Updated April 19, 2017
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
The following article written by Sheehan Hannan, Cleveland Magazine, is a must read. It tells the story of social turmoil in once iconic Forest Hill, a historic Cleveland neighborhood with a voluntary neighborhood association.
The story gives us a glimpse of early HOAs, back in the days when neighborhoods were exclusive and homogenous, if not blatantly discriminatory. At that time, HOAs were known as neighborhood associations, common property was limited (Forest Hill shares some green space), and paying dues was relatively inexpensive and voluntary.
These days, according to Hannan, Forest Hill has evolved into a very diverse neighborhood that still retains its historic charm.
Out of 1,000 households, 41 members serve on Forest Hill’s board of trustees and various committees. But two-thirds of homeowners do not pay dues, and do not participate in HOA meetings or neighborhood activities.
Some HOA members are very concerned about 81 homes that haven fallen into a state of disrepair, many of them bank owned.
One particular homeowner, Mike Reilly, and his wife, Fiona, have been making a big stink about the shabby looking properties. They accuse the HOA board of being too lenient in enforcing standards, and demand that action be taken NOW.
In fact, Reilly has gone so far as to clean up unkempt properties himself – apparently through his company, Reilly Painting and Contracting – and then place a lien on those homes. Forest Hill HOA has no authority to enforce standards with a lien, so I am assuming Reilly is placing mechanic’s liens on these properties.
Then, according to the Cleveland Magazine, Reilly engages in abusive, strong-arm tactics against property owners, including spewing foul language and threatening property owners of his intent to sue and foreclose.
In other words, Reilly is the neighborhood bully.
And, wouldn’t you know it, Reilly is exactly the kind of toxic personality that is drawn to serving on the Standards Committee and serving as President of the HOA Board.
Thankfully, although about 200 homeowners reportedly support Reilly, the remainder do not. Therefore, Reilly has been booted off the Standards Committee and has been unable to win an election to gain the level of control he craves.
But Reilly and his wife have instead channeled their frustrations by establishing a media campaign to “secede from Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland to form a new municipality, the village of Forest Hill.” In his own words, Reilly thinks that the HOA should be “professionalized.”
Read between the lines: Reilly is making the case for a mandatory homeowners association.
In case there is any doubt, see the Campaign for Forest Hill Youtube page here:
Why do Reilly and some of his supporters want a mandatory HOA?
Because, as a voluntary HOA, Forest Hill lacks power to coerce its members to pay dues and keep their properties looking Perfect At All Times.
But for president of the HOA, Peter Grebus, that’s a good thing.
There Goes the Neighborhood
Originally conceived by John D. Rockefeller Jr., Forest Hill was designed as a vision of suburban unity. But vacant homes and nasty squabbles about how to save the historic community may be tearing it apart.
Sheehan Hannan, Cleveland Magazine
Saturday, April 01, 2017
[Peter] Grebus lives inside a modern art piece.
Architect Albert Sgro designed the ranch on Monticello Boulevard. Its lines are inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and feature a pin oak tree growing through a roof opening.
Grebus, a mortgage industry financial consultant, bought it in 2013. Despite falling value, it was still one of the more expensive pieces of real estate in Forest Hill. The previous owner bought it for $287,500 in 2003. Grebus nabbed it for a steal of $195,000. Last year it was assessed at $176,900.
Grebus took on the mantle of association president last year when Lewellen resigned due to health issues. He is irked by Reilly’s accusations of inaction. The association works closely with the governments of both Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland, he says, and is pursuing a partnership with the Cuyahoga Land Bank to take possession of houses that go into tax foreclosure.
It is also resource-strapped. All the officers are volunteers. It only takes in about $20,000 annually. Dues are voluntary. Of the 1,000 families in Forest Hill, less than a third contribute. Although real, the problem isn’t as severe as Reilly contends, says Grebus.
In a survey conducted last year, Grebus found 81 standards violations. Most, he says, were peeling or old paint. “Eighty-one houses that had any sort of problem out of 991, that’s better than frankly any other neighborhood I’ve lived in, including Nob Hill in San Francisco,” says Grebus. “It’s kind of hard to state the case that this is some kind of toxic cesspool neighborhood.”
Vague wording in the 1930 deeds means the association doesn’t have clear legal footing to sue homeowners like a modern association, he says. But suing residents should be avoided regardless. “That doesn’t sound like a great neighborhood,” Grebus says. “If you go back to the original intent of the organization, it was not to publicly shame people but to privately take action.”
