HOA lawyers tell their clients, “Show no mercy on neighborhood scofflaws. Warn them about the violation. Tell them this is a “no tolerance” neighborhood. Then pop them with a lawsuit.”
That kind of advice can tear a neighborhood apart. It also means some pretty nice paydays for lawyers.
Sammi Goldsten lives in the Southern Oaks Society Homeowners Association in the Stevens Ranch area of north Los Angeles County. The HOA asked Sammi to repaint her house, so she painted it almost the exact color as a house down the street. But the HOA decided her choice of colors was wrong and they filed a lawsuit. Surprisingly, they got an $18,000 judgment against Sammi, despite the fact that she wasn’t even aware the lawsuit had been filed.
Sammi had two plausible reasons for being unaware of the lawsuit. She was never served with the subpoena. And at the time, Sammi was at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Her young daughter was deathly ill and was undergoing a series of surgeries as doctors attempted to save her life. Sammi never left her daughter’s bedside.
On the other side of the country, the Southern Oaks Society HOA continued its war against the Goldstein family. To satisfy the $18,000 court judgment, the HOA drained the savings accounts of Sammi’s two children. And when Sammi finally returned to her neighborhood she was served with a contempt of court citation that basically said, either paint your house or go to jail.
It’s not often that an embattled homeowner wins against an HOA. But Sammi’s lawyer, Kenneth G. Eade, appeared in court and asked the judge to set aside his prior ruling. Eade argued that fairness demands two elements; that a defendant to notified of the lawsuit and second, that a defendant be given a chance to be heard. Sammi was given neither.
The judge agreed and set aside his former ruling.
Still, it’s hard to believe there were any winners in this case. Certainly not Sammi Goldstein who now owes a small fortune in attorney’s fees. And it cannot be the Southern Oaks Society HOA, which has now built up a stack of its own legal bills. Finally, it cannot be the neighborhood itself. Realtors who show clients any homes for sale in Southern Oaks must disclose any “defects” in a property. That would include the contemptible actions of a rogue HOA board that has no compassion for a family during its time of grief and distress.
Ward Lucas, author of Neighbors At War! The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowner Association