North Las Vegas HOAs and homeowners trade blows

Joe Salvatore likens life in the Autumn Chase Homeowners Association to “a terrorist state.”

Police officers have randomly knocked on his door and asked questions.

He records constantly to document his whereabouts in his own neighborhood.

And he will get the mail only at 1 a.m.

His behavior might seem paranoid to some, but to Salvatore, a North Las Vegas homeowner, it covers his tracks.

Salvatore moved to the valley in 2005. A few years later, the 39-year-old decided he wanted to become involved in his homeowners association by running for a board position during the election.

He wanted to look at the group’s finances. As soon as he asked, Salvatore claims Joseph Bitsky, who has been the association’s president for more than a decade, accused him of wanting to steal money, made life difficult by selectively enforcing rules and yelled at homeowners during association meetings.

Communication breakdown

Salvatore posted a video called “The Bitsky Rant” on YouTube, which shows the group’s president pulling over closely next to his motorcycle parked near a curb. A colorful confrontation complete with expletives ensues.

“Watch, this is gonna cost you a lot of money,” Bitsky says, as he points his finger at the camera.

“Oh, it is?” Salvatore asks .

“Oh, yes, you watch,” Bitsky says.

The argument ends as Bitsky peels out in a white van. About 10 seconds later, the van drives quickly around the block and ends up in front of the camera, where the argument continues.

Bitsky, 67, said he confronted Salvatore for taking pictures of the neighborhood because he could have been a burglar scoping out the community.

“At first, I didn’t know it was him,” Bitsky said. “How did I know the guy wasn’t taking pictures to break in?”

He said he gets along with most of the people in the community; however, his temper flares when people “accuse me of something that is very untrue and is a lie.”

“They don’t have that right, and I have the right to defend myself,” Bitsky said. “I’m sorry, that’s me. That’s Joe. Eighty-five percent of the people love me. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to help them. If you lie about me, watch out. You understand? I’m that type of person. I have that right. That’s the way I feel.”

Bitsky recently stepped down from his post after a Channel 13 report named him the president of its HOA Hall of Shame series — a title he said was given to him unfairly. He is now secretary treasurer of the HOA.

“This community was real quiet until these people started their lies,” Bitsky said. “Everybody knows they are trying so hard to discredit me, yet they’ve ended up discrediting themselves.”

Reviewing hoa financial records

Salvatore said he was able to look through some of the group’s financial documents, which he said shows misappropriation of funds that have caused the association credit card debt and a negative checking account balance.

“There are some huge charges that are absolutely suspect,” he said. “There are several instances where there’s a water bill charge for $150 and electric bills for $200. What electric does the association have? What water is being used?”

Bitsky denies any charges being made outside of those directly affecting the association, including city utilities such as water. If homeowners want to see financial records, all they have to do is mail him a letter.

There are 46 homes in the association, and a majority of the homeowners are happy, he added.

“We have zero problems with homeowners who have communicated with the board,” Bitsky said. “Why are these owners complaining when they were not following what they were supposed to follow?

“The big word here is ‘communicate.’ Some turn around and say, ‘I don’t care. Fine me.’ Then you fine them, and you’ve got this big problem. The problem is there is a lack of education on boards. I’ve been through real estate licensing twice. I know the laws. I know how to follow them. It’s a business. It’s legal.”

All of the association’s financial information is stored on Bitsky’s personal computer, Salvatore added.

“I understand the idea of an HOA,” Salvatore said. “I can buy into making sure we don’t have a guy running a junkyard next door in his house. I appreciate the focus of maintaining our property values, but the problems we’re going through aren’t because of property values. It’s because someone doesn’t like us and is mad at us.”

The state’s real estate division needs to use its authority to hold people accountable when they violate the law, he added.

On April 14, Bitsky appeared in North Las Vegas Municipal Court — pleading no contest on two counts of coercion during his pre-trial. The charges stem from an October 2010 event in which he allegedly blocked the front door to his home during an association meeting to keep homeowners from leaving and demanded that they turn over a contentious audio recording of the meeting.

