Homeowner association fines owner, loses in court
VENICE, Fla. – Oct. 30, 2017 – All Wendy Dressen wanted was the Jacaranda West Homeowners Association No.1 to allow her then-fiancé to park his large Ram pickup truck in her driveway.
Her soon-to-be-husband’s truck didn’t fit in the garage.
By all accounts, it’s illegal under her homeowners association rules, which clearly states all trucks are prohibited, even pickups, unless they fit inside the garage.
What began as a $100 fine by the HOA, based on numerous eyewitness accounts and a few photographs of the violation, quickly turned into a maximum $2,000 fine with claims of 20 violations.
The association, represented by attorney David Fredericks of Sarasota, took Dressen to court, presumably thinking it had ample evidence, including witness statements and photographs.
Dressen hired an attorney and fought back, amassing more than $60,000 in legal bills she paid during the past two years.
Dressen learned this week she won the case after a judge ruled the HOA failed to prove its case, lacking evidence for all of the 20 cases it claimed in its original “Statement of Claims.”
Judge Phyllis Galen, on the Twelfth Circuit Court in Sarasota County, filed a final judgment in the case on Oct. 23, saying the HOA did not meet the burden of proof based on conflicts of evidence, lack of photographic evidence for the violation, as well as proper notice issues.
She essentially agreed with the defendant’s attorney that the HOA didn’t follow the process to notify and fine a resident as outlined in state law, the HOA’s “declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions,” and other policy documents.
Galen said the defendant is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, and reserved jurisdiction to determine those at a future unspecified date. Attorneys for both parties have 30 days to provide evidence of fees and costs.
In her decision, Galen wrote: “While the plaintiff’s witnesses were credible, all of the violations cited by the plaintiff have not been proven by a preponderance of evidence.”
The defendant’s attorney, Joseph Summonte, Jr., of Venice, argued the HOA had not followed their own procedures or state law.
While the association may levy reasonable fines under state law, in this case, an independent Hearing Panel, and not the association’s board, levied and imposed the fines against the defendant, instead of reviewing the fine levied by the association board, as required by law, he said in court filings.
There were other process issues.
Summonte argued state law states a fine or suspension may not be imposed by the board without at least 14 days’ notice to the person sought to be fined, and an opportunity for a hearing before a committee of at least three members appointed by the board who are not officers, directors, or employees of the association. He said no such notice was provided.
Summonte also stated the association covenants required written notice provided to both the homeowner, and if not the same person, the alleged violator. No notice was provided to Mr. Dressen, Summonte said.
Among the HOA’s difficulties was asserting the original violation occurred on May 28, 2015, when the Dressens said they were in South Dakota. The association provided photographs of violations, but they were date-stamped August 2015.
Witnesses who said they saw the vehicle parked illegally nearly every day were questioned about their memory.
The Dressens provided financial statements they say proved they were out of state at that time.
Wendy Dressen said she would absolutely like to see the HOA policy prohibiting pickup trucks in a driveway changed.
“There’s zero proof that having a truck in your driveway decreases the value of your real estate,” she said on Friday.
Source: Florida Realtors