Florida Homeowner's Association Sues Resident For Critical Blog Comments, Seeks Identity Of Other Commenters

from the but-of-course dept

I’m not sure what it is about “Homeowners Associations” (HOAs), but I can’t recall ever coming across one which didn’t involve all sorts of acrimony. A few years back, I lived in a house that was a part of a (mandatory) HOA. I was renting, so I didn’t really care or pay much attention to any details. And then, one day I found a bright yellow document sitting on my front step, which had a long and rambling letter from a neighbor who apparently was challenging the HOA on something and the fight had escalated. He had placed the letter on the front steps of every single house in our neighborhood. While I don’t even recall what the argument itself was about, I do recall him explicitly asking that the police be present at the next HOA meeting, and the phrase: “I fear my life will be taken; I fear my wife will become a widow; if this situation is not brought under control.” The whole thing seemed so bizarre to me — who would ever take an HOA so seriously? — that I remember telling people about that phrase, and it’s stuck with me.

And the thing is, every time I ever hear anything about HOAs, it always seems to involve some similar crazy story. A few months back, we wrote about an HOA president in Indiana going ballistic with bogus legal threats towards pretty much anyone who criticized him. And now, here’s a story out of Naples, Florida, where an HOA for “Fiddler’s Creek” is using homeowners’ fees to sue one of their own homeowners, a resident named James Schutt, because he made some comments the HOA board members don’t like on a blog about the community.

You can see the actual comments in the original lawsuit. I read them over and my first reaction was “they’re suing over that?!” Basically, it sounds like a typical HOA fight. Schutt isn’t thrilled with how the HOA is being run, and he accuses them of failing their fiduciary responsibility, and he feels that some of the things the HOA pays for — such as management — are excessive and possibly corrupt. You see these kinds of things all the time. Even if they’re not exactly true, they’re standard rhetorical hyperbole that happens online. Get over it and move on. Instead, the HOA sued.

It seems pretty clear that this is a SLAPP lawsuit, designed to shut up Schutt and potentially other critics. Schutt is being defended by Marc Randazza (a name many of you will hopefully recognize) who let us know that the HOA is seeking to depose the blogger and are trying to “out” other anonymous commenters on the blog (to clarify, Schutt is not the blog owner, but was merely a commenter). The fact that the HOA is now trying to out other anonymous commenters certainly adds weight to the idea that this is a SLAPP suit designed to shut up critics. The blogger is pushing back but the anonymous commenters themselves might want to find some legal representation to protect their own rights as well, and to make sure that their identities aren’t disclosed due to baseless threats that seem designed solely to create a chilling effect on critics of the HOA.

Did I mention that I no longer live anywhere near an HOA… and I have fantastic neighbors who all seem to get along splendidly with each other?

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Florida Homeowner's Association Sues Resident For Critical Blog Comments, Seeks Identity Of Other Commenters”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
68 Comments
Ray says:

Re: HOAs

I have taken video of our Board. I would like to post the video on YouTube and then create a link to our resident website. Does anyone know if the HOA will have grounds to sue me? The images were recorded during HOA official Meetings. No comments are going to be made about any of individual recorded. We just want to show other concerned residents how some of our BOD are dealing with an issue many residents are concerned about and to expose their positions on the matter.
Any comment will be appreciated.

Ryan says:

Dealbreaker when buying a house...

It amazes me how prevalent HOAs have become, and how many people don’t even realize what rights they’re signing away when joining one.

“Huge master bath, Check.”
“Beautiful view, Check.”
“Close to shopping and services, Check.”
“Busybody housewives with nothing better to do than badger me about how short to keep my lawn and what color drapes I can put in the upstairs window, Check.”

When buying a house, an HOA should be a dealbreaker for anybody who wants to feel like they actually own their own property.

out_of_the_blue says:

Welcome to the future, Mike.

Where savages abound, attack even The Rich:

“Former Casualty star Clive Mantle has had the top of his ear savagely bitten off in a row at a hotel.

Clive, 55, was attacked at 4.30am yesterday after asking two rowdy men outside his room at a Travelodge to keep it quiet.”

