HOA President Receives Public Criticism; Responds With Baseless Claims And Empty Legal Threats
from the ALL-CAPS---that'll-show-'em dept
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.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.
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.
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.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."
“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.”
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.