HOA President Receives Public Criticism; Responds With Baseless Claims And Empty Legal Threats

from the ALL-CAPS---that'll-show-'em dept

If there's one thing our judicial system has taught the layman, it's this: when faced with public criticism, your first reaction should be to craft angry letters/emails full of baseless legal threats. (Of course, the internet teaches exactly the opposite lesson, one that many have failed to learn...) Today's angry email writer (and phone caller) is the president (and treasurer) [and legal agent] of the Stonecreek Arbor Homeowner's Association, located in Indiana's Vandenburgh County.
The Evansville Courier & Press recently wrote a lengthy piece about HOAs and how they can range wildly in quality, from being so laissez-faire that you wonder where your money is going to providing the services your area needs to micro-dictatorships that leave residents unhappy.

The HOA at the center of this story is called Stonecreek Arbors, in Indiana’s Vandenburgh County. According to the paper, the Stonecreek HOA was responsible for more than half of all the liens filed in the county last year. Many of these liens were for unpaid HOA dues worth a little more than $200.

The 49 liens filed by the HOA translates to slightly less than 1/6 of all the homes in the subdivision.
Anyone who's even slightly familiar with HOAs knows it's going to be nearly impossible to find a flattering article written about these overweening middlemen/micromanagers who have inserted themselves between homeowners and their own property. (At least one that's not written by association board members...) Why so many of these associations exist is a mystery, given that most people resent having arbitrary rules and limitations placed on something they purchased. It's like DRM for houses.

That being said, Stonecreek Arbor was like any other homeowners association that makes the news. Excessive fees. Sudden bans on a previously parkable driveway, which instead became a HOA board member's private road to and from the lake. Demanding pets be microchipped, even when the existing "rules" carried no language to that effect. And so on.

The Evansville Courier article detailed these offenses, leading off with a photo of the subdivision's entrance which handily sported the Stonecreek name, lest anyone be confused about which HOA was currently abusing its members. Shortly after publication (and following a brief interview with the HOA president Stephen Hess -- captured "on tape" over at the Consumerist), the Evansville Courier & Press received this email from Hess.
“[T]his notice also requires you not to at any measure mention anything regarding my name, any resident of Stonecreek, NOR will we ALLOW any of your printing in any article regarding Stonecreek at any time in any publication… You will be held liable for any violations of this letter and notice/request in this email. If we find/discover you have mentioned Stonecreek in any legal matter their (sic) will be action toward yourself as well as any print paper you represent in the media article.

“You may contact any HOA in the County of Vanderburgh, the State of Indiana, but Stonecreek will not PERMIT OR ALLOW YOU our legal name in any future article.”
There are a lot of claims being made here that the HOA president can't hope to back up. Exactly how he was hoping to prevent mention "in any publication," much less the one with which he's currently tangling, is unclear. Maybe he was hoping a few CAPITALIZED WORDS would strike fear in their tiny journalistic souls. The double threat of "being held liable" and having "action toward" the paper doesn't seem to have prevented publication of this article on the internet, or in "any print paper."

The HOA president didn't even throw out handy, but un-actionable, terms like "libel" or "defamation," but he did follow up with one more vocal threat:
That obviously didn’t work, nor did the phone call to the Courier & Press, which demanded the paper “stop this article immediately, because I will sue you just like I sue the people who don’t pay their dues.” he said.
While Hess certainly seems to know his way around legal matters like lien filing (he filed more than 47 liens against his neighbors in one day), he seems to have a little trouble parsing the grayer area of public criticism. His response has just dropped Stonecreek's reputation from "bad" to "worse," and he will probably find himself on the outside staring in come the next board election. Now, he's also "internet (in)famous" as well, having successfully portrayed himself as the sort of person who comes out suing at the drop of a hat. Not much fun to deal with at a phone line's length, much less as a neighbor.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 2:28am

    Stephen Hess needs to follow Teri Buhl on twitter so he can access her protected tweets and ask her who her representation is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 3:03am

    He is in for a rude awakening once he realizes that most of the internet does not live in the community of Stonecreek Arbor Indiana.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Prisoner 201, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 3:38am

    Hess, meet Streisand. Carreon is waiting in the wings if you are so inclined.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 3:47am

    And this is what you get when you've got otherwise insignificant people in a position of pseudo-power, the belief that they actually can order everyone around, and not just the poor sods that fall under their limited authority.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Josef Anvil (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 4:14am

    Re: LMAO

    Stephen Hess is the embodiment of the old saying... Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought an idiot, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.


