They Fought the Lawn and the Lawn Won

They Fought the Lawn and the Lawn Won
by Brian P. McLean, Leahy McLean Fjelstad

In an epic battle between a homeowners association, owners, and a lawn, the lawn appears to be the only winner. Eleven years ago, Ed and Billye Simmon and their Florida homeowners association began a court battle over a $2,200 bill related to a bad lawn. Probably the association’s cost of re-sodding. According to the ABAJournal, the lawn was re-sod in about 2001 and the Simmons prevailed in 2012.

Justice finally took root. The court awarded the Simmons $85,000 in damages and is now considering their claim for reimbursement of $220,000 in legal fees. Now, if the court finds that Simmons’ behavior contributed to legal fees far out of proportion to the value of the original dispute, maybe both sides will pay their own fees.

Interim conclusion: the lawn is the only winner.

There has to be a more interesting story behind the story. Or maybe not. We see the same arguments play out every day in associations. Since we have none of the background facts, let’s speculate about what really happened.

In one scenario, the owners’ pride, blank-eyed stubborness, or need to sling stones at Goliath took a simple dispute and magnified it into an epic battle between good and evil. In the end, the court, faced with the terrible dilemma of deciding against the Simmons and bankrupting them with legal fees, gave them the “win”. Much easier for the public to digest.

In another scenario, the association board’s mania destroyed the very community that the association was supposed to preserve, inspire, enhance, maintain. Or maybe the developer, now long gone, embraced misguided, archaic, or ill-informed aspirations about what is community and built into the governing documents a recipe, if followed, that would lead to total and absolute dysfunction and disaster.

At any rate, at some point, probably ten years and eight months ago, everyone forgot about the lawn. They started fighting and fighting and fighting and it became about the principle of the thing. And the lawn grew mighty, green, and strong!

The lawn now stands as the only victor, and burned into the lawn with fertilizer it says, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Round the decay of that colossal wreck of an association the lone and level asphalt stretches far away. Of course this is all speculation.

At least the Simmons never spent time in jail (or at least the article is silent on the subject).

Reader comments help clarify an already difficult situation:

“Only a fool buys a home that comes with an HOA. They are dictatorships.”

“They are miserable Nazis, and they made my life miserable when I had a condo. Please.”

“We had a terribe experience. The little dictators who ran our HOA enforced rules arbitrarily; they favored their own in crowd group, and discriminated against anyone else.”

“HOA horror stories abound such as the committee that tried to get a helicopter to fly over the neighborhood to make sure the backyards were mowed.  In my experience, the real culprits are the management companies who are paid to enforce the regs.  I call them garden gestapo.”

Balanced against comments like this:

“It is clearly a failure of (1) teaching civics in schools, (2) civic responsibility, and (3) real community involvement [including by the legal profession] that leads to many of the above comments. If you don’t like the way things are, get involved and change things.”

There must be a mathematical formula that demonstrates that, within homeowner associations, the uglier and pettier the discourse, the worse the quality of living. Or why limit this to homeowner associations? Just watch the national political debate play out.

Over and out.

About Brian P. McLean

BRIAN P. McLEAN is an attorney and shareholder at Leahy McLean Fjelstad in Seattle, Washington. He concentrates his practice in the area of community association law. He received his law and undergraduate degrees from Seattle University, where he was a member of Law Review, chair of the law school’s Moot Court Board, and commencement speaker for his graduating class. Brian speaks and writes frequently about community association issues, is a member of the Washington State Bar Association, and is a former board member of the Washington State Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (WSCAI) where he served as president from 2009 - 2010. He served previously as chair of WSCAI’s Legislative Action Committee, where he worked with state legislators to enact mandatory reserve study legislation in Washington State. Brian is former lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for the now defunct Pacific Northwest band the Acetones.
This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply