By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
This weekend, followers on social media circulated a news report about Melchior Julien, a homeowner at Holly Tree Plantation in Simpsonville, South Carolina. Julien claims his HOA is discriminating against him, and now he might go to jail, because he is one of only two black residents in the community.
But, reading the details of the story in The Greenville News, plus the official response posted by Holly Tree Plantation HOA, it’s not at all clear that racial discrimination is a factor in this dispute.
Like most HOAs, Holly Tree Plantation enforces Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) and it has an Architectural Review Committee (ARC). If you own property in this 500 home subdivision, like it or not, you must ask permission before making any changes or additions to your home.
Going back to March 2017, according to the HOA, its property manager (Goldsmith Company), and its attorney (Kenison, Dudley & Crawford), Julien decided to build a sunroom on the back of his house, they say, without prior approval of the ARC.
Julien says he submitted a request for approval, but never received a response from the ARC, so he decided to forge ahead with his plans.
The HOA says Julien also resisted removal of a shed, which is not permitted by the CC&Rs — except for some older homes that had sheds at the time the “no shed rule” was enacted by the HOA.
Initially, the HOA gave the homeowner less than 4 days notice to remove his shed, and less than one week to provide documentation needed for ARC. A board member reportedly helped Julien submit his request for a sunroom, which was officially approved by the HOA.
But several months later, the shed was still in the homeowner’s back yard. The HOA sued and the court ordered Julien to remove his shed. The homeowner was billed $2,500 for the Association’s legal fees, which he reportedly paid to the HOA.
Is this racism?
Julien insists his shed was a temporary structure, which is allowed by the CC&Rs during the time he was building his sunroom addition. He thinks the HOA is discriminating against him because he is black.
However, the HOA attorney is a black man, and a neighbor of Julien’s, who is also black, say that the dispute has nothing to do with racism.
The HOA says it had to go to court three times to get Julien to finally remove his shed, nearly 6 months after the initial injunction that required its removal. The court found the homeowner in contempt and ordered him to pay more than $3,600 to cover the HOA’s attorney fees.
The HOA says that the homeowner was offered a $100/month payment plan to repay attorney fees, but Julien did not cooperate. The HOA took the homeowner to court again, where a Judge ordered Julien to pay up by February 1st, or face the possibility of a warrant for his arrest.
On February 1st, The Greenville News published its article. The next day, the HOA posted its response on its website.
(see references below)
A few important points:
First of all, the HOA is not threatening Julien with jail time. The HOA does not have the power to incarcerate one of its members for breaking the rules. The court ordered a bench warrant because Julien was found to be in contempt of court, when he didn’t comply with the court order to pay the HOA $3,600 by the deadlines imposed.
Yes, the entire course of events is based upon an absurd restriction against having a shed in the back yard. And, in my opinion, the no-sheds-allowed rule is petty and unnecessary, especially since some homeowners have been “grandfathered in” to allow them to keep their sheds.
The fact that HOAville is intentionally set up to spend thousands of dollars in attorney fees to prevent a homeowner from having a storage shed is disturbing, when you stop to think about it.
Who is actually harmed by a back yard shed?
No one, but that’s not the point in HOAville. Because the rules are the rules.
Unless the HOA says you qualify for an exception, which is conveniently not the same as selective enforcement. Nice little loophole there.
I hate to say it, but the fact is, Julien is obligated to follow the CC&Rs and architectural standards at Holly Tree Plantation. Frankly, the homeowner’s delays, resistance, or refusal to comply do him more harm than good.
Sometimes, it makes more sense to swallow one’s pride and avoid unnecessary conflict. Perhaps there are better ways to prove a point than to simply ignore or defy petty rules, especially when you pay a much higher price for breaking the rule rather than complying with it.
Sad, but true.
But here’s the root of the problem.
Unfortunately, the courts don’t pass judgment on whether or not the rules in HOAville are unreasonable, unconstitutional, unfair, or just plain crazy. The way the system is set up, the homeowner must prove the HOA engaged in selective enforcement or discriminatory intent. Otherwise, the court rules in favor of the HOA.
In this case, as in most, it appears that the court had no choice but to rule in favor of the HOA. Even if the Judge thinks the rule is stupid, it’s a Judge’s job to enforce the law — in this case the terms of the one-sided CC&Rs “contract.”
And until state or federal laws are changed to give courts the authority and discretion to declare CC&Rs and HOA rules invalid, you can bet that the legal posturing will go on and on, with no end in sight.
In the meantime, local and state courts will be, in essence, the reluctant accomplices of HOAville rule enforcers.
What a colossal waste of time, energy, and taxpayer money.
Simpsonville man’s dispute with HOA may lead to jail time
Angelia Davis, The Greenville NewsPublished 8:14 a.m. ET Feb. 1, 2019 | Updated 11:05 a.m. ET Feb. 1, 2019
A homeowner in Simpsonville is facing potential jail time after haggling with his homeowners association about a shed on his property and related court fees for nearly two years.
How Melchior Julien’s dispute with his HOA got to this point is a complicated story that touches on the nature of HOAs, how neighborhood covenants are enforced and perceptions of race relations in the South.
In the seven years he’s been in the Holly Tree Plantation subdivision, Julien has encountered several problems with his HOA and the ordeal has escalated to where he’s now facing 30 days in jail if he doesn’t pay $3,600 in attorney fees by Feb. 1.