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Angela Shinabery and some of her neighbors of the Rolling Ridge development in Simpsonville are looking for an answer to one basic question from their homeowners association: What happens with the dues we are required to pay each year?
And because they say they can’t seem to get that answer – plus several others – Shinabery recently attended a Simpsonville City Commission meeting to speak as a frustrated resident on behalf of those neighbors in hopes of finding a way to pry information out of those who run the association.
She said she has searched records to find copies of the bylaws and sent three letters that included a petition signed by 60 residents to the association’s post office box, but no one has responded to tell her how her $100 per year is being spent.
“We just want to know where the money goes,” Shinabery said. “They can put liens on your home if you don’t pay your dues, but they won’t bother to tell us how they spend the money.
“We pay the dues, but I’ve never even gotten a receipt.”
Her comments illustrate a much broader frustration expressed by several residents of an association that includes about 225 homes in one of Shelby County’s largest developments. Residents also have asked:
§ Why no copies of the bylaws are distributed.
§ Why no financial reports are distributed as required by the bylaws.
§ Why no semiannual meetings are held as required by bylaws, and why some of them haven’t received notice of meetings when they have occurred.
§ Why a new slate of officers that was elected was not allowed to assume leadership.
§ Why one household controls two-thirds of the directors’ positions and 40 percent of the current slate of officers.
§ Why some contractors have sued to be paid.
§ And why they can’t get response of any sort from the organization’s president, Bruce Irvin Sr.
Irvin said he was “a little blindsided” by the complaints when he was informed about them by The Sentinel-News.
“I haven’t had any complaints,” he said. “Any complaints, we deal with.
“I’ve received no letters [like those] at all, and I check the PO box three times a week.
“We use an accounting firm, and all our taxes have been filed. I have bank statements. Every time we have a meeting, everyone there gets a copy of everything.”
Rolling Ridge was developed in the 1980s by Kenny Marshall, and its homeowners association was incorporated in 1993, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State. Homeowners associations and their covenants typically are specified by the developers and then ceded to the residents when a specified number of homes have been purchased.
Homeowners associations typically contract for landscaping on public grounds, oversee community property (such as pools and clubhouses), enforce architectural standards and handle complaints from residents.
Large associations put out newsletters with minutes and financial statements, have marquee signs notifying residents of meetings, build Web sites and even contract with property management firms to handle all of this.
When you buy property in a neighborhood that has an association, you have to sign binding documents at closing that require you to pay annual fees – which can run into thousands of dollars annually – notify you of the bylaws and other requirements. If you fail in your obligation, then a lien can be placed against your property.
The issues at Rolling Ridge, one of the county’s largest developments, are not uncommon, and there isn’t much recourse for the frustrated residents.
City can’t help
Homeowners associations’ proceedings are private, and Simpsonville commissioners, though appearing very sympathetic to Shinabery’s concerns, told her they could do nothing to intervene.
“We’ve had people come in here before about the Rolling Ridge Homeowners Association,” Simpsonville Mayor Steve Eden said. “We understand the problem, but that’s a private concern. We can’t do anything.”
City Commissioner Carey Vowels said he clearly understands Shinabery’s complaints. He lives in Rolling Ridge, too. He said the homeowners association always has had trouble, no matter who was running it, with a “lack of transparency.”
“I can only believe that if people are asking for reports as to the fund expenditures for the HOA and not being provided documents, that there are integrity and honesty issues being developed by the person(s) who is/are responsible,” he said.
And Simpsonville City Clerk Debbie Batliner, another resident, was for a time the secretary/treasurer and a director of the association. Her name still appears on some of its paperwork.
“I quit,” she said. “I didn’t have time for their stuff. I have a full-time job.”
Vowels, who is completing both an MBA and master’s degree in finance at Indiana University, said that the last balance sheet he saw was hand-written and lacked detail.
“There was a lack of detail for the expenditure listing in this balance sheet,” he said. “Just general categories, which could lead an auditor to question the validity of the calculations.”
And he said he saw those at the meeting almost two years ago when the organization’s new president was elected.
That would be Ted Perkins, a Louisville Metro Police officer who has lived in Rolling Ridge for seven years. He said he was elected president in late 2008, but he has yet to take office.
“They [Irvin and the other officers] had agreed by the end of 2009 to give it up,” Perkins said. “I was elected president, and Billy Elmore was going to be my vice president, and Kelland Garland was going to be a director. A whole new group.
“We had a lot of ideas, and we were getting ready to do some work. We wanted to make some improvements and use the Web site more.”
But Perkins said he never got that chance. He said he wanted to have a meeting to talk about the transition but that Irvin never would set it up and then in fact reversed the election.
“He told me they weren’t ready to give it [control of the board] up,” Perkins said.
