When Ahwatukee Foothills resident Penelope Johnson’s homeowners association told her the abuse she had noticed could only be corrected by taking them to court, she wasn’t about to back down.
“When you see something is wrong you say something or do something,” Johnson said. “It’s a matter of standing up for what’s right. It’s the good ol’ American way.”
The problem was simple. In The Pointe South Mountain all homeowners pay a general assessment. Owners of Courthomes pay an extra assessment to have their balconies and the exterior of their homes taken care of. Johnson, and many others in the neighborhood, began to notice the Courthomes assessments were not being used for Courthomes, but were being placed into the same general fund as the general assessments used to maintain several other areas in the community.
When the group went to the HOA board, they were told the HOA interpreted the CC&Rs one way and to have the use of the assessments changed, it would need to go to court. So they went to court.
The judge agreed with the group and ordered in August of 2013 that the HOA stop using court home exterior maintenance funds for common area maintenance. The judge also ordered that the HOA would have to pay all of Johnson’s attorney fees, which amounted to nearly $90,000.
The issue is still being sorted out within the HOA, which recently voted to make the court-ordered change in 2014, but since the case has ended Johnson was voted to a position on the board, several members were taken off the board, and Johnson said she has a positive outlook for the community.
“The good news is that in spite of the fact that we were engaged in a battle, the community saw the side of justice,” Johnson said. “What more can you ask for? It’s democracy at work.”
Johnson said since the case was decided she’s received a lot of feedback that transparency has increased. That transparency was the goal for her and for the community members who helped her along the way.
“When things are not easy to understand, you don’t get volunteers willing to serve,” said Kathleen Daurio, who owns several homes in the community and sided with Johnson during the case. “That’s the problem with this. If it was all easy to follow, which it should be, people would be more apt to get involved and participate, but it’s not that way. The level of frustration is understandable.”
The problem in this case was well known among homeowners, Daurio said, but it was difficult to get organized and find someone willing to do something about it. She was informed of the problem when she first purchased a home in the community in 1994. Johnson said she first noticed the problem right when she moved in 2006.
“Penney was really leaving herself wide open financially,” Daurio said. “They had all the money behind them. How do you take on Goliath when you are David?... It is nearly impossible for a homeowner to take it on. It doesn’t even matter how right they are. The association has the pocketbook and the power.”
Johnson said at her age and with all she has faced in her life the problem was worth fighting. While she doesn’t suggest everyone take their HOA to court, she does suggest staying involved and speaking up.
“If it’s a widespread problem that affects everybody, then it needs to be addressed,” she said. “You have to be prepared. You have to do your homework. You have to be resourceful. It helps to have like-minded people. This was not just me against the HOA. Everybody was affected. So many people were affected and were being kept in the dark. We needed to have a light shine on it.”
Assessments in the community were adjusted in April to help meet the court order.
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