HOA Violation Leads to Jail Time

This came in my Realtor email newsletter today. It’s a reminder that HOA rules have to be followed, no matter the reaons for not being able to comply.

A 66-year-old grandfather in Bayonet Point, Fla., is doing jail time because he couldn’t afford to replace the sod on his lawn in his deed-restricted community after his sprinkler system failed.

The Beacon Woods Civic Association took Joseph Prudente to court earlier this year after he failed to re-sod despite several warning letters. In September, Circuit Judge W. Lowell Bray ordered Prudente to resod. When Prudente repeatedly ignored the court order, Lowell sentenced him to jail without bail until the lawn is sodded.

Prudente, who takes heart medication, says he was unable to fix the lawn after his adjustable rate mortgage rose to $600 a month, Wachovia Bank repossessed his Toyota Scion, and his daughter and her two children fell on hard times and moved in with him and his wife Pat.

The Beacon Woods association expressed regret that Prudente had landed in jail. “It’s a sad situation,” says board president Bob Ryan. “But in the end, I have to say he brought it upon himself.”

Posted by Steve
8 years ago
Steve

Steve is a Real Estate Blogger, Husband and Dad, UT Austin Grad, Runner, Real Estate Broker and owner of Crossland Team and Crossland Real Estate in Austin TX.

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Sam - 8 years ago

I have to say initally I find this action to be ridiculous. The punishment does not fit the crime. The HOA could have placed a lein on the grandfather’s property and completed the sodding at their expense and potentially threaten to foreclose upon the property with said lien or seized equity in the amount spent plus potential legal fees (depending upon laws governing the location of the property). Any number of solutions could have been worked out, but to have a citizen thrown in jail for not sodding in violation of HOA rules is absurd and draconian. I suspect the gradfather irritated the Judge (probably for not complying or most likely not making even a reasonable attempt to comply or mitigate the issue) in this case and got placed in jail for contempt of court. A contemp charge would be acceptable but almost as ridculous since the grandfather can not correct the issue in jail either.

Superficially this appears to be way to much power accorded to a Home Owners Association over and against a citizen, but I would have to read the case details before drawing any final conclusions.

Regardless this action is a very slippery slope for HOAs to venture down against property owners and citizens. There may exist a potential for backlash from the community.

For clarification purposes I am not a lawyer and nothing I state should be interpreted as legal opinion or advice.

Thanks,

Sam

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krocek - 8 years ago

Fortunately some people pitched in to help him out –
http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/article850257.ece.

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Julia - 8 years ago

This is a great example of why I’m so glad to not live in a part of Austin with an HOA. I also plan to never ever live in a house that does fall under an HOA.

For the majority of unsightly issues people worry about, there are quite a number of City of Austin ordinances that protect homeowners from neglectful neighbors.

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Tim - 8 years ago

I was on an HOA board and we made decisions about fines and liens all the time. We would not have even considered pressing criminal charges. Not even the guy who we had a new problem with on what seemed like a weekly basis.

But note that “he ignored letters”. That’s a bad thing. If an HOA has a face to put with a problem they’re almost never going to do anything harsh. But if they get no response how do they get a homeowner’s attention? A lot of times when you get no response you’re dealing with out-of-state owners and legal action is what gets them moving.

I actually maintain my lawn much better now that I don’t have an HOA breathing down my neck. But some people like knowing that there’s someone making sure all the lawns look the same. This is something that Realtor’s should really talk to buyers about. If you’re someone who tends to resent authority or arbitrary decisions you’re not going to like living under an HOA. In much the same way that someone who loves an HOA is not going to like living across the street from someone with a 6′ concrete gorilla in their front yard.

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Steve - 8 years ago

I’ve dealt with a lot of buyers who don’t want an HOA. The majority really don’t care. I haven’t had any say they MUST live in an HOA neighborhood. There are pros and cons, no doubt.

The fact of the matter is if a buyer rules out HOA homes, you rule out a lot of possible homes:

At present, there are 9.987 single family homes listed in the Austin MLS. Of those, 5,666 (57%) are listed as having a mandatory HOA. So, the buyer refusing to condier homes in an HOA automatically rules out over 50% of the available market.

If you want to actually live in Austin, that leaves 1,934 homes. If you want to remain below $250K, that leaves 514 homes. If you have to have at least 1800 sqft and 3/2/2, that leaves 283 homes.