The association’s annual report filed with the Secretary of State on June 7, 2009, shows Perkins as president, Elmore as vice president, Scott Hougland as treasurer, Rodney Gaines as secretary and Garland as a member.
Irvin, a 12-year resident of Rolling Ridge who first became president in 2005, and Irvin’s wife, Karalee Doyle, and longtime board member Walter Koprowski – spelled “Kaprowski” on the forms – were listed as directors.
But six days later, the association filed an amended report that named Irvin as president, Koprowski as treasurer and Doyle as secretary. Perkins Garland, Hougland and Gaines were named board members. The list of directors did not change.
In the required filing in June 2010, Hougland is listed as assistant treasurer and Gaines as assistant secretary. Irvin, Koprowski and Doyle remain as officers and directors, though Koprowski said he has been inactive because of poor health.
There’s also the question about Doyle’s position as a director and officer. Though she and Irvin are married, Irvin said her name does not appear on the deed for their property.
Is she legally qualified to serve as an officer and/or director or even vote as a homeowner? Irvin referred the questions more specifically to the association’s attorney, Chris Spedding of Lexington.
Spedding said he had known Irvin when he was general counsel for an automotive group in Louisville and has worked for the association since 2006 .
He said he wasn’t familiar with the bylaws and what they specified except that he had reviewed the portion that spoke to dues and whether they were required.
“I send out letters to those who are delinquent,” he said.
He said he had not attended homeowners association meetings but did represent the group in legal action by a former contractor. He said he did not handle the filings with the Secretary of State or know anything about Doyle’s status.
‘Not in compliance’
Irvin said he was not familiar with the state filing that said Perkins was president – both forms filed in 2009 bear his electronic signature – but he was adamant that Perkins had not been elected to that office.
“He was not elected president,” Irvin said. “He was elected vice president, but he was not in compliance. He had a swimming pool at the time, but that pushed him out. Neither was Billy Elmore [in compliance].
“I was re-elected president for two more years. I have 15 or 16 months left. I’ve got the minutes to show it.”
Irvin did say, however, that there had been a planned “probationary period” discussed before he would step down as president, which seems to match the situation Perkins described.
“They [new officers] needed to be updated on the processes,” Irvin said. “I was going to resign. I wanted to hand it over to someone who will do it and do it correctly. Those guys are not qualified and did not show any interest. “
Perkins has a different version about the issue of his swimming pool,
“When I was elected, I disclosed that I had put a pool in my backyard, which is in violation of the deed restrictions. I said I wanted to be sure everyone knew, and Bruce said that wasn’t a problem,” he said.
A few months later, Doyle wrote Perkins a letter that told him he was not in compliance with the restrictions and in danger of having a lien placed on his property if he did not remove his pool immediately.
Perkins said he since has followed the bylaws-specified, formal procedure for getting a waiver on the pool – “There are many in the neighborhood,” he said – but he has received no response.
Irvin disputes that by saying he could not change the bylaws to allow the pool, because such changes require approval of 70 percent of the homeowners.
“I have not heard from him [Perkins] in 15 months,” Irvin said.
That would be about the time of the association’s last official meeting. Its bylaws stipulate that the association meet twice each year, with officers allowed to meet more frequently. Irvin said the last meeting was in May of 2009.
No one shows up
Koprowski said he has attended board meetings since moving into the development 11 years ago and that for the past five years he has been a board member.
“I’ve been inactive for the past two years due to illness,” he said. “But I’m still on the board as far as any decision-making.”
He said he isn’t familiar with any complaints from homeowners or the presence of any petition for information or that people didn’t know about meetings.
“As far as I know, people have been notified,” he said. “No meetings have been called recently. Last time, no one showed up, but that has been part of the whole history of the board.
“But we call meetings and send out notices in the mail and put notices directly in some mailboxes.”
He said the meetings typically have been held in the Simpsonville Community Center but that when meeting day arrived, “Bruce and I would be sitting there with one or none of the so-called officers, and maybe 10 people would show up,” he said.
He said the last meeting was called about a year ago and that very few showed up for that.
He said Irvin always has been voted president and that he had been the organization’s financial officer, handling banking and check-writing.
“Bruce and I have been leaders. So many people have been voted in and then dropped out. He and I have been left handling responsibilities,” he said.
Shinabery, who has lived in Rolling Ridge for about 4 years with her husband, Ben and their three children, said she never has received a notice of a meeting and only knows Irvin is president because he makes sure that the statements are mailed out.
Irvin lives on the same street as Shinabery, but she said if she sees him outside and goes go to this house, he goes inside and won’t talk.
“Ms. Shinabery lives three houses down the street,” Irvin said. “She can talk to me anytime.”
