Residents question Potomac Heights HOA rules, fines
Payments needed for repairs burdening some in community
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.”