Owners battle HOAs

Vicki Brancato has been on both sides of the homeowners association fence, and she’s still looking for the greener grass, she said.

Brancato called the nine months she spent working for a management company “horrible.” She was assigned to patrol three communities and write up citations. Her training, she said, was being handed a clipboard and set on her way.

Brancato felt so uncomfortable with her job that she spent most of her time writing citations from the safety of her car, she said.

“I felt like a bully,” she said. “When I had that job, I swore I would never own a house with an HOA.”

But when Brancato fell for a northwest home, the love affair came with a prenuptial agreement.

Brancato purchased her home six years ago and signed off in agreement with the Desert Breeze Homeowners Association’s CC&Rs, or covenants, conditions and restrictions .

Her corner lot included a spacious front yard, and although it looked like a tree may be absent, Brancato went on living there without incident until she received a note about a month ago.

It stated that she was in violation of the community’s CC&Rs and she was to attend a hearing before the Desert Breeze HOA’s board of directors.

Brancato bristled at the note.

“When I got that letter, my blood was boiling,” she said. “I’ve lived here six years, and it took them six years to acknowledge it’s not there. Why wasn’t this dealt with long before I bought the house ?”

Brancato joined other residents at an April 14 hearing for the HOA board to hear her case and decide whether her argument was valid. Brancato came equipped with confidence and a bill of $7,500 to present to the board of directors for her time and energy spent on the matter.

“I told my kids, ‘Stand by with bail money, just in case,’ ” she said. “I let (the board) have it. I got in their face. I was jabbing my finger. I even scared myself.”

Ultimately, the board voted in her favor, but a representative from the management company halted the celebration. A letter has been placed in Brancato’s file over the measure, and while she will stop receiving notifications, the next owner of the home will have to install a tree before final sale.

“I’m happy the issue is closed, but the whole thing disgusts me,” Brancato said.

There are about 3,000 homeowners associations in Southern Nevada, and one advocate is out to prove that they deliberately try to use “bully practices” on residents .

Jonathan Friedrich is a retiree turned lobbyist hoping to help pass legislation that protects homeowners from divisive CC&R language and power-hungry HOA board of directors members wielding mighty gavels, he said.

“The board becomes the judge, the jury and the executioner,” he said. “Homeowners are entitled to due process. That has been lost in homeowners associations.”

Homeowners are often left with their hands tied when fighting a citation, he said. Fines amass, and unless homeowners have the means to go into arbitration with the HOA, they usually end up taking the hit, Friedrich said.

“I’ve been the victim of a bully board,” he said. “They hit us with a special assessment without a vote. I objected to them running it off without a vote.”

The situation resulted in a legal battle Friedrich eventually won. His second stand at the plate ended in a strikeout .

Friedrich objected to a separate vote completed without a quorum meeting.

A judge ruled in the HOA’s favor, and Friedrich was left with a $22,109 bill, “All because I stood up for my rights as a homeowner,” he said.

Friedrich launched hoa1234.com for homeowners who are dogged by instances of HOA abuse, fines and harassment.

He has helped dozens of Southern Nevadans navigate their legal options. The most outlandish case he has heard, he said, is of an HOA billing a homeowner $11,200 in mounted fees for debris in the person’s yard. The $100-a-week citations reached the homeowner, who lived in New Jersey and rented the unit, too late.

“It’s a never-ending cycle,” Friedrich said. “It’s them and us.”

But HOAs have their place, said Glenn Groman, president of Chatham Hills Community near Tule Springs Road and New Leaf Avenue.

“We want everybody to have a good quality of life,” he said.

A management company conducts checks of the 165 residences in the community bimonthly, and Groman said he tries to be fair but firm.

He said notifications are often for small issues or aesthetic blips that clash with the look of the community.

Most of the residents respect the HOA’s authority, he said, but most of the complaints he fields are for issues out of his jurisdiction.

“Mostly, residents complain over things we have no control over, like kids hopping over the fence to get a shortcut to school,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand the HOA doesn’t rule over everything that happens in the community. We are subject to Clark County. We have our limitations.”

Brancato has received citations for debris in her yard and an issue with the hue of paint on a common retention wall that abuts her property. The tree issue trumped them all, she said.

“This one just put me over the edge,” she said. “This is such a non issue. All the frustration and time this has cost me is insane.”

Although she has no plans to move, she said she wishes her first time dealing with an HOA could be her last, she said.

“Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to find a home not in an HOA,” she said.

Contact Centennial and Paradise View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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