By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
According to The Cody Enterprise, an April 10 trial date is set for two lawsuits filed by a pair of homeowners and the Cody Ranchettes HOA. Both parties are locked in a pair of nasty lawsuits over the paint colors of the home of Kelly and Debra Hennessy.
Last year, the Hennessys, who have lived in the rural community for more than a decade, chose to paint the siding on their rustic home several different colors. (See this photo in the Powell Tribune for reference)
Although the Hennessys consider the earth tones complementary to their roof shingles, their HOA board says the colors don’t comply with architectural rules and standards for Cody Ranchette.
When the homeowners refused to repaint their siding with an HOA approved paint color, the HOA decided to sue.
Hennessys turned around and sued their HOA, insisting they have the right to keep their paint colors, which they say blend in with other homes in the community.
However, the homeowners’ lawsuit turns up the heat in the dispute by demanding that their home be removed from the HOA. The Hennessys also want reduced HOA road maintenance fees, claiming they don’t use Rolling Hills Drive as much as their neighbors.
Larry Jones of Burg, Simpson, Eldridge, Hersh & Jardine PC, represents the HOA and its board members, Donnie Champlin, Al Abee and Gary Hand .
Frank Chapman of Chapman, Valdez, & Lansing Attorneys at Law of Casper, represents the Hennessys.
Nasty HOA lawsuits are the talk of the town
The legal dispute is making local headlines in Cody. According to reports in The Powell Tribune and Cody Enterprise, the Hennessys have a history of being nasty and difficult neighbors.
As quoted in Cody Enterprise, here’s a sampling of the Hennessys’ reaction to their HOA:
“It will take a court order to make us change our color scheme,” the Hennessys wrote.
“We received a letter from this HOA … that is the spiteful work product of bureau(c)rats selectively and inappropriately directed against us because of our disaffection with this parasitic group,” the defendants wrote in court documents.
“We’ll only modify our meticulously chosen color scheme at the implied or express point of a gun,” the Hennessys wrote in one letter.
Trial dates set for Cody Ranchettes house dispute By LEO WOLFSON, Cody Enterprise, Jan 16, 2019
Notably, the homeowners’ legal complaint is laced with insults and vulgar language directed at their HOA, its board, and HOA manager, Tom Reed.
In court records, board members and other neighbors reportedly provide evidence of the homeowners’ threatening and spiteful letters. At one point, the homeowners even posted signs on their property, criticizing their HOA and the state of Wyoming. The signs also violated HOA rules.
HOAs aren’t just for cities
Many of my readers think that they can avoid HOAs by moving to a rural area. But, as this post proves, that’s not always the case.
Even in sparsely populated Wyoming, rustic homes set on 5-acre lots, nearly 9 miles from the town of Cody, Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) burden homeowners. The HOA requires property owners to get permission to make any alterations or additions to their home or land, including the simple act of painting the exterior of their homes.
A few months ago, I posted an explanation of why people who hate rules end up living in HOAs.
Part of the reason there’s so much neighborhood conflict — it’s getting harder to avoid HOAs. So it’s not surprising that rebellious personality types and free spirits end up living in association-governed communities.
Judge asked to stop Cody homeowners from painting , CJ Baker Powell Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange Aug 3, 2018
Nastiness breeds more nastiness
Let’s face it. The behavior of the homeowners fighting against the HOA at Cody Ranchettes is wee bit extreme.
Hurling insults and threats at the HOA and your neighbors is not the best way to fight for property rights and the freedom and liberty to use your property as you see fit.
That kind of behavior just escalates disputes. It breeds anger and hate, not a sense of community.
On the other hand, it would be nice if HOAs could more carefully choose their battles. If only HOA rules and restrictions on private property were reasonable, based upon principles of protecting public health and safety, and prevention of genuine nuisances.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most HOAs.
To add fuel to the fire, HOA managers and attorneys often insist that the board enforce every rule to the letter. But homeowners should keep in mind that management companies make money sending out enforcement letters. And HOA attorneys rake in thousands of dollars in billable hours fighting against homeowners over some rather petty rules or aesthetic standards.
In short, HOA conflict can be profitable for certain industry professionals.
How can we make communities less hostile, more harmonious, and avoid nasty HOA lawsuits?
We can start by learning how to respectfully communicate with one another. Stop the finger-pointing and blame-shifting. Stop demonizing anyone with a different point of view.
Learn how to be assertive, but not aggressive. Avoid name-calling and angry tirades. By all means, avoid dragging attorneys into disputes.
Chill out. Take up yoga. Go for a walk after dinner. Plant some flowers. Recognize that the color your neighbor paints his house will not hasten Armageddon.
As long as the property owner doesn’t impose a real nuisance, or cause harm to neighboring properties, there’s no compelling reason for an HOA to enforce arbitrary standards of good taste.
And in a small community (such as Cody Ranchettes), it should be relatively easy to meet neighbors face to face, to come to a mutual understanding about the perceived importance of aesthetic standards vs. private property rights.
There’s a good chance that a majority of your neighbors believe most HOA rules and aesthetic standards are totally unnecessary.
If you and other homeowners care enough, you can vote to repeal at least 99% of CC&Rs. That alone would prevent most neighborhood fights and expensive HOA lawsuits.
A peaceful protest?
Of course, given the relatively unchecked power of HOAs, some homeowners worry about how their HOA might react. How far will the board go, just to assert their power or prove a point?
Remember that, in most common interest communities, residents outnumber the people on the board. And most of your neighbors are probably not uptight, obsessive, authoritarian rule enforcers.
If you and your neighbors can get over your irrational fears, and overcome apathy, you can calmly take a stand for your rights.
It’s entirely possible to conduct a peaceful HOA revolution, one neighborhood at a time.