Not that you can’t find what you want, but you rule out entires neighborhoods such as Cirle C, Legend Oaks and Villages at Western Oaks, which are highly desireable sought after areas with great schools.

Steve

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Doug - 8 years ago

How ridiculous to press charges on a Senior citizen for brown grass!!! Seniors are what made this country and they should be respected.
I tip my hat to the people who joined together to get him out.
For those of you who plan to purchase a home in the future, get something in the country and don’t put up with non-sense!

Brown grass, give me a break! You folks on that HOA need to get some COMMON SENSE!

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John Doe - 8 years ago

The home owners association president Bob Ryan is a **** to say that the homeowner “brought it on himself.”

None of us can plan for every financial problem that comes down the pike..and many people were caught off guard by the bad ecomony who had adjustable rate morgages…. instead of helping someon who was down, they put their foot on his neck. rules are rules… yep and ***** are *****…and bob ryan is a class A ****!

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Steve - 8 years ago

I think the main problem, and the reason it can be said that he “brought it on himself”, is the lack of communication. If a home owner flat out ignores notices and letter from the HOA, then he is not giving the HOA any information with which to work with him or help him. The outcome is harsh, but I doubt he would have ended up in jail if he hadn’t completely ignored the notices.
Steve

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M1EK - 8 years ago

Count me with those who say HOAs are always bad – and I’ve been incredibly frustrated with the Mueller development’s defenders’ insistence on simultaneously claiming to be a new urban development modelled after neighborhoods like Hyde Park, and claiming that they have to have a HOA, it has to have these powers, and they can restrain it.

Inevitably, those with the most time to spend end up controlling the HOA. In every single instance. This means that the HOA must be viewed as a layer of government which should be positively constrained to having as few powers as legally possible (knowing that there are some state laws that apply in Mueller’s case that mandate some form of HOA). Instead, these people have consented (passively and in some cases actively) to granting the Mueller HOA quite wide powers in theory, and trust in the administration of the HOA down the road to not use those powers.

As for “modelled after Hyde Park”, no. Hell no. No HOA, arguably not even a “just pay for the parks” HOA could possibly have been compatible with the great urban character we see in our best old neighborhoods.

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Steve - 8 years ago

No HOA, arguably not even a “just pay for the parks” HOA could possibly have been compatible with the great urban character we see in our best old neighborhoods.

I can’t disagree with that. Travis Heights, Hyde Park, Tarrytown, clarksville, etc. – which all non-HOA neighborhoods – are places I would find much more desireable to live than the “Manufactured Mayberry RFD” that places such as Mueller seek to create.

That said, I escaped my last non-HOA neighborhood, populated by deed violators, because I became concerned about the long term value of my home. So I built a new home nearby which has a modest HOA ($250/yr) through which any violation problems can be worked out. In the old area (outside Austin in Travis County), the only option is to sue the neighbors, which I did not think to be a viable option. I still drive through there often and it’s gone downhill even more in the past year. I’m glad I got out.

Steve

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M1EK - 8 years ago

You may have shown part of the reason why some people love and other people hate HOAs here, actually – it may have more to do with whether you view the home you live in as an investment or something to enjoy yourself.

My own feeling is that homes are only investments accidentally – you should always be buying to live-in, and any changes you would need to make to sell your home later to other people would be easy to make (how hard is it to re-sod a yard?), and the value of your home is far less relevant in that scenario anyways.

I do find it ironic how many people who think you’re crazy to rent also love HOAs. One of the primary advantages of owning instead of renting is supposed to be the control you have over your property, but a lot of the standard suburban HOAs actually offer less freedom to paint or landscape compared to a rental with a decent landlord.

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Tim - 8 years ago

I’ve lived on both sides of the fence and I’ve been a board member. It’s definitely a form of government, and honestly gets a bad rap because it’s probably more accountable to its members than say city government. How many people do you know who go to a city council meeting once a year?

That said, the lack of logic in rulemaking, and the amount of power is truly stunning. But as Steve has said it is what most people want.