Recently, after The Sentinel-News began inquiring about the situation, Shinabery again went to Irvin’s home, and when Doyle answered the door, she said she asked for a copy of the bylaws.
“The next morning she put a copy of the deed restrictions in my box and also a copy of the 2009 budget, which was just typed up on Microsoft Word.
“I put the deed restrictions back in her box and said I didn’t need those, I needed a copy of the bylaws.”
She said that she once called the secretary at Simpsonville City Hall and learned the dates when the homeowners association had reserved a public room at city hall for a meeting. She spread the word among her neighbors, sending out letters to several of those who had signed her petition.
But when she called back to city hall to confirm the meeting, she said she learned that it had been canceled.
Irvin, whose telephone number is unlisted, said residents are notified.
“We send out notices of our meetings to every resident, and I’ve got copies of every letter sent out,” he said. “I have verification of who we sent those to.”
Other residents said they had received notices in the mail, but Perkins said he believes not every resident is notified.
“I think Bruce invites who he wants to,” he said.
Residents also have found that simply getting a copy of the bylaws to understand how the organization operates has proved frustrating.
Normally this process occurs at closing, with the board sending out changes for review by the residents and then final copies when bylaws are amended.
But Vowels said he had to go to the county land office and get a copy and download them so he could print them out in a size he could read.
“I do not understand [not] providing bylaws to people. These are a mater of public record and are filed at the County Clerk’s office,” he said.
“A little over a year ago – close to two years – at a meeting, I offered to PDF the documents to make readily available. Irwin was fine with the idea, and during the change of board members I offered to give them to the new president [Perkins].
“Once complete I stopped by the new HOA president’s house and dropped off the five PDF files. He told me that they [the previous board members] were not going to allow these to be posted to the Web page and that he was not going to be allowed to be the president due to lack of compliance.”
Shinabery said she had the same problem, but she managed to find a prescribed procedure for requesting information from the association, which required 30 signatures on a petition. She doubled that.
Perkins said when he was elected he requested a copy of the bylaws. He received one that had a sticky note on top with a note from Doyle that said: “This is not to be distributed. For board members only.”
In recent years, the organization – or more precisely Irvin – has had trouble with contractors it has hired to do landscaping, which typically is the largest expense an association will pay.
Richard Sparks, owner of All About A Lawn landscaping, had a contract with Rolling Ridge until a couple of years ago, when he was fired.
“I had to go to court to get the money from him,” Spark said.
Vowels recalls that incident. “I told Bruce [Irvin] that he would lose in court and pay a lot of additional expenses, but he wouldn’t listen to me. And that’s what happened. He just did what he wanted,” he said.
Then, following Sparks, the association hired resident George Tapp Jr. to do the landscaping. “I offered the lowest bid they got – five hundred dollars a month,” Tapp said.
“I cut the grass, and he [Irvin] didn’t pay me. My dad and I redid the beds near the entrances and put a lot of money into perennials. They didn’t pay for that.
“Then when I asked him about paying me, he fired me. He owes me thirty-five hundred dollars.”
Tapp filed suit July 16 in Shelby Circuit Court seeking that $3,500 he said he is owed.
Irvin, who cites that the suit was against him and not the association, said that he would address Tapp’s claims in court on Aug. 16.
“He had been telling me all winter that he was going to raise rates,” Irvin said, “and I put the contract up for bid.”
What will happen
Further legal action may be the only recourse of Perkins, Shinabery and the other frustrated residents, and homeowners are rallying to consider what action may be required.
Simpsonville City Attorney Hite Hays told Shinabery that he knows the situation well.
“I’ve been on both sides of these disputes,” he said. “They can be tough. Developers write those covenants. You could take the board to court.”
Shinabery said residents are having a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Simpsonville gym to review the association and their options. She said Perkins arranged the meeting, and she has been handing out flyers in the neighborhood.
“We don’t know if anyone will show up, but we’re trying,” she said, stressing that “this is not a board meeting.”
Perkins said there is a petition now being circulated to disband the association. It requires 80 percent of the homeowners to sign, and then a majority would have to vote on the measure when it came up at a meeting. He said he doubts that will happen, but the process is moving.
Irvin says that only 60 percent of the homeowners are current in their dues and, thus, eligible to vote.
Said Irvin: “Anybody who says anything is in a slanderous form, I promise retribution. We’re doing things right. This is a free, gratis job.”
He said he spends time cutting weeds along the curb, citing residents for not mowing their grass or leaving boats parked in their driveways.
“When I got elected, I was doing just what they’re doing. I was complaining, asking where the money was going. They said, ‘We quit.’ That’s why I got elected.
“I live in this subdivision, and I expect things to be done right. We’re doing everything to be the best of our ability to run the homeowners’ association correctly.”
“If everyone did what Kara and Wally and I do, this place would look like Valhalla.”