    I was only mildly interested in this article AND THEN, I followed the links back to this little gem:

    http://www.courierpress.com/videos/detail/a-conversation-with-stonecreek-hoa-president-steph /


    My favorite quote is at 5:08

    "You're in legal, legal.... legal violation here."
    - Stephen Hess

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Matthew Cline (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 4:39am

    which demanded the paper “stop this article immediately, because I will sue you just like I sue the people who don’t pay their dues.” he said.
    Has he forgotten that the HOA has contracts with the people who don't pay their dues, and that's why he can sue them?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Joseph M. Durnal, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 4:41am

    I'm no fan of HOAs

    Believe me, most people don't want to live in an HOA, but in many areas the only homes that are affordable are in HOA developments. So, while it is still a choice, I'm sure most people who live in HOA developments didn't choose it because the HOA was so great, but because those were the only homes in the area in their price range.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 4:46am

    "It's like DRM for houses."


    Sad, but true. It seems these poor people have been scammed into paying a lot for a license to use a piece of property covered by an EULA which is subject to change without notice. They demand your pets be microchipped? - this is beyond stupid.

    I'm sure there are perfectly sane HOAs out there and they may even serve a useful purpose, but it seems all too easy for little dictators to screw things up beyond belief.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Deimal (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 4:50am

    Three words

    What a douche.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 5:15am

    Looks like..

    There are a lot more clients in the wings waiting for Carreon. Maybe Carreon should offer to partner with Gibbs, Steele, and Gibson to form a new firm. This could be a banner year for them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    The Real Michael, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 5:26am

    Re:

    "They demand your pets be microchipped? - this is beyond stupid."

    The Humane Society chips all the animals they get, which from what I've read can even kill them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 5:31am

    We HAD a board prez like that.

    Sounds exactly like a douche by the name of Bryan Epstein in Wellington,FL.

    This guy had real power issues. Totally a Napoleon syndrome.

    He would make up rules, without board approval, and then send threatening violation letters and fines to the homeowners here.

    Things got so bad that SWAT showed up at his house because some of the homeowners had confronted him and guns were drawn.

    He also has anger problems.. Watch out if you challenged him, he'd get aggressive and confrontational and threatening... Funniest thing of all is watching his face turn from pink, to red to crimson purple when he gets angry.

    The whole neighborhood grouped against him and booted the douche off the HOA board and he hasn't been able to get relected since. YAY democracy..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Bengie, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 5:33am

    Mr Jerk

    Dear Jerk, Because of your baseless legal threats, I do not wish to be contacted by you again. If you feel you have legal basis, please use a lawyer. Any further direct contact from you and I will pursue a Protective order.

    The fun thing about this is if you publish more stuff and this guy goes off the wall and starts contacting you again, you'll have a lot of evidence to get a PO again them.

    Legal threats in bad faith is harassment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 5:42am

    Necessity is the mother

    My friend is in an HOA that she's having major disagreements with now, even though it didn't exist when she moved into the place over 20 years ago. The reason they formed it was actually pretty practical. They're an annex of Columbus, and Columbus, in the winter, won't plow side streets unless 4" or more of snow fall in a short time period. This neglects the fact that over a long cold winter well more than 4" can build up on those side streets, along with ice, and turn driving treacherous.

