Tampa Bay News 10: “HOA could foreclose on home over unpainted mailbox”

Paint your mailbox, pay a $1,000 fine or we’ll foreclose on your house.

That’s the message a Wesley Chapel homeowners’ association is sending to homeowner Joe DeVirde.

The problem is DiVerde says he didn’t get the notice, until it was too late. Now, an address mix-up and some chipping paint could cost him his home.

“Basically what this comes down to is my mailbox,” says DiVerde. Diverde never imagined his mailbox could cause so many problems.

“It’s pretty insane. It’s unreal,” says DiVerde.

Associa, the property management company for Seven Oaks subdivision, believed his mailbox needed painting and sent out a warning notice last August.

It would’ve been an easy fix, but the letter went to DiVerde’s ex-girlfriend, who hasn’t lived there in years.

“This is the one from August,” DiVerde said of the letter. “Basically (it) has an address that I’ve never lived at.”

In an email to DiVerde, Associa admits that they knew that his ex-girlfriend had been taken off the deed with the county in 2014. But, when she changed her address last year, the management company started forwarding DiVerde’s HOA notices, including his dues and violations.

“The first thing they should’ve sent me was a sorry letter saying we didn’t send you these and we made a mistake, and we actually changed the address,” DiVerde says.

Instead, he says the first notice he got was three months later saying he’d been slapped with a $1,000 fine.

“And they put a lien on my house. Now they intend to foreclose on my house. I don’t know who could deal with this kind of stuff,” says DiVerde.

The homeowner says he’s tried to work it out. “I’ve proven to them that they’ve made mistakes. I’ve tried to resolve it,” DiVerde says. But he claims he’s been getting the run-around and says he was told by the board and Associa that it’s now up to attorneys to handle it.

An email to DiVerde on May 25th from attorney Bush Ross says the HOA board has to decide whether to accept a repayment plan.

A Bush Ross letter to DiVerde shows: $72 for annual dues, plus a $1,000 fine has already accrued 18 percent interest and fees of nearly $800.

DiVerde says other neighbors’ violations are being overlooked.

“I shouldn’t have to pay for this. I want the lien taken off my house,” DiVerde says.

A statement from Associa Community Association Manager Patty Desthers says:

“Bush Ross, the association attorney, is working with the Association and the owners to finalize the resolution of the matter. I believe the Federal and State laws regarding the collection of debts are very specific in terms of what can be said or discussed by anyone attempting to collect and I out of respect for the resident I cannot say anything more than that. The association and the lawyers have been very considerate and are trying to do all we can to work through these issues on behalf of all the homeowners in the association. We and they cannot talk about these types of matters without concern for violating the rights of those who may owe fees.”

DiVerde says he’ll fork over the fines if he has to, just to live in peace with his up-to-code, painted mailbox.

“I’m not admitting to it, because I didn’t do anything wrong. I also don’t want them to put a foreclosure lien on my house. I’m just an average person. I can’t take all this, this drama. It hasn’t gone into foreclosure status yet. It’s pretty crazy over a mailbox,” says DiVerde.

What can homeowners do? Foreclosure Defense Attorney Ryan Torrens says as soon as you get a violation, respond to the HOA in writing through regular and certified mail. Contest it to the HOA board, like DiVerde tried to do.

Torrens says it should be argued that it’s an invalid fine, because DiVerde wasn’t properly notified.

Torrens says the HOA has a year to enforce the lien against DiVerde. The homeowner can also contest it in court. If he does that the HOA has two months to move forward with foreclosure or drop it.

They could also reach a mutual agreement.

This isn’t the first HOA battle 10News has covered with Bush Ross.

A Riverview family took on the same HOA attorneys fighting to save their home. It started over a missed $150 HOA payment that skyrocketed to more than $7,000 in fees and fines.

This week, Tina and Luis Lopez got to celebrate with Rivercrest neighbors and friends that the foreclosure has been tossed out. They can stay in their Riverview home.

They also thanked 10News Reporter Kendra Conlon for her coverage over the past year, exposing the HOA battle.

“It got down to where we lost the house, and there was still hope. It was a miracle, because Kendra said there’s got to be something else,” says Homeowner Luis Lopez.

10News connected the family to attorney Torrens, who got the HOA to cut the bill in half.

The Lopez family’s struggles, in part, inspired the lawyer to run for attorney general.

“There are so many abuses that take place in our system by the government, unfortunately, by large companies, by the banks. There are everyday working people (who) keep getting the shaft,” says Torrens.

Hillsborough County Judge Ashley Moody and Jacksonville Representative Jay Fant are the only other candidates to officially join the race so far.

Incumbent Attorney General Pam Bondi is term-limited and can’t seek re-election to a third consecutive term.