accepted the payment. The next day, we got a call saying they wouldn’t accept our payment because it was going to collections.”

According to Nevada Revised Statutes 116A.640 Section 9, a community manager shall not “refuse to accept a unit’s owner payment of any assessment, fine, fee, or other charge that is due because there is an outstanding payment due.”

“What do I do?” Seitz asked . “If (the board) doesn’t like a complainer, they can force them out and not take their payment.”

If Seitz doesn’t try to pay, the HOA could put a lien on his house and do a nonjudicial foreclosure on the house.

But to take his HOA to court could be a $40,000 battle.

“The deposit for mediation alone is $750,” Seitz said.

Rana Goodman, who served as the Whitney Ranch board president for five years and now lives in Sun City Anthem , said HOAs aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

“When they are homeowner-friendly, it is a totally different thing,” Goodman said. “Not all are bad.”

Goodman said she noticed problems with her Sun City Anthem HOA right away.

“I started going to the HOA board meetings in 2005,” Goodman said. “From the very first meeting, I knew something wasn’t right.”

Goodman remembers another neighbor approaching the board during an association meeting and being told to sit down and shut up.

“During my time on the board of Whitney Ranch, we never had a complaint to the Ombudsman’s Office,” Goodman said. “I have filed six or seven complaints against the (Sun City Anthem) board.”

Goodman’s complaints included being told she couldn’t speak at board meetings.

Goodman thinks the only way to make a difference is to have change at the legislative level to make sure the laws are homeowner-friendly.

Goodman is a homeowner advocate and lobbyist for homeowners’ rights.

“And you have the same people protesting (homeowner-friendly) legislation — the (HOA) lawyers and the collection agencies,” she said.

In addition to fines for any offense a resident might make, from leaves in the driveway to the house being painted the wrong color, fees are tacked on from collection agencies and lawyers.

“If you look closely, nine out of 10 times, it all comes back to the same lawyers and same collection agencies,” Goodman said.

For example, a person could have $2,500 in violation fines, but with interest, legal fees, collection fees and postage, he could be looking at a total bill of more than $6,000.

Goodman shared the story of a homeowner who was a father of three and had lost his job and was trying to avoid foreclosure. He was fined because a roller skate was left out in his driveway. The fines rapidly escalated, with additional fees for collection and legal cost incurring until the unpaid bill was in the thousands.

“Who can pay that?” Goodman said. “Why keep fining him if you know he can’t pay it? You have to have a heart and take into consideration a person’s circumstance. We are in hard times right now.”

Vescio said the stress of it all has taken a toll on her health.

Dr. Gary Solomon, a Henderson resident, College of Southern Nevada professor and psychologist who has studied the effects of HOA boards, compared living in an HOA to a war zone.

“This is a war zone,” Solomon said. “People are under attack every day.”

Solomon said the effects can lead to physical ailments related to stress.

Even though the board dropped the fines against Vescio, it has told her she must get rid of the fence within two years.

“I feel safer with it up,” Vescio said. “My dogs feel safer. So I guess I’ll wait for the next board to come along and try to appeal it with them.”

Contact Henderson and Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at mlyle@viewnews.com or 387-5201.

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