HOA takes hard line on water shut off for disabled woman

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

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Dianne Billings lives in The Commons Condominium Homeowners Association in Virgina Beach. She’s 61 years old and has several chronic health problems, including diabetes and a recently broken ankle that makes walking difficult. But every day, she has to carry heavy jugs of water upstairs.

Why?

About 10 months ago, when the condo owner fell behind on her assessments, the HOA Board decided to turn off Billings’ water. In the video report below, watch how she has been coping with no running water.

Virginia Beach woman’s water turned off 10 months for late homeowner association fees
Virginia Beach woman’s water turned off 10 months for late homeowner association fees

According to the WTKR report: (emphasis added)
Billings said she owed over $4,000 between the $260 per month for the homeowners fees, her actual water bill, late fees and attorney’s fees. She said she has paid $2,700 of that debt and has been paying $100 per month in an effort to get the bill paid off. Billings said she was told the water can not be turned back on until the entire bill is paid.

 

Now, re-read the above paragraph and let it sink in. Billings acknowledges she is behind on her payments. And she has repaid two-thirds of the current balance. According to the homeowner, she is still paying $100 per month.

But after 10 months, she cannot seem to catch up and pay off the entire balance due.

And in the meantime, the HOA Board is taking the hardline, refusing to turn the water back on for the homeowner, all with the apparent encouragement of their management company,  The Select Group.

According to the statement from The Select Group:

Question: How can a person prevent getting their water shut off?

This is easy, pay their share of the assessments. If they cannot meet their financial obligations to the Association then they need to communicate the reason to the Board and see if they can work out a reasonable payment plan with which the Association and the homeowner can live. The Board of Directors does not have the authority to forgive, forget or excuse an owner from paying assessments.

 

From a consumer, homeowner point of view, this report raises several issues.

  • The homeowner has been repaying her financial obligations. Therefore, why is her water still shut off after 10 months? It is highly likely that a substantial portion of the remaining amount due represents late fees and collection costs. Were it not for those added fees and legal costs, perhaps Billings’ account would be paid in full by now.

 

  • Is the Association violating Fair Housing laws, because Billings is medically disabled, and, according to the report, her doctor says she needs access to running water? Given the circumstances, shouldn’t there be a reasonable accommodation made for Billings?

 

  • Virginia law allows shut off of water utilities for Associations that submeter water bills. Why do HOAs get a special exception to consumer protection regulations regarding essential utilities such as running water?

 

One final, but important point. Note that, according to their website, The Select Group is “an active member of the CAI (Community Associations Institute).” Jill Albright, the management company representative interviewed by WTKR, is a Past President of the Southeastern Virginia Chapter of CAI, and currently serves on the State Legislation Action Committee (LAC) for CAI.

In other words, Albright lobbies the Virginia state legislature to enact statutes that are favorable to the special interests of CAI trade group members. CAI LACs have been known to regularly oppose consumer friendly statutes and proposed amendments, not only in Virgina, but also all across the US.

Apparently, Albright also favors turning off the water for disabled senior citizens who cannot afford to pay off virtually unlimited, unregulated collection costs and attorney fees that CAI attorneys tack onto invoices for past due assessments?

Virginia state legislators – and policy makers in other states –  should remember the plight of Dianne Billings the next time CAI makes the misleading statement that it represents the interests of homeowners.

 

 

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