Bitsky told View Neighborhood Newspapers that the event wasn’t an association meeting because non-homeowners were present, and people could have left at any time.

The North Las Vegas Police Department confirmed it has had about a dozen run-ins at the Bitsky residence in the past few years.

Salvatore claims Bitsky calls the police on certain neighbors to intimidate them. A North Las Vegas police sergeant and two officers recently knocked on his door, he said, after Bitsky told them he was shining his headlights into their home.

“I went to get the mail, and the mailbox is at the end of the street,” Salvatore said. “Everyone who gets their mail shines their headlights into their home.”

Educating the board

All seven members of the Sun City Aliante Homeowners Association board of directors obtained the Dedicated Community Association Leader designation from the Community Association Institute’s Nevada Chapter.

The board is the first in the state to have all of its members earn the designation, which required a minimum of 26 hours of classroom instruction on topics such as budgeting, legal aspects, ethics, risk management and attendance at Common-Interest Communities Commission meeting or researching and writing an article for publication.

The designation must be renewed every two years and requires attendance at a seminar updating any new legislation enacted, as well as a continuing education course.

“Punishing people arbitrarily creates more problems,” said Councilman Richard Cherchio, who has been president of The Parks Homeowners Association since 2001. “I’ve been a proponent of boards going for training to get a better sense of responsibility. These are volunteers. People get involved because of a concern for the community and property values.”

“I believe, like in any other service capacity, you give up your own perspective on things, and you deal solely to represent the community. If you start putting in your own beliefs, that’s when you run into a problem.”

Cherchio said his philosophy is simple: Work out a payment plan with homeowners who are behind in dues. His association is lenient with homeowners for weeds or oil stains on the driveway in this economy. If they fix what’s wrong, the charges are dropped.

“We’re not looking to penalize; we’re looking to keep property values up,” he said. “When it comes to nonpayment of assessments, that’s when collection agencies get involved. That’s when it spirals out of control.”

Collection agencies and hoas

Red Rock Financial Services, a collection agency that works on behalf of HOAs, tried to collect $11,264.66 from a North Las Vegas homeowner in August 2010. A breakdown of the bill shows $200 in fines being charged every week from June 10 to July 21.

The amount owed swelled by $1,000 in one month because of HOA assessments, third-party collection costs and the fees charged by the agency itself.

Steven Parker, the agency’s president, said cases such as these indicate an unhappy homeowner who has been given multiple opportunities to work with the association had he communicated with the board or collection agency.

“The whole purpose of the fines is to get them in compliance,” Parker said. “Most homeowners are aware of that. He’s just ignoring the problem that has been created, and the fines just continue to mount. In reality, you don’t get this kind of a fine balance unless it’s deliberate.

“Fines are not budgeted funds. It’s the association just trying to get the homeowner in compliance, so all homeowners can live in the association they signed up to live in.”

A common collection policy, which is used by Red Rock, is to go after accounts that are more than 60 days delinquent. At that point, homeowners have received two reminder notes, Parker added.

Jonathan Friedrich is a self-appointed homeowner advocate and lobbyist. Friedrich said collection agencies, arbitrators and HOA attorneys earn a living by racking up large legal fees.

“The whole system is rotten to the core,” Friedrich said. “It screws homeowners.

“You become a second-class citizen. You’re denied due process. When you sign the documents to buy your home, you’re giving up a lot of your constitutional rights.”

He is proposing legislation that caps arbitrator fees at $750 and that each side pays half during disputes.

Parker said HOAs get a bad rap.

“You always have a choice,” he said. “Most people complaining simply don’t have justification for complaining. There are plenty of places they could have purchased outside of an homeowners association.

“You seldom hear problems about the fountain up front or the swimming pool. You just hear when there is an assessment they don’t want to pay for. What you will find is people who are not willing to play by the rules they signed up for when they bought the house.”

Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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