Similarly, Grebus says, unlike in a modern homeowners organization, the deeds don’t give the Forest Hill association permission to fix a house. They can inspect it but not touch it. By cleaning up houses like the one on Hereford Road, Reilly may be breaking the law, Grebus says.
“[Mike] just thinks that if he wants it, any means justifies the ends,” says Grebus.
To the officers, the secession talk reads like another move in a quest for power. “I think his idea of professionalization basically involves him and his company running things,” says Hubbert. “He’d like to be mayor of the village. But that’s really not my dream.”
“The Campaign for Forest Hill, which started as Make Forest Hill Great Again, … seems to be an exercise in driving people to his site to look at all the problems we have,” says Grebus. “[Mike] has done more to devalue the neighborhood than any other person, than any derelict house.”
Read more here:
I have never met Peter Grebus, but I like him already. Grebus “gets it.” He understands that community living is about learning to get along with your neighbors and about respecting each person’s private property rights. It’s not about insisting that each of your neighbors live up to a subjective set of standards. And it certainly isn’t about betraying the trust of your neighbors by pushing your professional contracting services to bring their property up to par.
Grebus explains the position of FHHO (Forest Hills Homeowners, Inc.):
Forest Hill Home Owners association enforces covenants and protects housing standards (Heights Observer)
by Pete Grebus
The Forest Hill Home Owners association (FHHO) is a nonprofit founded in 1950. Forest Hill spans both Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland, containing 991 single-family residences and a small number of apartment buildings. It’s important to understand that FHHO does not possess the mechanisms of a modern HOA—mandatory dues, the ability to make repairs and bill the homeowner, or the ability to easily attach liens to properties. FHHO does, however, have standards relating to siding, roofing, landscaping and general exterior maintenance that go beyond both Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland housing standards.
FHHO views its relationship with Cleveland Heights as a strong and productive one. Cleveland Heights has been responsive in assisting FHHO to address non-operational vehicles, broken streetlights and damaged fire hydrants. With the privatization of housing inspections, we did lose a tile roof, but the city renewed its commitment to preserving our historic housing stock, and we had a productive conversation with the private inspection company.
East Cleveland, however, has been more problematic, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the dire financial straits faced by the city. FHHO had a good relationship with former Mayor Norton, and will be meeting with Mayor King to discuss Forest Hill, and determine how East Cleveland can support Forest Hill’s housing standards.
FHHO’s Standards Committee handled 63 violations in 2016, along with 7 variance applications. The vast majority relate to paint, gutters, landscaping and driveway condition, or other minor violations. Most of these violations are addressed by the homeowners within a reasonable time frame. However, we do have long-term housing issues that are not so easy to remedy. Each situation is different.
Pete Grebus, president of Forest Hill Home Owners Association, is focused on building community and enabling residents to stay in their homes as long as possible.
In other words, FHHO is working on resolving issues with problem properties. It simply is not happening fast enough, because some of them are awaiting foreclosure by the bank or one of the municipalities.
I have news for the residents of Forest Hill. Even in mandatory HOAs, homes languish as Zombie foreclosures for years. Even if the HOA moves to foreclose before the bank, there may not be any willing buyers at the auction. In some cases, just as in Forest Hill, the current owner cannot be determined. That clouds the title and makes it impossible to obtain a new owner. Abandoned homes are just as likely – if not more likely – to occur in neighborhoods with mandatory HOAs. And they look just as bad the handful of homes Reilly filmed for YouTube.
I hope that Grebus and his neighbors stand their ground, and continue to oppose the idea of a “professional” HOA. The industry’s solution of creating a mandatory association, where everyone is forced to pay assessments for services they may not want, and where the association is granted broad authority to enforce arbitrary or unnecessary neighborhood standard has created a great deal of neighborhood conflict for more than 4 decades, and in particular since the mid-1990s. That’s when most states began to allow HOAs to impose fines and other penalties upon their members, without any requirement for court intervention to ensure fair and appropriate resolution of the dispute.
And, by the way, in a “professional, modern” HOA, each property owner is unconditionally obligated to pay mandatory assessments, regardless of whether or not the HOA actually provides maintenance and enforcement of covenants that meet your expectations.
Is that really the kind of HOA Forest Hill homeowners want?
Reilly has given his neighbors a small taste of how he would behave, if only he had the legal power to do so. Hundreds of articles on this website document real-life examples of the pitfalls of living in a mandatory association-governed community, not the least of which is the likelihood that some of your neighborhood board members will abuse their power, and fail to be held accountable.
I sincerely hope that Forest Hill residents stand up their neighborhood bully, and refuse to allow him to divide and tear apart their community.