When the Homeowner’s Association Goes Too Far
By Carol Rood
I live in Southeast Virginia. I have been here since 2002 when the Navy chose to station me here at a local helicopter squadron. When I retired from the Navy in 2004 after 20 years of service I decided that I didn’t want to move and uproot my kids again, so I decided to stay here in Southeast Virginia. In July of 2006 we bought and moved into a house in a very nice subdivision in Suffolk. When we moved in I promised my two boys that we wouldn’t have to move again and that we would stay here until they graduated from high school. That was very important to me, and so we were thrilled when we found a house we loved in a very nice subdivision. I was a little leery about living in a neighborhood with a Homeowner’s Association, but we had a good feeling about the neighborhood.
Soon after moving in, my kids started school at the elementary school located within a quarter mile from our house, and I was even more excited about the neighborhood! The teachers were amazing, the school was within walking distance, and the after-school care was affordable. The kids quickly made friends, and I started to make friends as well.
I think one of the things I loved most about BG (our neighborhood) was the fact that so many people knew each other and everyone seemed so nice. My oldest son started playing Little league and we met more people who lived in BG. Then the boys transferred from our Chesapeake Boy Scout troop to a Suffolk Troop, and even more BG people entered our lives! Living in a community that felt so tight knit was awesome!!
The summer of 2007 we found out that BG had a neighborhood summer swim team, and I signed the boys up immediately. It was not free, we had to pay a registration fee, and buy swim suits, but to have an activity for my boys to participate in that was in the neighborhood where we lived, and kept them busy was a godsend for this worried mother. That summer my boys got hooked and we have been participating in the Tsunami Swim Club for the past 6 years!
The swim club has a short season, only 6 weeks, and we practice in the neighborhood pool 4 nights each week from 6:45 until 8:45 (two one hour sessions divided by age group of the kids). To be honest the first few weeks (from Memorial Day until at least June 20) the water is cold and the swimmers come out with blue lips at times. To their credit parents have to tell them to get out and get warmed up because the kids love the team so much they want to just keep swimming.
In 2009, our Homeowners Association Board of Directors decided it was time to charge us “rent” for the use of the pool. Keep in mind that the Tsunami Swim Club was formed in 1996 and had never been charged fees before this time. We were charged $700.00 for our 6 weeks of practice (where we use only 3 lanes of a 6 lane pool) 4 nights per week, and $200.00 per meet (we usually have 4 home meets), for a total of $1500.00. This is of course above and beyond our normal homeowners dues to use the pool. We said, “ok, that is fair”, and began paying 4 years ago.
3 years ago I became the Team Manager. This is a loose term because the team is parent run, but someone has to organize things, and I became that person. I had to attend the HOA Board meetings in March to “hammer” out the details of the swim club license agreement with them. Every year that I went I heard from at least two board members about how “neighbors complained” about Tsunami “taking over” the pool, and one even said that Tsunami was “trouble” for them. They reluctantly allowed us to continue swimming in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Each year as I entered the Board meeting in March I knew it was going to be a struggle and was going to have to hear all of the bad things about the team. I always kept my cool and countered each allegation with facts and no innuendos. This past year we were told that they felt “threatened” because our Treasurer sent an email asking for a refund for a night we could not practice. A child has vomited in the pool, and the lifeguards did not have the proper chemicals to treat the pool. If they had we would have been able to have at least one practice. When we asked for a refund due to no proper chemicals being on hand apparently they felt “threatened”. I am still confused about that to this day.
I did receive an email from the HOA President this past summer threatening to kick us out of the pool and “immediately cancel our license agreement”. One of the lifeguards had complained about something one of the volunteer assistant coaches said and I was sent an email about a “substantiated” report of disrespect. My response was that it was NOT substantiated because our side of the story had not been heard. He conceded on that point, and we continued swimming our season.
Last month I received a letter signed by the HOA President telling me that we would not be allowed to swim during the 2014 Season. No reason given. No explanation. Just “you will not be granted an agreement to use the pool.” I immediately shared this information with the swim team parents who were incredulous. We had not been given any warning. We had not been told of any problems. Our fees were raised in 2013, and we paid them with no complaint. I was shocked and couldn’t figure out why the HOA Board decided to vote this way. According to the letter it was a “unanimous” vote. A vote done without any conversation or meaningful dialogue. A decision to ban a non profit community team without a discussion. A team comprised solely of swimmers who live in the neighborhood.
Of course I organized a meeting with the parents to try and find a way to approach the HOA Board in a calm rational manner. We had a very productive meeting and voted to attend the next HOA meeting to ask for a meaningful conversation to try to reverse their decision. We knew we would probably have to make concessions, but were okay with that if it meant we could keep the team.
Then last night the President of the BOD sent out a letter to “all of BG”. In the letter he stated that everyone should come out and state their opinions, and that the Swim Team needs to hear them because of our “perceived importance”. Needless to say I was shocked. I couldn’t believe he would send such an inflammatory and biased letter filled with misinformation to the entire neighborhood. And he used the Neighborhood Watch email to send it. Definitely the wrong platform.
The Vision statement from our neighborhood website clearly states:
The mission of the Burbage Grant Owners Association is to develop and encourage new activities that promote community unity while maintaining the architectural integrity, maintenance, and value of our homes and community property through fiscal responsibility and upholding the highest ethical and moral standards.
It seems our HOA and BOD has forgotten the mission and has forgotten they are supposed to serve the entire community, not malign one piece of it. A neighborhood swim team definitely promotes community unity. We don’t have a “perceived” sense of importance. We ARE important. I guarantee you this won’t be the last word on this issue. We will be out at the Board meeting this week in force, and we will be a force to be reckoned with!
I think what floors me the most to paraphrase from one of our swim team parents is that their arguments are all one sided and without merit. It is without recent quantitative statical analysis or official data-points with any sort of official polling of our homeowners.
Strap on your seat belts it will be a bumpy ride.