I joined the board at my old HOA because I found the landscaping rules ridiculous. At the time the board president thought that mowing your lawn weekly was typical. And there were a lot of rules that were ridiculously unenforceable like “no runners on concrete”. Barring standing outside constantly monitoring your runners there’s no way to make sure there are never runners on your concrete. But once I modified some of the language so that it could be enforced in a sane manner I found that most of the neighbors really did want these rules in place, and didn’t want their neighbors to have the flexibility to do things like paint their house or xeriscape their front yards. They found the city unresponsive and like the swift (if arbitrary) hand of the HOA.

I can see both sides, and I think Mueller definitely needs an HOA. It’s some of the most expensive new housing in town, and most of the people buying are doing so as an investment. If it was the neighborhood they said they were setting out to build I would disagree, but it’s basically Belterra or Circle C. Of course, they’re going to have an HOA.

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anonymous - 8 years ago

If you look at the older subdivisions, the HOA rules/regulations are usually much more straight forward and simple. An older subdivision (from the 70s/80s) might have 3pgs worth of deed restrictions and rely on common sense on the owners part. Most new subdivisions have 20+ pages and the HOA is initially controlled by the builder.

-Anon

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Tim - 8 years ago

Common sense is a ridiculous idea and the reason HOAs exist in the first place.You can’t enforce common sense. You can’t expect people to live up to common sense. If it was truly “common” sense everyone would keep their lawns to exactly the same standards, paint their houses the exact same colors, and know exactly what additions and sheds wouldn’t offend the sensitivities of their neighbors. Oddly enough we’re all unique people and there is no such thing as common sense.

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Steve - 8 years ago

Well, I wouldn’t call it “ridiculous”, often ineffective perhaps, but there are in fact many Non-HOA neighborhoods that are without problems because everyone does follow some sort of unwritten sense of minimal standards..

Steve

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Tim - 8 years ago

Yes. Common sense works as long as you don’t have violations and fines. If you have violations and fines you need to be able to justify why someone is in violation or getting a fine. Saying you owe me $20 because common sense dictates it is a flimsy argument.

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Grant - 8 years ago

I do think that this is absolutely ridiculous. It is almost as if we should start to pay rents and not own anything. I believe strongly that most people WANT to have a nice property, but hard times hit many folks. It’s becoming a crime to be poor or experience hardship. This portends scary things for the future.

Thanks,
Grant

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Tony Sena - 8 years ago

That is just another example of a HOA board going over board!!! This could have been handled much differently, no reason he should have went to jail. This person was have financial difficulties because of what’s going on in the economy and apparently the HOA didn’t care. Shame on them!

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HRB - 7 years ago

It is unfortuneate that this guy had to go to jail, but to blame it on the HOA is misguided.

The homeowner could have easily fixed this before it got out of hand by merely RESPONDING to the HOA. Why do people feel it is ok to completley ignore correspondence and then blame someone else when it escalates as outlined in the correspondence.

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Austinite - 7 years ago

Why do people think it’s ok to dictate how other people live their life? In my opinion, it’s very manipulative and arrogant for the HOA President to say that this man brought it upon himself. What about the fact that his car was repossessed? What if not being able to afford paying your bills was a “crime”? I can already imagine people saying, “It should be a crime to not pay back debt.”

If you think it’s ridiculous for debtors to be imprisoned, it was LAW in past times throughout history. If you read the article, you would find that the gentleman could NOT afford to resod the lawn.

Crimes used to constitute harm or injury against another person or property. These included theft, murder, rape, burglary, assault, battery, etc. Now crimes are violations of codes, ordinances, traffic laws, etc without due process.

This is another example of the loss of private property rights. Government is by nature the use of “force”. The more laws, the more force that will be exerted.

HOA’s are a fairly new phenomenon and exert a government-like authority over people. But they don’t mirror the government structure of the federal, state, and local government. They are mini-tyrannical forms of government that should be abolished.

Live and let live!

Thanks for listening

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Dean - 6 years ago

The Texans are getting hammered real hard by corrupt legislature and Cowboy judges who evidently support dreadful racket on homeowners. The judge who dare put the 66 years old man in jail for the above explained reason is plain and simple unfit for the job.

The injunctions are not the legal remedies designed to coerce people into keeping their lawns green but to prevent irreparable harm, which was clearly not the case in this situation.

The man should try to seek a legal help to sue the County and the idiot Judge whose abusive behaviour should be made public.

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