    Originally, Columbus had a policy banning homeowners and HOAs from hiring private plow drivers to plow their side streets, saying they could damage the roads and the city would have to fix it. So in the winter my friend's husband and the other men in the neighborhood got together when the snow got bad, fired up their snow blowers, and would march in a slow line through the development, plowing the road on foot.

    Eventually Columbus relented, and instead of wasting money on gas (and getting a lot of back pain) the neighborhood formed an HOA, solely to pool money together to hire a plow driver.

    Sadly overtime, the HOA began to insert itself into everything else, and petty people began to try to use it to run everyone else's lives. So now my friend is in a fight with them, refusing to sign onto a new charter that would require the board approve even the tiniest changes to their landscaping.

    So, it started out good, but went bad. That's how it happens.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 5:48am

    Re: Re:

    It would be the same with a cochlear implant in people. There are inherent risks with all additions to biological things.

    Oddly enough, there is a decent enough rationale for requiring microchipping pets - that of being able to track a pet in case of loss or theft. Sadly, I don't think that this particular HOA has that use in mind, though...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    DannyB (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 6:05am

    Re:

    Speaking of Teri Buhl, I noticed this in TFA . . .

    > Maybe he was hoping a few CAPITALIZED WORDS would
    > strike fear in their tiny journalistic souls.

    The word that should have been used is jurnos.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 6:31am

    Re: I'm no fan of HOAs

    That's most likely why they're affordable. Some HOAs are nice, they manage common properties, but when you get crazies in power they do crazy things. Then people want to leave at all costs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 6:33am

    Re: Re: I'm no fan of HOAs

    Forgot to mention, HOAs are pretty much like really small townships. Try to paint your house an unapproved color.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 6:55am

    Re: Re: LMAO

    Two even better: When Hess says 'You can have the floor now' and continues to talk non-stop, and then later says 'I don't like your tone' when the other fellow hasn't been able to get a word in edge-wise.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Some Other AC (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 6:57am

    Re: Re: LMAO

    This stupid jack ass won't even let the reporter speak. Keeps asking to speak with his boss, the reporter agrees to let him speak to his boss, but when the reporter tries to say he anything, Hess just overrides him with more empty legal bullshit.
    Talk about someone with a serious sense of self importance. He keeps referencing people who have complained, but I will lay odds that the people who have complained are his little toadies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:00am

    Re: I'm no fan of HOAs

    I saw once, a lawyer participating in a HOA meeting where the president failed to appear, there where just the 2 of us, me and him at the meeting, which he opened and moved to become the new president, I agreed, signed as witness and started to create new rules, the first was to reduce the dues paid, the next was to propose some renovations :)

    After that I never failed to appear in another schedule meeting, is my interest right there, even if I couldn't do anything after that.

    Sometimes people get lucky, have you tried hacking the rules of the HOA to your advantage?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Trails (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:02am

    Re: Re: LMAO

    Yeah that recording is pretty epic. The guy is just throwing words around he doesn't even understand and trying to intimidate.

    "Detriment of character, despise my requests, and I have a legal right to pursue that therein."

    "You have no clue of the legal issues you're presenting"

    "There are non-solicited signs on the gates of our community"

    "I have legal emails from these residents..."

    "I'm gonna sue your people as soon as you hit the newspaper with this! This is legal!"

    "I would love to meet with them cause I'm gonna slander!"

    "There will be a legal lawsuit and slander and detriment of character."

    "I will see to it when I meet you in court that the emails are in line!"

    He's just an angry idiot. I believe every single allegation made against this rage-monkey.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:13am

    Re: Necessity is the mother

    HOA's should start their chapter stating exactly what they were created for and limitations of such power, with mechanisms that include a super majority to change those things else people go overboard HOA's as just any management must be supervised like the government.

    HOA's also expose cultural tendencies among people, we all have control issues at some level and when we get power we tend to abuse it, most people are not aware of that, mostly because our own vanity make it hard to see those issues.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:13am

    Re: I'm no fan of HOAs

    Wasn't the whole point of the HOA to raise property values?