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/clive-mantle-ear-bitten-off-1784616

That’s just randomly off Drudge, where I went looking for something similar.

Now, at some point, society has to get these savages under control. I do my part here in part protesting ad hom — and firing it back when I damn well feel like it — but it’s a thankless task. You kids today don’t even know what peace and quiet and civility are, let alone habituate to it.

For instance, just today I was accused VILELY by “Chosen Reject”: “I see no reason why you shouldn’t quote out_of_the_blue as saying that Hitler was a good guy.”

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130326/10400322463/senator-fido-wants-to-create-official-ambassador-hollywoods-interests.shtml#c120

And now he’s accusing me of ad hom and hypocrisy too.

So I totally believe that someone could fear for his life from those who’ve been raised without discipline; they don’t recognize boundaries — such as not pirating other people’s work-products.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Welcome to the future, Mike.

IP extremists are the ones that have no boundaries. Proof, copy protection lengths.

Disagreeing with certain laws does not equate to not having boundaries. That you would even bring up this ridiculous argument shows that there is no boundaries to how dumb your logic is. So why should anyone take you seriously?

DeeP says:

Re: Welcome to the future, Mike.

Hmm. Does anyone know (I mean ACTUALLY know) what this lunatic is rambling on about, apart from the final few words – his favourite subject……piracy. Had to get that in there somewhere, didn’t you, OOTB, even though it had nothing to do with the subject in hand! Get a life, why don’t you.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

uh huh…
as i went on at length a while back, our stupid fucking HOA (all of 15 properties) has been spending THOUSANDS on lawyers fees, liens, etc trying to extract a $200 fee…

(protip: when you ask a lawyer (or barber) if you need more lawyering (or a haircut), what the fuck do you think they will say ? ? ? )

literally ALL our fucking dues are going to harass this guy, which NO ONE in the neighborhood agrees with, EXCEPT they just don’t want to mess with the NASTY bastards who run the HOA show…

the poor fucker not only disagrees on principle (even though he is morally right, he is legally wrong), but he doesn’t have the $200+ to pony up, much less the THOUSANDS in legal fees, etc it has ballooned to being…
so now he has liens on the property which he will NEVER pay, and whoever eventually buys the property will have to pay…

(which means the property becomes that much less attractive to buy, meaning the liens -and the HOA- will probably NEVER get that money back…)

oh, did i mention that one of the leading scumbags heading this worthless effort is a guy who buys tax liens as legal extortion ? ? ? fucker, his head will be on a stick when the hard rain comes…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy
eof

Binko Barnes (profile) says:

A sadly large percentage of humanity enjoy absolutely nothing so much as attaining a small position of power and lording over other people by enforcing great webs of petty inane, rules. These control-freak authoritarians are my least favorite type of people.

And how exactly do you “out” anonymous blog commenters? For example, my real name is not Binko; in fact I strive to use my real name on the internet as little as possible. Do blogs typically store each commenter’s IP Address along with their supposedly anonymous post? Even if so, it’s hard to imagine that courts would grant the right to subpeona poster’s true identity from their ISP for something that is so clearly an expression of personal opinion.

That One Guy (profile) says:

So let's sum up:

1) Blogger complains about mismanagement of funds, and accuses HOA or corrupt practices.

2) HOA uses funds provided by those in HOA to sue blogger in an attempt to shut him up, as well as attempting to unmask other commentators, almost certainly so sue them as well.

I can only assume the people running the HOA didn’t really think about what would happen after that point, but I imagine it will go something like this:

3) HOA’s actions confirm to all and sundry that blogger was dead on the money with his accusations, causing their lawsuit to go, shall we say ‘less than well’ for HOA in court.

Tom (profile) says:

Re: So let's sum up:

This is EXACTLY what happened to a friend of mine. He managed to get the president of a local club removed based on allegations of embezzlement… which he can back up with bank statements and witnesses. (Basically, cash paid for dues never went to the bank.)

And of course, the deposed ex-president is suing. The thing is, win or lose, the defendant has no assets… so what’s the point?

