Shared from the 1/7/2019 Laredo Morning Times eEdition


Tensions rise as lawsuit against HOAs drags on

Homeowners remain unhappy as HOAs increase association dues

Amid pending litigation and a growing fight between developers and homeowners, both of the homeowners associations for La Bota Ranch have again raised annual dues for their residents. The HOAs are still controlled by the original landowners and developers of the subdivision, not the homeowners.

These are two of the central reasons why La Bota residents filed a lawsuit against the developers in the first place, in June 2017. In 2016, their HOA dues increased by nearly $1,000 year over year, from $1,328 to $2,268 and from $1,651 to $2,600.

The homeowners’ lawsuit against the HOAs claims that they were not given proper notice of this increase to their assessments, which is a violation of state law.

Then on Nov. 27, the La Bota Ranch Owners Association notified residents that they were raising annual dues again, to $2,384, an increase of about $100. The other HOA, the La Bota Property Owners Association, increased annual dues to $2,720, also an increase of over $100. Both of these changes became effective Jan. 1.

Vanessa Perez, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who is leading the fight for the homeowners, said that this time the board sent out an appropriate notice for the meeting, but they gave no explanation for what the increase in dues would be used for.

The HOAs are made up of the original landowners and developers of La Bota Ranch, Albert Muller, Greg Ebe, Virginia Muller and Albert Muller Sr.

Once the building and development concludes in a neighborhood with a homeowners association, it is typical that the developers will hand over the board to homeowners. However, instead, the La Bota landowners voted to extend their declarant control to end in 2050.

Again, this vote was taken without proper notice, and homeowners were not able to participate, according to the lawsuit.

More than half of the homeowners in La Bota Ranch have joined the lawsuit against the HOAs, Perez said. But many residents cannot. They are financially strapped by the large assessments they are obligated to pay to the HOAs, Perez said. Plus many of the residents are renters.

The lawsuit also alleges that the developers are acting in their own self-interest rather than in the interest of the homeowners, “whose interest they have a fiduciary duty to protect.”

Since May 2017, the two La Bota homeowners associations have filed a combined 65 lawsuits against homeowners in their neighborhood who did not pay their HOA dues, according to court records.

Perez said there’s a sense of desperation in La Bota.

“A lot of the community is looking forward to some resolution out of this, because really it’s their only hope,” she said.

On Dec. 27, Doanh “Zone” Nguyen, the homeowners’ attorney, requested injunctive relief against the recent increase in fees for homeowners, seeking to prevent the HOAs from levying “further increases of association dues that do not benefit the respective property owners and subdivisions.”

Nguyen said he and the residents have requested to inspect the financial records of the developers, and that they have only been handed over some of them. He believes the case will end up going to trial.

“We’re trying to work it out with them, but we need to move the case forward. We’ve been unable to come to an agreement,” Nguyen said.

The Mullers’ attorney did not return a request for comment.

The lawsuit also alleges that the developers are acting in their own self-interest rather than in the interest of the homeowners, “whose interest they have a fiduciary duty to protect.”

For one, the HOAs entered into a lease agreement to pump water to La Bota Ranch and the Muller family’s adjacent properties.

“However, the homeowners associations are conveniently saddled with the obligation of paying for the maintenance and repairs on the water pipeline,” reads the suit.

Then in October 2012, the La Bota Ranch Owners Association entered into a two-year lease agreement with Broadband Real Estate Strategies Inc. for several premises around the neighborhood. The contract was for $77,000 annually for the first two years with a 3.5 percent escalation of price every year with no cap, according to the lawsuit.

One of the original La Bo-ta landowners also owns this company.

“The lease agreement was executed by Albert F. Muller, III as both an authorized agent of Broadband Real Estate Strategies Inc and an authorized agent of La Bota Ranch Owners Association Inc,” it reads.

The annual budget for the neighborhood has grown to nearly $1 million with no additional services to the homeowners, Nguyen alleges, and other fees seem exorbitant.

The budget for general repairs and maintenance was $49,000 in 2016, and grew to $211,031 in 2017. Pool maintenance and repair fees in 2015 were $6,000, and in 2017 were 14 times higher, $84,000. But no improvements have been made, the suit states.

Recently, waist-high metal poles strung with metal chains were installed between the two entrance lanes into the subdivision. Perez said the HOAs believed they were having problems with people changing lanes, but none of the residents thought there was a problem or said that something should be done about it.

“None of us consider that an improvement,” she said.

Perez said this is not something they want to be paying for with their dues. And they don’t even know how much it costs.

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