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VMs Send Document Amendments for Owner Polling; Debate Rental Rules

The April 8 Westchase Voting Members meeting started off with quick, unanimous votes for two neighborhood guidelines.

VMs offered final approval of Kingsford’s mailbox guideline and initial approval of Berkeley Square’s exterior color palette. Following these two new business items, Westchase Community Association (WCA) President Nancy Sells turned the meeting over to her husband, Dale Sells. Chair of the Document Review Committee, Dale Sells went over revisions to the proposed amendments to Westchase’s Covenants, Committee and Restrictions (CCRs) and Bylaws.

VMs initially reviewed the amendments at their March meeting, when VM Ruben Collazo (The Shires) requested time to send his residents the wording of a rule that would permit retractable awnings for the first time. Collazo said he had polled his residents and they were fairly split, so he made a motion to adopt the wording of the proposed amendment.

With the motion unanimously approved, Sells explained that the next step was to mail out the proposed amendments to all owners for polling, which was expected to occur in late April. VMs will cast the remainder of votes at their June VM meeting.

Absent from the March VM meeting, VM Don Costello (Stamford), however, commented on one proposed bylaws amendment regarding assessments and lien rights (Article X, Sections 1, 5 and 6). The proposed amendment would place the association’s lien claim over the first mortgage holder’s when homes are sold. Costello asked, “If someone gets a fine and a lien on the house, is that lien over the [bank] mortgage?”

When Sells replied that it would be, Costello said, “I am concerned about the fine because Jon Ellis (the association’s legal counsel) said the bank would have a problem with fines, which might mean Westchase would be boycotted by the banks.”

Sells responded, “As Jon (Ellis) explained it to me, the assessment lien is also subordinate, so one of the changes is to move that lien ahead of the mortgage. The point of doing the change was to make it all consistent. Expenses incurred relating to a single resident should not be a concern for all of the other residents.”

Adding that the change would address that issue, Sells added, “When the property is sold, Westchase would be made whole.”

VMs subsequently indicated by vote of hands to send all the proposed amendments for homeowner polling.

After some additional discussion about some of the proposed changes, VM Cynde Mercer (The Bridges) kicked off the next topic, which tackled investment properties and renters. The agenda item was added based on an analysis completed by WOW Editor Chris Barrett, which was presented to WCA Board Members and VMs via e-mail and then to the residents in the March 2014 World of Westchase. Barrett’s e-mails prompted the WCA board to send a letter to VMs criticizing the WOW editor.

Referring to the board’s letter, Mercer said, “I have been rather disappointed in the unprofessional tone of the letter that went out to VMs – and then to say that [the growth in rentals] only applies to a certain neighborhood. If you talk to people in the smaller neighborhoods, we are experiencing a much higher rental rate. I can speak from experience in my neighborhood, where the non-resident owners don’t serve on the board and don’t participate. Some renters have a lack of respect for community property.”

Mercer concluded, “There were some suggestions made (in Barrett’s e-mail to VMs) about what other HOAs have done and I would hope that these would be discussed.”

WCA Director Dyan Pithers, a Realtor and West Park Village resident, commented on a portion of the information presented in Barrett’s March article. Addressing whether the cash sales of homes was a gauge of investor activity, Pithers stated, “I called every real estate professional that was involved in a cash sale since the assertion was that case sales equals investor. Only 7.2 percent of those were investors. The cash sale correlation to investors is actually not accurate.”

Pithers’ information was also included in WOW’s March article.

Addressing renters’ care for homes, Pithers added that her company manages rental properties. “I do a very strong due diligence on renters. I have never had any of these types of problems.” She added, “As a board member, it is upsetting to me to hear someone say that the board doesn’t care. We care tremendously. I spent countless hours calling Realtors.”

Mercer responded, “Would it surprise you to know that there was a porn movie shot in a rental?”

“No,” Pithers replied, “Morals are not tied to whether you own your home or rent your home. That happens in the most expensive homes and the poorest homes. I don’t think it’s characteristic of our community.” She added, “That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be dealt with by the police or, if it is the will of the community, in guidelines or a deed-restricted way.”

Barrett, present in the audience, joined the conversation. “I raised some issues after some residents of Keswick Forest came to me expressing concern. I saw the issue on my own block, which is now 40 percent rental. I came up with the cash sales numbers and Dyan (Pithers) gave me some feedback on it.”

Barrett, however, cautioned against using the cash sales data to conclude the number of rental properties was low in Westchase. “When I looked into [rental properties in portions of The Bridges and Keswick Forest], none were bought by cash sales. I concluded that cash sales were not a good judge of whether a property was a rental. So instead, I focused on homestead exemption and where the Property Appraiser’s Office showed a different address for the owners.”