    I'd say that if an HOA property looks more affordable than the non-HOA houses in the area, they aren't really more affordable, they just hit you with hidden fees.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:15am

    Re: Re: I'm no fan of HOAs

    HOA's are mini governments, if you don't regulate them properly people will always abuse it when they get "da power".

    Power is intoxicating, instead of doing the minimum possible to disturb others some start to believe others are holding them back and want to increase the value of their own property or status and do crazy stuff to get it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:17am

    One clear advantage of the internet is the ease by which state records can be searched to locate the addresses of an HOA and its board members. A quick trip to the site for the Indiana Department of Corporations, a search using the name of the HOA, a review of its records on file with the state, and then a quick use of Google Maps to find and image (satellite view) a subdivision reveals information that is worth its weight in gold.

    Based upon the map and its Street View function, I must say that this association is about as vanilla as they come, with what appears to be virtually no significant common area and ammenities that necessitate any annual dues beyond, at best, a very, very modest amount.

    About the only thing I noted was a few retention ponds that may or may not be the responsibility of the HOA for maintenance. Moreover, its entrance is "spartan" to say the least (a small, non-descript wall with the name of the area, a very few shrubs adjacent the wall, and no sign of a gate that might require the association to maintain the roads as private roads. IOW, an otherwise ordinary residential community.

    For anyone who might be interested, relevant data needed to view the area can be found at:
    https://secure.in.gov/sos/online_corps/view_details_ppv.aspx

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Avatar28 (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:18am

    Re: Re: Re: LMAO

    I don't think some of those words mean what he thinks they mean.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:19am

    Re: Re: Necessity is the mother

    Why stop at a super majority? An HOA must be voluntarily entered at some point. If the purpose and limitations of the HOA changes, every homeowner should have the option to opt out.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Ron (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:23am

    Re: Necessity is the mother

    Wow, they get to alter their landscaping?! My HOA makes it clear that they own everything from the paint on my walls outward; except for the exterior doors and windows. That leaves the interior airspace as mine.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:24am

    Re: Re: Re: LMAO

    "That's legal!" - Stephen Hess

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:26am

    Re: Re: Re: LMAO

    "You know I am lividly pissed with you!" - Stephen Hess

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Matthew (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:55am

    legal terminology tourettes

    One of the comments attached to the audio clip has nailed it: "legal terminology tourettes"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Valkor (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 8:38am

    Re: Necessity is the mother

    So, your HOA formed an association (republic) of independent agents (states) based on a charter (constitution) of limited scope (power). Over time the board (representatives), through good intentions, the idea that they knew better than everyone else, and good old-fashioned hunger for power, started regulating, prohibiting, and taxing things that the original group (framers) would have been shocked by.

    Sounds familiar.

    Through my experiences with bureaucrats of every stripe, I have learned this lesson: Never underestimate the amount of power that can go to someone's head.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 8:41am

    Re:

    I'm waiting for these words to come out of his mouth: "We didn't sell you your home, we sold you a license to live there."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 8:44am

    Re: We HAD a board prez like that.

    If you think that's bad, you're lucky you don't deal with condo property managers like Fox Management Group's Mara Feldman-Fox, who actually stated in a very threatening letter that "you have no standing or legal right to communicate...on any subject or issue.", you wonder where they learned law (particularly the First Amendment)!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    hobo, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 8:45am

    Re:

    You're just asking to be sued..

    /s

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 8:52am

    Re: Re: Re: LMAO

    Thank you Stephen Hess! You should be a writer for Comedy Central. Whenever I need a good laugh, I thank God for people like you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    Atkray (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 8:56am

    Turn the tables on him.

    I think the homeowners should band together and sue him because his inane and very public behavior is destroying their property values.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    DOlz, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 10:08am

    Re: Re: Re: LMAO

    Some gems you missed;

    When he accuses the reporter of "betraying" him for not following his email instructions. Later he repeats this with, "you betrayed my requests". Two points here, you can't betray a request and I never heard him come close to making a REQUEST in the entire tape.

