Res­i­dents ques­tion Po­tomac Heights HOA rules, fines

Pay­ments needed for re­pairs bur­den­ing some in com­mu­nity

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES msykes@somd­news.com II Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

Just out­side the town of In­dian Head sits Po­tomac Heights, a neigh­bor­hood in ex­is­tence since the early 1950s — a place many res­i­dents and their fam­i­lies have called home over the last decade and change.

But now, some res­i­dents in the neigh­bor- hood say that com­fort- able at­mos­phere has gone and been re­placed with ra­pac­ity.

Res­i­dents in Po­tomac Heights do not own their homes. The neigh­bor- hood is run by a gen­eral man­ager and res­i­dents must pur­chase a share of the neigh­bor­hood to ac­tu­ally rent a home as part of a mu­tual home own­er­ship agree­ment.

Kim­berly Welsh, the gen­eral man­ager, said upon the pur­chase of a share in the “co-op” agree­ment, res­i­dents sign a con­tract say­ing they will “abide by the by­laws and main­tain their home.”

How­ever, Sharon O’Neal, a res­i­dent in Po­tomac Heights, said she and other neigh­bors have done their best to live up to their agree­ments in own­er­ship. But as a re­tired worker who now lives off of fixed in­come from So­cial Se­cu­rity and a small pen­sion, she said, re­pairs, bills and fines are dif­fi­cult to pay.

Af­ter home in­spec­tions were per­formed in March, O’Neal found out she had “thou­sands of dol­lars” to pay in home re­pairs with the money she had avail­able to her. Along with her bills for the home, the re­pairs are dif­fi­cult to make. And af­ter a few months, she be­came sub­ject to $75 fines for not mak­ing the al­ter­ations.

Along with needed home re­pairs, O’Neal said she has hun­dreds of dol­lars in out­stand­ing fines. And the wa­ter in her home is cur­rently turned off, she said, be­cause she has been un­able to make pay­ments.

“It’s all too much. I’ve asked them for more time, but right af­ter I pay the fines I have 10 days to make pay­ments. I just can’t do it all,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal said they have asked her to paint her fence, win­dows and mail­box. She has been able to make pay­ments on those tasks, she said.

How­ever, Po­tomac Heights has man­dated O’Neal have her house skirt­ing re­done, her shed re­placed, bushes re­moved and her propane tank painted, she said. She has re­ceived es­ti­mates on ev­ery­thing, but the pay­ments are just too high.

O’Neal, 76, said she also has med­i­cal bills in her old age and is deal­ing with Lu­pus, arthri­tis and heart is­sues. Those things have never de­terred her from pay­ing her bills and mak­ing re­pairs be­fore, but now that she has to pay more, the costs have got­ten out of con­trol.

“I have no prob­lem with pay­ing them. I’m not ask­ing for pity, but I just need more time,” O’Neal said.

Along with her wa­ter be­ing turned off, she said she has been threat- ened with ter­mi­na­tion of her mem­ber­ship in Po­tomac Heights. Due to th­ese is­sues, she is cur­rently stay­ing in King Ge­orge, Va., with a friend.

Welsh said she has never moved to ter­mi­nate any­one’s mem­ber- ship for their in­abil­ity to pay any bills or make re­pairs. There have only been three in­stances of ter­mi­na­tion, she said, and they were all drug re­lated.

She would not ter­mi­nate any­one’s mem­ber- ship “be­cause of a hard time.” Welsh said she tries to be un­der­stand­ing, but “rules are rules” and peo­ple signed up to be gov­erned by the neigh­bor­hood’s by­laws.

Ralph Wil­liams, an­other Po­tomac Heights res­i­dent who is a re­tired mil­i­tary mem­ber, said be­cause he re­ceives mil­i­tary ben­e­fits he does not have much of a prob­lem pay­ing for things. But there are many peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood who are also re­tired that do, he said.

“A good amount of peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood live on fixed in­comes, in­clud­ing peo­ple I know,” Wil­liams said. “Pay- ments are hard to make and the HOA doesn’t care. They just want the money when they want it.”

Mem­bers must pay a monthly fee for their mem­ber­ship — around $150 de­pend­ing on how large their dwelling unit is, Wil­liams said. He pays more to main­tain a good stand­ing with Po­tomac Heights, but there are peo­ple who can­not af­ford to do so.

From his past ex­pe­ri­ence with the neigh­bor- hood board, Wil­liams said they do not pro­vide much lee­way and ad­vanced no­tice when re­pairs need to be made or new costs may come up. And they still hold ac­count­able them.

How­ever, Welsh said, Po­tomac Heights pro­vided ad­vanced no­tice in many in­stances that in­spec­tions were com­ing and that many peo­ple would need to be pre­pared to have to pay for things.

In­spec­tions were in March of this year. Typ­i­cally af­ter an in­spec­tion, Welsh said, res­i­dents have 10 days to cor­rect any is­sues. But be­cause there were so many, she said, she gave res­i­dents un­til Aug. 31 to make any re­pairs.

Be­fore the in­spec­tions, there was no­tice in the com­pany’s Oc­to­ber 2015 quar­terly pro­moter stat- ing that there would be in­spec­tions in the spring, but did not spec­ify a date.

Welsh re­ported that many peo­ple told her they “did not re­ceive or did not read” the neigh­bor­hood pro­moter. “Then I can’t do any­thing about that,” she said.

“We’re try­ing to make changes. That was the first in­spec­tion in 10 years,” she said. “We’re try­ing to make the neigh­bor­hood bet­ter and have peo­ple keep up with their homes. If they don’t, ev­ery­one’s prop­erty value falls.”

In pre­vi­ous sit­u­a­tions, res­i­dents for some home­own­ers were given breaks be­cause of some­one they knew on the board or in the gen­eral man­ager’s of­fice. They would be neigh­bors with some­one and have “hand­shake deals,” she said, with­out hav­ing to pay for any­thing.

“That stops with me,” Welsh said. Welsh lives in Cobb Is­land, she said, and while she does have a re­la­tion­ship with res­i­dents, it is as a man­ager — not a neigh­bor.

“Some of th­ese things seem cold, but this is what peo­ple signed up for,” she said. “I’m sorry if they seem that way, but I have to fol­low the rule book. That’s my job.”

County Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent De­bra Davis (D) said Po­tomac Heights has changed from prior years. It has be­come a bet­ter com­mu­nity in the In­dian Head area. How­ever, she said, hav­ing peo­ple who can­not af­ford to make re­pairs and pay bills is an is­sue for any com­mu­nity, and it shows a larger prob­lem at hand.

“It sounds like th­ese folks don’t have many rights as home­own­ers,” Davis said. “I’ve never heard of that with homes. It’s an in­ter­est­ing case.”

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