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Owner posts website about his HOA problems and gets sued

Posted on Thu, Apr 29, 2010 @ 06:06 AM

hoa lawsuitOur HOA board and general manager have continually blocked all attempts at seeing the Administrator's books and records or even getting the names of other owners. In response, I created a blog at DeerRidgeOwners.com so that all owners could easily participate in discussions about what was really happening at their property.

Now, I am being sued for over $1 million by my own HOA because of my blog and its contents. Full details and a copy of the press release and actual lawsuit are available at my blog. Does anyone else operate a blog that is in opposition to the way your HOA is run? Does anyone know of sites that have a national presence that are focused on HOA abuses at the 305,000 HOA communities that house over 60 million Americans nationwide?





Whatever happened to a community fostering openness, communication, and transparency?

posted @ Thursday, April 29, 2010 7:09 AM by Joyce www.thebestcondomanager.com

Hi - I'd think that if this actually goes forward, you can then request the information you need via a Document Request, the HOA would have to give them to you, you'd review and find some interesting information. Sometime people file lawsuits to stop you from getting the information - intimidation at 1M really can be effective. What about going to the Attorney General in your state for help?  
Keep us posted.

posted @ Thursday, April 29, 2010 7:24 AM by Maryann

first of all, you ARE the homeowners' association should you own a unit. it's automatic. 
second, is this blogging gag order included in the bylaws? 
if not, a vote should be in order to incorporate this "hush" dealio into the bylaws and OOPS, too late, that vote, even if the vote was unanimous to keep that info quiet, they're a day late'n a dollar short in your particular instance. 
sounds like "exposure" is a huge fear of these pocket liners if ya ask me, (and nobody does, but i put my opinion out there anyway.) 
HELL, they foreclose on your property for non-payment of your fees, even though they don't keep up their own legal agenda???? GUESSIE WHATTIE ! THEY POST IT IN THE FRIGGIN' NEWSPAPER !!!! 
i say blog like'ah muthah and let'm keep filin' them suits. yanno the expense for merely "filing" a suit for a mil? (and every unit owner will be assessed, trust me.) 
copy this link into your browser and even contact this guy, i'd say. 
here's another interestin' one: 
GOOD LUCK !!!!!!!!!!!! 

posted @ Thursday, April 29, 2010 8:04 AM by ~belle

I applaud the efforts of Mr. Robert Goodman on his fight for the truth and transparency at Deer Ridge condos in Tennessee. 
However,I fail to understand why the board was not replaced long before now? If things have been so bad for so long, which I'm sure they have, why didn't the owners get rid of them by changing the whole board? It takes effort to do but would have been easier than a court fight which will cost thousands of dollars. Why is the state not looking into the mismanagement of this complex? 
Good luck in the fight. The results will benefit all of the condo associations in the U.S.  

posted @ Thursday, April 29, 2010 10:30 AM by wpage

Sunlight cures all free speech. As long as the issues commented on are true or you allow the other side equal access and the ability to comment what is the issue beyond intimidation? all things are possible as long as one person stands up for his rights.

posted @ Thursday, April 29, 2010 10:42 AM by Rusty Siebert

I created a similar website for my HOA with 2 differences: 
1) It was private to the owners. 
I flyered the complex sent postal mail with instructions on how to signup and get access to only the owners within the HOA. 
2) I used a Wiki rather than Word Press, so any owner in the complex could participate in posting attributable (to that individual) information viewable by everyone. 
Doing it this way worked quite well.  
Only owners could post and view the info, which was all attributable to each owner. And the general public could not see the discussion which in your case appears to be hurting your owners property values. I'm sure is not winning you friends.  
The web is a valuable communication tool, but no community wants all their "dirty laundry" broadcast world-wide. 
Most HOAs have a primary duty to protect the owners investment, so I can see how a suit could be brought against you with the support of many owners in your HOA given some of the content on your site. 
Also if you are the only person posting content to the blog, you are a single target for a suit. And if the HOA can prove you've made derogatory false comments to the public they may have a case. 
Good Luck. It appears you are on the right side of the issues in your HOA, but you may have also provided an effective attack vector for your adversaries.  

posted @ Thursday, April 29, 2010 12:34 PM by Prefer not to state

The last post was very well done and hit a lot of good points. Even if the site was only to homeowners, you have to be careful of slander and libel. Stick only to the facts. 
Most states and community documents state that you must have access to the community records as a member. If you have not paid, there could be a case made to restrict that access. You should not withhold your fees as part of a dispute.  
Your first amendment rights allow you to say many things, but unless you are stating that it is your opinion, if you say something like "the board is stealing from us" without actual proof, then they have a good case against you. If you say something else like "The board and management agent won't let me see the records, and I think that it is wrong and makes me think there is funny business going on" then you have stated some fact (they won't let you see it) and some opinion (I think there is funny business going on.)  
They are not obligated to provide you copies for free, only to allow access. They can charge you a reasonable charge to provide you copies. The issue usually becomes "what is reasonable?" The rule of thumb that I give is how much does your local government charge for copies of documents? For example, where I am one county charges $2 a page for copies. If there is an issue of trust, the management agent may want someone to be with you when looking at the records so that things don't disappear, because often they are contractually responsible for those records. Now, if you ask to be in an open area or conference room with windows, that might help. Or you can ask that another community member they choose be there so it does not cost you. Pay reasonable costs for copies, such at .10 a page. 
You may need to get an attorney, and you may find one that may take it on a smaller cost basis or for free. The other issue is that you have created a website that may give the impression that it represents the association. I suggest you change the name to ConcernedHomeowneratDeerRidge.com or something like that. I am looking at your website right now, and you make it look like an official community website. You have not been elected to the board, so that is a problem. The board, if properly elected, is the official "voice" of the community. Maybe you don't want to hear that, but it is true. The best thing is to try to get others elected that will follow the law and the documents. 
Good luck!