Anti SLAPP suits suck.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: So let's sum up:

No no, SLAPP suits are when someone tries to sue to shut someone up, so an anti-SLAPP suit would be one countering a SLAPP suit.

And regarding your friend, as I assume the ex-president was suing on grounds of slander or something like that, I’d think all he’d need to do is present his evidence of embezzlement and the judge would probably throw the case out quick enough to give the lawyers whiplash.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: So let's sum up:

yup, truth is an 100% defense. For that matter, there are two defenses avilible in this case:
1. that the statement was made in good faith and a reasonable belief that it is true
2. Fair Comment in a matter of public interest- I think the homeowners have an interest in knowing if their HOA is corrupt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 2 reasons

My neighborhood has a voluntary HOA-like thing, where people in the subdivision opt-in some small dues to get benefits like ‘Banners for your kid’s graduation’ to put up on the house…. I know a little weird.

Anway, a new woman in the neighborhood apparently has too much time and talked some of the members into trying to get homeowner support for making the HOA mandatory. She went around house-to-house floating the idea and begging for funds.

When she came around to my house and described the HOA, we told her we don’t have kids and already subsidize others’ kids through taxes, so no thank you. She pressed saying “we could do more”, and that it was really important for the community to have common goals.

We told her we’re unwilling to cede any decision-making authority over our property and that HOA’s had a bad track record of enabling power hungry mini-tyrants wasting peoples’ time and money.

Poor dear. She was rambling in response about “why would people think that way, its so untrusting, anti-community”, when we quietly closed the door on her.

Haven’t heard from them in two years, so I’m guessing ours was not the minority opinion.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: 2 reasons

a new woman in the neighborhood apparently
has too much time and talked some of the
members into trying to get homeowner support
for making the HOA mandatory

How can they make membership mandatory? A group of people can’t just get together and vote away your private property rights out from under you. If you don’t agree to it, there’s no obligation on your part to participate, no matter how many of your neighbors want it.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 2 reasons

Yes they can. Just not retroactively. But all ‘new’ purchases in the community would be covered by it.

HOAs aren’t bad by design, just in execution as most people aren’t willing to pony up and be part of the solution.

That leaves the mini-tyrants as they only people who actually apply for positions and you get what you ‘pay’ for.

mischab1 says:

You only hear about HOA’s if they are doing bad stuff. If they are doing what they are supposed to, there is nothing to talk about. That said, unless it is allowed in the bylaws or they got a majority vote from all the homeowners, using HOA funds to go after someone who claims the HOA is misusing funds is just proving them right.

derp says:

freedom of assembly

I view HOAs the way I view unions that you have to join in order to get certain jobs. They force you to join a group in order to do something that is really only tangentially related to that group. I feel that being forced to join a club (especially one with dues) violates what I think is an inalienable right to free assembly. I think that *I* should be the only one to regulate my choice to assemble, or not assemble, with whomever I choose. If a group of neighbors wants to get together and start a club that self-regulates what height to which they cut their grass, and share their ideas freely with the community, that’s great! Now, I know what you might be thinking, such an at-will system would be almost completely ineffective at actually enforcing any behavior. Well, maybe that’s a good reflection on what people actually want: the freedom to treat their houses like what they are, their own property.

FarSide (profile) says:

Re: freedom of assembly

I hear what you are saying, but the problem with your argument is that no one is forcing you to buy or rent a house in an ares where there is an HOA.

If you’d been living somewhere and then, later, someone was able to force you to join a group – then yes, I agree with you 100%. So far I’ve never heard of anything of the like, though.

Aquaria says:

Re: Re: freedom of assembly

:::If you’d been living somewhere and then, later, someone was able to force you to join a group – then yes, I agree with you 100%. So far I’ve never heard of anything of the like, though.:::

I’ve been living in my neighborhood for 13 years now. My “voluntary” HOA has decided to go mandatory.

I didn’t sign up for a mandatory HOA, but it’s being forced on me anyway. It’s Texas, so I’m stuck with it, and I can’t afford to move.

ShellMG says:

When my in-laws finally could no longer care for their house in Florida and the family put it up for sale, we got an earful from the real estate agent.

