Will WPB man lose townhouse for refusing association’s $25 late fee?

2:55 p.m Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018 Local
Ventura Greens townhouse owner David Silva could lose his home for refusing to pay a $25 late fee he blames on his homeowners association. (Tony Doris / The Palm Beach Post)

What started with a $25 late fee three years ago for townhouse owner David Silva has grown to a foreclosure fight over a $47,554 bill that had Silva in court two days this week, fending off an effort by his property association to take away his $340,000 home.

His fate rests with Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Robert Panse, who on Monday and Tuesday heard arguments at the south county courthouse that pitted calls for common sense against bad blood and condo enforcement.

Silva has been a resident of Ventura Greens at Emerald Dunes, off Okeechobee Boulevard and Jog Road just west of Florida’s Turnpike, since 2007 and is a former member of the 70-unit community’s board. He regularly made online payments of the monthly maintenance fee for his three-bedroom, 2½-bath townhouse. But unknown to him, he said the complex changed property managers in June 2014 and his payment never went to the association.

The association has been through at least eight management companies in its 11 years. A few managers sent the association letters saying they were quitting because of the difficulty of working with Vic Bally, who is the association president.

By the time Silva learned of the latest change and paid the new property manager, the association charged him a $25 late fee. While he disputed the fee, the association, led by arch-enemy Bally — both sides testified to the animus between the men — tacked on more late fees, attorney fees, costs, collection charges and interest charges. In 2015, the association filed to foreclose.

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Silva and his common-law wife, Tracey Monahan, contended that they always paid their association dues but were on vacation for a week that June and didn’t learn until weeks afterward that his online payment hadn’t gone through or been forwarded.

“This case would not be here if there was any exercise of common sense,” Silva’s attorney Richard Glenn said in summation Tuesday. This is all about late fees “and this is all their fault,” he said, accusing the association of negligence. “It’s a $25 case that’s snowballed into something that’s insane.”

Jeanette Bellon, lead attorney for Ventura Greens, asserted that Silva was notified of the management change and that there was no evidence he sent a payment to the old address. “Bank statements don’t lie — people do,” she said. “They ignored the notices. … There was no error by the association.”

There’s no record of the bank statement because the former management company never cashed the check, Glenn countered in closing arguments.

Bellon rejected contentions that the association selectively enforced its rules with bias against Silva. Late fees accrued because the association followed the rules, not the policy in place when Silva was on the board years earlier, she said.

She had Silva confirm that he had signed off on foreclosures when he was on the board. But Silva responded that he did so only when a resident was at least three months behind on maintenance payments, not for late fees. The board would try to work with the resident to create a payment plan, he said. “The last thing we’d want to do is throw somebody out of their home.”

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According to Silva, he and Bally began loathing one another when Silva was on the board and Bally, who at the time was not, would disrupt meetings with complaints and accusations.

When Bally was president, at one point Silva was arrested when Bally accused him of assault. Silva, a retired New York state trooper, was found not guilty after Bally’s own video of the incident showed Silva was innocent and that the officer who made the arrest was mistaken, Silva testified.

Silva said he sometimes videotapes Bally when he sees him near his townhouse, to protect himself.

Bally, on the stand, said he joined the board because the association was “in disarray and incompetence” and that it is now fair and well-run. He has not let his dislike of Silva get in the way of running the association properly, he testified.

The case is about following rules, Bellon argued. “The rules must be applied in this case.” A written ruling is expected within weeks.