posted @ Thursday, April 29, 2010 3:57 PM by Joe Schuirmann

As to the website, sometimes it's easier to start with an in-person meeting with the residents before trying to the blog approach. Putting a face and facts in a less potentially humiliating to the HOA can be good. You may have burned a bridge with some owners by your approach. I'm the president and as much as i believe in open communications on any topic, some owners "go to far" in the initial attacks and that just caused me to not be as willing to even care what they say ever again. So my advice - in person and toned down fact based approach first. 
Good luck!

posted @ Thursday, April 29, 2010 8:26 PM by LLH

Thanks to everyone for their comments. In response, here some answers and comments in return: 
= We are in the process of hiring an attorney for both the defamation lawsuit and the summary judgment over the dozen points in the legal opinion we got on how the board is either ignoring or misinterpreting the master deed and bylaws. I hope to have this filed in the next couple of weeks. We are also suing for repayment of more than $11,000 in overcharges by the board not following the master deed percentages for their fee structure. The fees they are charging are 82% higher than they should be each month.  
= We expect to get the records they have tried so hard to hide. Will probably take us 60 days after the suit is filed - but we will get them. 
= Unfortunately, the HOA laws in TN have no teeth. I've spoken to the Assistant Director at the Attorney General's office and he said he gets dozens of similar complaints each week from HOA members - but that the legislature must pass a new law that gives them enforcement power. 
= The board uses it position of power, and the HOA's money to control the membership...and even pay for this lawsuit. The HOA has not been damaged or defamed in any way - yet is a named party to the suit so that the individual plaintiffs can have an excuse to tap the HOA coffers. If they were to win, only the individual board members would get the money. Several owners are outraged over this issue. But many are in fear of reprisals from the general manager who has ruled this place for over a decade. He controls how much their units get rented - so his threats and intimidation have stifled these issues for years. 
= Many owners do contribute to the blog...some anonymously for the above reasons. Face to face meetings with the board has done no good. They stonewall all questions. Like most places, most owners are apathetic. About a dozen of us out of 84 owners support the points on the blog - so not enough to change things. But the board believes that there is no such thing as minority owner rights. When the HOA president was asked how on earth he justifies overcharging 36% of all owners by 82% each month, he said it was "fair and equitable." It is difficult to discuss anything with someone who has that kind of mind set. 
= With regard to what is defamation, I recommend this site: http://www.expertlaw.com/library/personal_injury/defamation.html  
= In anticipation of this very kind of suit, all comments and blogs posts have always adhered to the Legal Guide for Bloggers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation http://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal 
= There is no confusion for the 84 owners here as to what is from the board and what is from me. We are small enough that everyone knows about this six year long battle. Plus, the board has mailed at least three mailings, at a cost to all owners, defaming me as a way of villainizing myself and my wife on property. They have their own blog that repeats the contents of those letters. There letters and their blog did not have appropriate disclaimer language as my blog does - so these will be part of our defense. It also clearly establishes the difference between the official board and me - so again no confusion of the owners. 
Thanks, again, to all of you who commented. I hope the above answered everyone's questions.  

posted @ Friday, April 30, 2010 11:50 AM by Robert Goodman

go see CAI 

posted @ Friday, April 30, 2010 11:50 AM by Troy

I think your intent is good. where there is smoke there is generally fire...BUT I never favor blogs, they just deteriorate into a shouting match, and false accusations CAN get you sued 
have owners meetings, and put pressure on the board to disclose

posted @ Monday, May 03, 2010 9:33 AM by Troy

First Amendment? Freedom of the Press? Right to Know Laws?  
I am going through a similar situation with our abusive Board, and also entertained the thought of starting a blog to "out" them with the facts. Seems to me that if what you are reporting is the truth, accurate and can be supported with evidence, a lawsuit of any amount would have a hard time being honored. 
Follow me on Twitter: condomundo.

posted @ Monday, May 10, 2010 11:18 AM by condomundo

TIP: Next time host your website in russia or another country not applicable to USA laws.  
Also, dont give out your real name on the web site.

posted @ Tuesday, May 11, 2010 10:44 AM by Ed

The blog is exercising your right to free speech as an American citizen. The HOA can not win on this point. However you must be careful in only reporting accurate information and facts. do your homework. No "he say, she say" stuff. Good luck. 

posted @ Tuesday, August 17, 2010 12:16 PM by Laura Morton

Your Blog is very good, I like it! Thank you for your sharing!

posted @ Wednesday, October 12, 2011 3:23 AM by Canada Goose Coats

I'm currently in litigation with my HOA and I can tell you it's not fun. They claimed six false liens on my house because I asked to review the books. In over 2 years they hold position they don't have to allow me shareholder inspection of books and have now filed default judgment against me. Wow, injustice will be served.

posted @ Thursday, November 06, 2014 1:33 PM by Jimmie Manor

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