Chances are you probably got a giant packet of paperwork in the mail from Lime Tree Village Community Club Association, Inc.
Inside, the first page looks like this:
This seems pretty important but what exactly does it mean?
This cover letter sounds pretty scary. The cover letter touches upon some very basic financial stuff and pleads for the recipient to return the enclosed signature page, but again, what does it all mean?
According to the letter, the $84* monthly dues cover lawn mowing, irrigation, a swimming pool, hot tub, tennis courts, pool table, and exercise equipment, and maintenance of "common areas," medians, islands, drainage, vacant lots, etc. The letter claims that if you do not sign the pages enclosed you would risk having to pay at least $35/month in irrigation costs and $85/month in lawn care.
Let's look at those figures.
$85/month to mow less than a 1/4 acre of grass (with minimal edging/weed whacking). This figure sounds extremely unrealistic. Your Neighborhood Lawn Service advertises a variety of plans starting at just $30/month, or if you decide to do it yourself, a small lawnmower costs roughly $100 and lasts for years. We talked to a homeowner who is not a member and this is what they had to say:
"I bought a lawnmower a couple years ago when I left the HOA. I ordered one from Amazon and it was here in a couple days. It didn't cost much and still works. It barely uses any gas or requires much maintenance and it takes maybe 30 minutes every other week."
Also, that $84 dollars is not set in stone. That number is meaningless. The covenants they want to revitalize state $55/year but they ultimately grant the power to change this in the by-laws. This is important because referring such an important subject in the restrictions to the by-laws is a way to circumvent membership. Passing changes in the by-laws is much easier than going to the membership. The board of directors can easily change that number to $1000/year without the homeowners' input.
And that water figure?
That same homeowner told us that they saw no increase in their water bill from when they left the association.
"Since I left I have actually seen an improvement in my turf quality. The lawn care maintenance provided by the association sometimes cut too low or too often causing my St. Augustine to burn. Now I control the grass height and mowing and watering frequency. Besides, a few years ago the HOA removed virtually all the sprinkler heads in my yard. When I reported it they claimed 'vandals' must have dug out the heads and capped the lines. Losing watering service barely made an impact. Also, our proximity to Shingle Creek and our drainage system pretty much ensures our lawns receive enough water and nutrients. PLUS, we live in Florida. Nearly half the year we get rain showers every day."
And as for those other benefits the HOA mentioned?
The medians, islands, and drainage are actually county property and if the HOA ceased maintenance, the tax dollars we already pay would go towards maintaining those areas, and if you ever looked at the costs the county charges, you would be crazy to pay a private corporation (that subcontracts it out) to do the same thing. The only reason the HOA maintains those areas are probably because the had entered into a use agreement with the county. Also, nearby fitness clubs go for a lot less and offer a lot more.
So now that we are past the scary cover letter, what now?
The second page is a really official document asking you to return the signature form to save money so we wouldn't have to hold a meeting, but why is that a bad thing? Wouldn't you want to ask questions? And if you don't know what to ask, this website has some really good ones.
For instance, what is a "Joinder and Consent" form, what is it consenting to, if the association is admitting that the covenants and restrictions have expired, then would that mean that their enforcement for the last 5 years was illegal, and why should we consent to revitalizing the association when in their last newsletter they talked about how much money they wasted and how they screwed up royally?
Question 1: What is a "Joinder and Consent" form?
Basically, it is a document where a property owner acknowledges that they reviewed the paperwork enclosed in the envelope, that they understand they will be governed by the association and that they agree to the new set of rules and restrictions, and consents to them being filed with the county.
All this information is actually on the form itself but it doesn't really detail what exactly it all is.
Question 2: What are you consenting to?
This is the frightening part. The association included in your envelope a bunch of different stapled documents. The most important document being the "Revitalized Amended and Restated Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions For Williamsburg, Orlando, Florida (Lime Tree)."
So, what's the problem?
This document states that it is revitalizing a set of covenants and restrictions from 1980. The problem is that these are the incorrect set of covenants and restrictions. The law is very clear. The root title for all the properties refer back to a set of C&Rs from 1979 - not 1980. The restrictions the association seeks to revitalize are really C&Rs half the homeowners consented to years ago. They also include a series of other amendments, one being from 2002, in which they state that it converted the association into a "mandatory" association. The problem with this is that that amendment was passed with a simple majority, but legally, in order to convert into a mandatory association 100% of the affected parcels would have to consent. That did not happen.
The original 1979 covenants only state a few negative restrictions that property owners had to abide by - none of them referencing an association, either voluntary or mandatory.
Also, the document that you would be consenting to seeks to impose illegal restrictions on every other property in the neighborhood. This basically opens up the consenting parties to huge liabilities. By consenting to the documents being filed you are contributing to the clouding of one's title, affecting its marketability, and you can be sued for a lot of money.
Question 3: Was the Association's enforcement over the last 5 years illegal?
Every month the association published a newsletter insisting homeowners abide by the covenants and restrictions and pay their assessments. They pursued legal action against homeowners who did not pay or violated their rules. When informed of the expiration of the C&Rs they continued to act as though they were still valid. Even in their latest newsletter they discussed things like delinquent accounts or improper handling of estoppels.
They did all this knowing their restrictions expired and they had no legal authority to act, They were also notified of which covenants and restrictions were subject to preservation 3 years ago when they filed a late preservation for the wrong set.
Question 4: Why should we consent to revitalizing the association when in their last newsletter they talked about how much money they wasted and how they screwed up royally?
The entire last newsletter was basically an ode to how much the association and the board of directors sucked at doing their jobs. They mentioned how a series of bad business deals left taxes unpaid and the corporation being owed thousands of dollars. Granted, much of their financial woes stem from their lack of understanding regarding community association management and the laws that are in place, but with that being said, why should we have any confidence in all in granting the association eternal governance over our properties when they openly admitted to screwing up completely for the last several years?
Question 5: What else?
It is obvious the author of these documents know nothing about the law. Ignoring the fact that they are trying to revitalize the wrong documents, the document also contains some illegal provisions, such as the restrictions regarding clotheslines or aerials.
Florida has a law protecting solar capturing devices, banning neighborhoods from making restrictions against their use. Clotheslines are one such device protected by the law.
Also, federal law prohibits neighborhoods from banning over-the-air reception devices. The FCC regulation, referred to as the Over-the-air Reception Devices Rule, or OTARD,is a preemption of restrictions on the placement of direct broadcast satellite, broadband radio service, and television broadcast antennas.
So here is a summary:
The Association wants to revitalize documents, making fraudulent claims against every property in the neighborhood and opening up every homeowner to huge liabilities. They use scare tactics to try and make everyone believe that leaving the association will destroy the neighborhood and cost everyone hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, more per year, and they will undoubtedly screw something up along the way. After all, they have screwed up so much over the last decade, including the simple preservation and revitalization process.