    When he comes out and says "I'm threatening you".

    When he says you better put that in the article, the same article he keeps insisting they NOT publish.

    He keeps insisting that reporter shouldn't have been talking to the residents because there is a non-solicting sign posted. Won't someone buy that man a dictionary?

    Of course the biggest irony comes near the end when he tells the reporter that the reporter has "no clue of the legal issues you're presenting".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 10:33am

    Re: Re: LMAO

    Can we vote for this conversation as funniest of the week? Hands down... Josef -- thanks for the link.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    Andrew Norton (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 11:14am

    HOA's are driving DOWN the property values

    A friend in Marietta, Ga has been looking to move. They sold their home last october, and have been in an apartment since April while they looked.

    They found one they really really liked, and were about to put in an offer. was only $220k. Then I reminded them about a HOA, and they checked the paperwork. He'd have to get prior permission to work from home. He's a network storage manager for CBS, and works from home a lot. There were other restrictions, like they can come in any time with 24 hours notice. He has a special needs child. Ended up being a no.
    2 weeks later the seller dropped the price to 200k. Last I heard it went to $180k.

    Meanwhile, they found another place they liked better, and was at $270k, with NO HOA. They move in in 2 weeks time.

    "Why so many of these associations exist is a mystery, given that most people resent having arbitrary rules and limitations placed on something they purchased."

    I can answer that too. In Georgia at least, any new development is required by state law to start one. then it gets handed off to the residents when enough lots are sold.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Kevin, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 11:34am

    my personal experience w/ HOAs

    www.ai.org/judiciary/opinions/pdf/01100707jgb.pdf

    If you're unhappy with their management, follow the rules and state law and kick the b*stards out of office.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 12:34pm

    And this is why you get involved

    I'm guessing that a significant percentage of the "members" of this HOA are unhappy with the state of things. If these people would band together, attend meetings, and motion/vote their minds, perhaps they could actually do something about it.

    But, like any politics, most people assume there's nothing they can do, and just bend over to take it in the ass...

    I live in a small gated community of 15 homes - we have a psuedo-HOA (more like a road association) to fund road maintenance and repair.

    You can be damn sure I would show up and be vocal about anything I disagreed with - and I would probably contact my neighbors to discuss it as well to find out who else agrees with my viewpoints.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 2:12pm

    Re: Re: I'm no fan of HOAs

    But, at least in some cases, they have the opposite affect. My sister lived owned a HOA house and eventually couldn't stand the association anymore. It took a long time to sell that house, and it sold at rates well below what was usual for the area, specifically because of the HOA.

    I would certainly never purchase a house that required being a part of such an organization.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 2:14pm

    Wow. I think listening to that raised my blood pressure 50 points. This guy needs a lesson on freedom of the press and the definitions of several legal terms.

    This guy's rudeness and ignorance of the law make him unfit for his position.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    DCX2, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 3:09pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Probably gets kickbacks from the local vet for sending him so much business.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    DCX2, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 3:20pm

    More HOA horror stories

    I read an article about this one HOA somewhere in Pennsylvania that fined one of their members $15/day because they had colored Christmas lights up. HOA policy was that only white lights could be put up, because too many colors would drive down the property values.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
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    ASR (profile), Feb 9th, 2013 @ 9:11am

    Did anyone else picture Danny McBride on the other end of the phone?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
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    Bergman (profile), Feb 10th, 2013 @ 11:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Necessity is the mother

    Materially adverse change, anyone?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    icon
    Bergman (profile), Feb 11th, 2013 @ 12:00am

    Re: Re: Necessity is the mother

    Wait a while. Sooner or later they will start dictating what colors you can use for interior paint, tile colors in the bathroom, and banning halitosis even right after waking up. No exceptions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    icon
    Bergman (profile), Feb 11th, 2013 @ 12:05am

    Re:

    No worries. He'll get his lesson, courtesy of the Streisand Effect.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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