HOA’s are a nightmare for realtors; each HOA has their own regulations on how/where/when FOR SALE signs can be placed, as well as height, width, in the window only and what colors can be used.

I don’t know about other states, but in Florida HOA communities are usually full of retirees who have nothing better to do than mind the business of their neighbors. Ratting each other out over small violations is a pastime.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Why we'll never get rid of government

Getting rid of all government is highly
unlikely.

Which is why I find myself becoming more and more misanthropic every year as I get older.

I now wistfully wish for a remote mountain cabin where the nearest person is more than a mile away and where I can live in peace and quiet with my dog and write my manifesto in peace.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve never owned a place where I had to deal with a HOA. I think if that was a requirement, I would call it a deal breaker. I see no need of having to pay money to finance someone to enforce petty rules of any sort if it’s my property.

I’ve no dealings with any sort of HOA and after reading a few incidents that have passed through here, I’m glad I never have. Maybe there are some that live up to their billing 100%. I just fail to see the need to belong in order to buy property. Having it as a requirement just means I will buy somewhere else.

Anonymous Coward says:

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-03-17/news/os-lk-lauren-ritchie-homeowner-associations-20130317_1_homeowner-association-levy-fees-subdivision

Read this and then ponder the advisability of purchasing a home governed by deed restrictions administered by a “mandatory” HOA. In Florida, for example, HOAs invariably remain under a developer’s control until +90% of the lots have been sold. The above article details what is easily the most egregious grab of power I have ever read concerning an HOA that remains under almost the exclusive control of a developer.

Some Other AC (profile) says:

Currently live in an HOA managed community

Many of the more recent neighborhoods in the large metropolitan areas of Texas(Dallas, Fort WOrth, Houston, Austion, etc..) have HOAs. And a goodly portion of them are relatively expensive in dues. Unfortunately, they also tend to be minor dictatorships as well. There was a case in Frisco where a homeowner purchased a new Ford F150(with extras like nicer wheels, upgraded exterior, etc..). His HOA fined him as their Rules prohibited vehicles below a certain class from being parked in front of the homes. In other words, because it was a pickup truck(most popular vehicle in most of Texas), it was prohibited. There were a few local articles and news pieces about it. Many highlighted that had he spent 15K more for a Lincoln Mark LT(essentially a fancy Ford F150) or a Cadillac Escalade EXT(Chevy Avalanche dressed up) he would have been within the “rules”. I don’t remember the outcome to this one, but it shows the petty BS that goes on with HOAs.
As a side note, my community has an HOA. Dues are less than $25/month and cover shared areas and two pools. For the most part it is pretty relaxed with only mild petty crap, so I consider myself lucky. There are even a few with much higher costs that include yard maintenance, water parks and other amenities with the dues. Not all are bad, but it definitely seems most are, and unfortunately, the State and Local laws protect them more than they protect the homeowners.

btr1701 (profile) says:

News Article

I don’t have much to say about the HOA other than I despise HOAs with every fiber of my being.

However, I did want to comment on the linked article on the winknews.com site. That’s quote possible the worst-written news article I’ve seen from any professional news reporting organization in my life. It was disorganized and non-sensical and grammatically challenged.

And they say bloggers aren’t ‘real’ reporters. Well, if this is the sort of drivel we get from real reporters, we could use a few less of them and a few more bloggers.

Iridis says:

This really doesn't suprise me.

I don’t know, when things like this happen I find they don’t suprise me anymore. The incentive for earning money by any means possible will break any system, no matter how balanced and fair it is designed to be. If things get worse over the years then we’ll be back to having to go with our gut instincts over a product (which, if you know gut instincts, almost always tend to be wrong).
I mean I’m sure reviews must have existed in some form previously, but when they all start being introduced on the internet, suddenly they are no longer welcome, and they become a target for the unscrupulous.

