Condo enforcement: Pay $25 late fee or… lose your home?


Highlights

At Ventura Greens in West Palm Beach, residents resist strict enforcement of condo association rules

David Silva’s $340,000 condo faces foreclosure because of a $25 late fee.

Silva, a resident at Ventura Greens at Emerald Dunes since 2007, was having his bank make automatic payments of the monthly maintenance fee for his three-bedroom, 2½-bath townhouse on the outskirts of West Palm Beach just west of Florida’s Turnpike. But the 70-unit development changed property managers in 2014 without advance notice and his payment was never rerouted to the condo association, he said.

By the time he learned of the problem and sent a payment to the new property manager, the association had charged him a $25 late fee. While he disputed the fee, which he insisted was the association’s fault, the association tacked on late fees, attorney fees and interest charges — and in 2015, the association filed a foreclosure suit that threatens to take away his home.

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Neither association President Vic Bally, nor Cory Kravit, the association’s Boca Raton collections lawyer who filed the foreclosure suit, would comment for this story. The association vice president, Geoffrey Bourne, called Silva “unbelievably difficult” and said association rules must be enforced.

Bourne defended Bally’s hard line on community rules. “If you drive into Ventura Greens, it’s beautiful,” Bourne said. “If you’re president of it, you keep the rules or the place falls apart.”

“The whole thing has built up into just monstrous folly, absolute folly,” Bourne said. “I just wish David Silva had been a little more mature,” he said, adding that Silva should have paid his fine and ended the matter years ago.

Silva, 52, a retired New York state trooper, countered that Bourne doesn’t know the facts, only what Bally tells him.

“It’s not a matter of $25,” Silva said. “I spent more money fighting this than the $25. They should have said, ‘You know what? This is ridiculous. This is our fault.’ But they want to pursue it because they want to maliciously and intentionally take my home. There’s no other way of looking at it.”

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Silva and five other current and former Ventura Greens homeowners, and some former property management companies — there have been at least eight in the development’s 11 years of existence — say enforcement there is dictatorial. They lay the blame on Bally, describing him as a vindictive man who “rules with an iron fist,” tows resident cars from visitor parking spaces while board members park unpunished in the same spaces, files liens and slaps big fines on residents for alleged infractions they seldom have the will to fight.

One of the development’s former property managers, Bristol Management, notified the Ventura Greens board in September 2013 that it was quitting, writing that “Protecting our employees from constant harassment by Vic Bally … is our priority.”

“Vic (Bally), who hired Bristol and then quickly resigned when he did not get his way from the rest of the elected board, has caused an inordinate amount of contention, …” wrote Bristol’s Steve Inglis. “Mr. Bally is attempting to reassert his dictatorial control over Ventura Greens. This makes for a combative culture under which it is impossible to achieve the board’s goals. There is constant bullying from one person who demands to be the captain of what we perceive to be a sinking ship.”

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Just seven months later, when Bally had returned to the board as vice president, another management company, Banyan Property Management, quit, calling the board “dysfunctional.”

Yet another former manager, who asked not to be identified, echoed those sentiments. “The guy is out of control,” the manager said. “There were constant allegations of biased treatment, unfair application of rules. That’s why we didn’t get along with him very well. I run things in a fair manner. … He runs the place with an iron fist.”

Asked why the association has run through so many property managers, Bourne said it’s because the board has been trying to hire better companies.

Silva hasn’t been the only target of the association’s rule enforcers.

Nasaire Fontia said he got a $400 fine for allegedly “driving my car over a piece of grass,” an allegation he questioned and for which the association had no proof, he said.

Others, he said, had to pay hundreds of dollars for towing from visitor spots, even though board and committee members frequently park in the same places. One resident got a $2,000 fine for failing to trim a bougainvillea prior to the association painting the buildings, Fontia said.

READ: Fight about truck with HOA president gets man arrested

Resident Jeff Lanaghan said he was facing a $1,000 fine in 2014 for failing to remove a satellite dish he had permission to install in 2008. The association had changed its rules. Lanaghan took the case to the state Division of Condominiums and won.

“I couldn’t let it drop, Lanaghan said. “I had a package almost three-quarters-of-an-inch thick for all the committee members to review.”

Former resident Joe Namgoong sold his townhouse in November. “I couldn’t deal with all the fines he kept levying on me,” Namgoong said.

Namgoong, who lives in Washington, D.C., was renting out his unit. When his tenants moved out, he found another couple to move in but Bally would not approve them, saying their credit scores — 750 and 650 — weren’t high enough, even though those are considered good scores and the previous tenants had scores in the low-600s, Namgoong said.

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Then there was the fine he got for weeds growing near his patio.

When he finally sold the place, and was supposed to get back the $500 deposit the association had required for him to rent out the unit, he said the association claimed his contractor had damaged a piece of fence and the association withheld $300, plus a $50 administrative fee. “They were going to give me back $150.”

Others report that fines have been issued for a paver missing from a driveway, a garbage can left out too long or for use of a visitor space instead of following a rule that says you can only use a visitor space if three cars already are parked in your driveway.

As for Silva’s foreclosure case, he said he looks forward to a trial. “Everything will come out in court,” he said: “All the details, all the evidence, all the documents.”

“I’m not going to be bullied by him,” he said. “If everybody just throws their hands up in the air and gives up, this is what happens.”

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