Association cuts resident’s water pipe

September 8th, 2009 by

RIVERVIEW - Just how far can a homeowner’s association go to get what is owed to them? A Tampa attorney is hoping to get a judge to decide that Tuesday morning in a Hillsborough County courtroom.

Sarah — whom we’re only indentifying by her first name — lives in the Riverwalk Townhomes in Riverview. She fell behind on her association dues more than a year ago.

Sarah says she had problems financially. “Then it just snowballed. You try to catch up on one thing and you fall behind on something else.”

On the 10th of August, she got a letter from her association board, saying they were going to cut off her water on the 17th. And that’s exactly what they did — not just turning off the water, but cutting the pipe.

“It’s stressful and it’s humiliating. Overwhelming, because you don’t know how to explain it to your child,” Sarah told FOX 13.

Sarah has a 10-year-old disabled child. She hasn’t had water now for three weeks. She keeps gallons of water to cook with. She has filled up her bathtub with water to flush the toilet with and brush her teeth.

She heats up water on the stove and puts it in a camping shower, which she now bathes with.

The Riverwalk Townhouses share one water meter. Each owner pays a monthly fee of $275 to the association. That pays for water, cable, maintenance, and upkeep on common areas.

The association recently passed an amendment which says they have the right to go on someone’s property and cut their water or cable if they don’t pay their dues.

Nicki Fernandez, a real estate lawyer, disagrees. She is now representing Sarah.

“There’s a deliberate action by the homeowner’s association that’s not only illegal, but they’re trespassing on her property,” Fernandez stated. “They’re taking rights away from her that are under the constitution and they’re also violating Florida laws.”

Fernandez says, under Florida statutes, an association can suspend use of amenities like a community pool or workout room. They can also suspend their voting rights for community issues. But Fernandez says the law does not say water — a necessity — can be cut.

She believes the association feels they can do it because water is part of the monthly fees.

“They’re bundling up the common elements and amenities in the community with specific property rights of the owner, so because they are paying the bill, that’s why I believe they think they can cut off the water.”

At least two other neighbors also had it cut off. One moved out; the other is also living without water.

David Walkowiak, a board-certified real estate attorney, believes the board overstepped their bounds.

“The ultimate question for the courts is whether water is an amenity or a necessity,” he said, adding, “If you don’t have water, you can’t use the restroom. You can’t take a shower. I don’t know how you can live in a home without water.”

But Walkowiak admits homeowner’s associations are in a difficult situation. In this tough economy, more people are not paying their dues.

Sarah said she would pay if she could. She feels she’s being looked at like a deadbeat homeowner.

“They don’t have a clue what’s going on in someone else’s life. It’s easy to judge because you’re not in that situation.”


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