Groups Maintain Community Standards Homeowners Associations Can Be Powerful Keepers of the Rules
Daniels, Earl, The Florida Times Union
Byline: Earl Daniels, Times-Union business writer
All of the mailboxes in the Queen's Harbour Yacht and Country Club have to be the same color, placed on the same kind of stand and treated for termites.
With the exception of termite protection, the same goes for the for sale signs planted in the front yards of the community located off Atlantic Boulevard. Those neon-colored for sale signs are forbidden.
Members of the gated community's property owners association, who oversee a $2 million-a-year operating budget, make sure such cosmetic details are enforced.
In the Lantana Lakes neighborhood on Beach Boulevard, the challenge is to somehow convince homeowners to pay their homeowners association fees. Association members are trying to collect $30,000 in overdue association fees. For the homeowners who have not paid their dues, liens have been placed on their houses, and some face foreclosure.
At Cunningham Creek Plantation in Fruit Cove, all homeowners have paid their $200-a-year association fees. But when it is time for an association meeting, only about 80 of the community's 600 households are represented.
In Ortega Forest, an established neighborhood on Jacksonville's Westside, the homeowners association has not met in five years. Of the 816 households in the quiet neighborhood, about 125 of them pay their $20-a-year voluntary association fee.
For the people who volunteer their time, operating a property owners or homeowners association is a time-consuming, frustrating and sometimes costly venture.
The associations, which are backed by Florida law, are in place to enforce a covenant of restrictions. Usually originated by developers, covenants are designed to spell out what is and is not allowed to take place in a community.
But the reach of many associations extends further than grass height restrictions and fencing preferences.
In Florida, there is a law that supports homeowners associations' enforcement of covenants. In some states, there are no laws supporting associations. Associations have the power to assess fines and even in some cases foreclose on houses when owners don't pay association fees or costs. In many cases, associations have turned business over to management companies that enforce covenant restrictions.
The only way to avoid being bound to a covenant is to stay clear of buying a house in a neighborhood with one.
In Jacksonville and in Florida, neighborhoods with covenants of restrictions are becoming as common as the number of yards with St. Augustine grass. New neighborhoods help to boost the increasing number of communities with covenants. While these rules are standard in the area, enforcement of the rules vary in each neighborhood. The goal of an association is to protect property values.
"This is a business," said John O'Neil, a retired Navy officer and chairman of the Queen's Harbour Yacht and Country Club property owners association, which employs 37 people. The employees oversee the association's second-floor office space and other common areas, such as the marina, clubhouse and fitness complex.
Property and homeowners, who include Jacksonville Jaguars football players, high-ranking corporate executives, military officials and retirees, pay fees ranging from about $130 to $170 a month, depending on where their property is located.
Overdue association fees are a problem at Lantana Lakes.
Two years ago, a management company, Marvin Real Estate in Jacksonville, was hired to handle the association's business affairs. Since that time, several houses have been foreclosed because homeowners refused to pay their $230-a-year association fee. The overdue amount is down from $47,000 when the management company took over to about $30,000.
Members of the association probably would consider the uncollected fees a minor snafu compared with the recent discovery that the developer of the community, CSEC Florida, did not deed two vacant lots in the community to the homeowners association. …