Referring to the actions other HOAs are taking in response to the growth of rental properties, Barrett said, “I think there are HOAs that are exploring it. Maybe it is time to start thinking about this because homeowner patterns have changed.” He added, “I do think it has affected some villages on a vastly different scale.”

VM Mary Mirk (Berkeley Square) agreed. “I don’t know what to do about this either but as you hit a certain percentage of rentals, the mortgage companies and banks don’t want to make mortgages.” She, however, added “I would not support any changes that we make here unless it includes all homes.”

Mirk also later brought up that crime had increased in her village along with the number of renters.

VM Jeanne Klimshot (Bennington) asked, “What about where the homeowners have moved away and are renting houses? I have nine houses on my street that are being rented and the owners have moved away. I am concerned that we don’t keep anything that says that they must notify the HOA.”

VM Karen Nelson (Traditional TH) also agreed. “In my development, our board is concerned with the number of rentals in our community. We need some controls.”

VM Aaron Thompson (Keswick Forest) said his concerns focused elsewhere, specifically unoccupied homes. “In Keswick, we just had two houses that were purchased off the auction block.” Thompson added, “Some people have done phenomenal jobs flipping houses.”

Expressing reluctance to embrace rules regarding rentals, VM Eric Holt (Radcliffe) said, “Whether [the rental rate] is two percent or 50 percent, what we are talking about is: do we want to treat homeowners differently?”

VM Gerald Pappa (The Greens) remarked that, in his experience, most Westchase rentals were not overseen by a professional property manager. “I am a person that owns a real estate company that specializes in property management. It doesn’t matter if we are living in Westchase or New Tampa. There is a difference between a professionally managed property versus an owner that lives far away and is managing from a distance.”

Harbor Links alternate Cameron Spears, present in the audience, said, “There isn’t anything wrong with treating an owner differently than a renter. The precedent has been set even by banks.”

VM Ahab Diba (Village Green) asked of the management team, “Do the renters get an orientation [on community rules]?”

Association Manager Debbie Sainz, Property Manager, responded, “It is the owner’s responsibility to do the orientation.” She added regarding renters, however, “When they come into our office, we try to give them the information.”

VM Pappa added, “Owners from afar don’t necessarily do their due diligence to give them the rules and regulations but a professional property management company makes them sign off on them.”

Diba added, “There is a home in the Village Green where three families are living in one house because they didn’t get the orientation. The house looks bad. The sidewalks look bad. They are not owners and they don’t care. They park on the grass.”

Sells then asked Sainz to present her analysis on deed restriction violations of owners versus renters.

Referring to Covenants Committee-levied fines for violations of deed restrictions, Sainz stated, “I went back to 2013 and we had 152 appeals. One hundred or 66 percent of those were owner-occupied homes, 13 percent were for homes that were vacant with 27 or 18 percent that were rentals.”

VM Brian Bobrovetski (Kingsford) responded, “You are saying that renters aren’t really the problem.”

Pithers said, “I don’t hear we are saying that renters don’t care, but there is a tone of renters versus owners. I think people are worried about what the home looks like on the outside.”

Pithers continued, “Be very careful about restrictions. We have a lot of military that get orders to move but want to retire here. I would encourage you that no matter what happens, we have a balanced discussion that is full of facts.”

Arrillaga added, “I want to clarify that this is a work in progress. A few years ago here, we voted on allowing violations to become liens. We raised the violations charge from $250 to $1,000. This year, there are 60 percent more violations and we are getting their attention, whether they are owners or renters. If we avoid renters here, imagine all of the empty houses without a renter in it. I think the violations are being addressed.”

Providing the only brief chuckle from the group, Arrillaga added, “By the way, I got my letter that my driveway is not clean.”

VM Ralph Caputo (Abbottsford) asked Sainz, “Do you know anything about what other communities are doing about this?”

Sainz replied, “I polled some of the [Greenacre] managers at the larger communities. Most are doing what we are doing. There was one that required leases to go through them.”

As the discussion continued, Thompson (Keswick Forest) said, “We’ve discussed this and discussed this. Is there a way to get this to a committee?”

Wrapping up the conversation, Pithers said, “I have an overreaching comment that I want everyone to consider. I know that we are a little frustrated with the changing landscape of our homes since the collapse, but we are coming out of it. I drive through various communities every day and ours looks the best. We are involved and listening and making changes when people come to us. We do have a fabulous community.”

Concluding action on the matter, Mercer (The Bridges) volunteered to organize a committee to further analyze the situation and Thompson (Keswick Forest), Diba (Village Green) and Nelson (Traditional TH) volunteered to join her.

VMs adjourned at 8:30 p.m.

By Brenda Bennett

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