dcfl (profile) says:

florida hoa's

How would you Love to Buy and Build over 10 years ago so that Your Values were Somewhat Protected after all that is the reason we Pay Dues so some people can Not put their cars or ? up on blocks or block your driveway so you cannot even get “in” your own driveway or let their Property go unattended to and unkept which EFFECTS Everyones Property Values and lete face it Property Values have been Already now Affected Drastically by FLIPPERS and Bad loans and Banks who put people in homes they would Not be able to afford once they the “banks” went UP on their Rates of course this was really all Orchestrated by Our Treasury along with the Banking and Finance..People…anyway we pay over $500 a year and have had a pretty much Defunct Board?? for Many years now our Neighborhood is going the way I’ve Personally seen Far TOO many because the BOARD or BOARDS that we Pay DUES to EVERY Year have Not been doing what the MAIN MASTER Board gets Paid to do the Sub associations have NO ONE who wants to Serve because they feel why other? If you cannot Enforce ANYTHING what’s the POINT? I say then whats the POINT OF PAYING Dues at all?? Then…if they are Not going to TRY to Protect OUR Property Values by ATTEMPTING to Enforce Just the BASICS then we might as well MOVE…which is what WE are trying to do and then NO MORW HOA’S for us and this is over a 30 year “period” in Florida for us and now same old same old in this being the 5th HOA over the past 30 years and 5 homes. I will RUN in Opposite Directon…..and it IS true People who DO get ON A Board do so with a Personal Agenda whether it’s to PASS something THEY want to DO on their OWN Property or a Friends or give a Friend some BUSINESS From the Board or like someone else said which is also true they have nothing better to do and feel a sense of Power..there are Those who do care but Very Few.

Jack says:

HOA Information and Documents

Having a resource to help with HOA information and documents makes life easier for real estate agents. Recently, when selling a home in Ohio, Association Online provided me with all the HOA details for the listing, and then provided all the documents – by-laws, financial statements, covenants, etc. They made sure the package was complete, making my work easier. Their web site is well organized and very easy to use – http://www.associationonline.com . Call their team of experts ? they are great to work with (970-226-1324).

Jack says:

HOA Information and Documents

Having a resource to help with HOA information and documents makes life easier for real estate agents. Recently, when selling a home in Ohio, Association Online provided me with all the HOA details for the listing, and then provided all the documents – by-laws, financial statements, covenants, etc. They made sure the package was complete, making my work easier. Their web site is well organized and very easy to use – http://www.associationonline.com . Call their team of experts ? they are great to work with (970-226-1324).

Rose says:

Bad hoa need help

We live in Nazi Fl I mean Sunset Bay condos I have experienced this before a clique favoritism questionable funds being spent and dangerous horrible living environment. we don’t live on the ocean but we have a million dollar condo hoa with a special assessment coming. We have had propane tanks below us gasoline canisters boats lol and a bathroom mirror in the walkway etc my husband is 79 and I have had two heart attacks yet we continue to do the majority of the wprk around our bldg I have even scrubbed the bldg adjacent to us because it had mold and algae on it I took the supplies for the full time handyman to finish cleaning and they said it was on there list of to do’s in a year you spend 419.00 hoa it should be a given and so much more! I was assaulted by the neighbor two steps from my door and he is friends with others in the bldg we got screwed on this place and I need help my husband has dementia and we are open season to people here horrible community a few good souls but lost in the shuffle of politics and favoritism. We have the landscaping crew from hell that is so lazy all that do is cut down everything living we have spent over 600.00 putting in grass seed mulch, flowers plants and trees they wanted to cut down the beautiful ferns out front I said basically over my dead body after being left inside our condo without an entranceway on the second floor had to call the fire dept. they were held up with steel poles our condos for 8 months plus so many things my husband and others got stuck in the thick sealant they put down he literally climbed the railing to the second floor so condos and associations from hell I’ve got you covered and more

Naples Florida For Rent (user link) says:

crazy HOA's in Florida

I know HOA’s in Naples, Florida can be extremely bad. Discrimination, harassment, mismanagement of funds..etc. I am amazed how the state and local laws allow for these types of organizations to exist without more oversight. The problem is it can be difficult, costly, time consuming, etc… to fight these corrupt/biased entities. Especially, if the person fighting is an annual renter or vacation renter.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...