Fines, fees, fear: Mpls. neighbors denounce homeowners association for “harassing”

Homes in the Heritage Park neighborhood north of Minneapolis are immaculate, lawns are short and green, trash cans lined.

Behind that ordinance is a homeowners association that regularly sends out violation letters and collects fines for what some neighbors consider minor cosmetic violations. A woman has been ordered to remove parts of her garden by Monday or else the association will do it and send her the bill.

The association has filed liens and foreclosure actions against landlords who don’t pay fees and other costs on time, even during the coronavirus pandemic, according to records filed with Hennepin County.

Now more than a dozen owners are organizing and speaking out, saying they want the Heritage Park Master association to be disbanded entirely or to be more welcoming to the people who make it up.

“I want to see a neighborhood association that works with people. … I don’t want anyone to come and commit violations,” said Ismail Ahmed, who lives in the neighborhood. “We are human beings. Everybody makes mistakes.”

The association, which, according to the neighbors, brings together a hundred households, did not respond in their favor. After hearing of a letter written by neighbors demanding several changes they believed would make the association more compassionate and equitable, she responded with a letter from a lawyer denying their demands.

Board chair Valerie Kowal and the association’s attorney would not speak to the Star Tribune for this story.

The association’s board of directors has a “fiduciary responsibility” to uphold the rules in its governing documents, said Dan Cunningham, owner of Sharper Management, which manages the association and about 150 others. Seizures, he said, are a common enforcement tool. .

“Communities generally don’t make exceptions,” he said. “It may be a 93-year-old woman not making payments, but that doesn’t give her the right to sit there and not make her payments just because she’s 93.”

But some who live in Heritage Park say the rules and design standards followed by the council infringe on their rights as owners, discriminate against non-English speakers and are disconnected from an area of ​​town with a complicated past.

The neighborhood was home to some of the state’s earliest public housing projects and became an area of ​​concentrated poverty during the 20th century. Following a lawsuit, the city tore down the projects and redistributed public housing in the Twin Cities, turning the area into a mixed-income development.

Laverna Starr was a 19-year-old mother living in these projects. She was forced to move; a few years later, she was told that a home was available for her in the new Heritage Park Master Association redevelopment.

It was the complete opposite of his previous experience, and not always for the better. The board strictly enforced the rules, often with “harassing behavior”.

“It’s great to be back in my old neighborhood, but things have changed,” Starr said. “There are so many rules. To experience that in a North Minneapolis neighborhood – I just don’t get it.

Starr says the rules — like not being able to park in the driveway for more than a day or attaching a basketball hoop — are excessive. She questioned the annual fees neighbors have to pay, saying the association does not provide any regular services like snow removal or lawn mowing.

“I can’t even imagine those going through foreclosure,” she said.

Michael Roberson was one such owner. He has admittedly always paid his annual fees late, arguing that he doesn’t know what they are for and keeps his yard and porch tidy on his own accord.

He received a letter from the association this winter saying he owed $500 in unpaid fees, he said. Then the pandemic hit. His wife lost her job and he focused on paying other bills.

He received another letter in June telling him the association had filed a foreclosure suit against his home, he said. Roberson had to borrow money from friends to pay back over $2,000, money he is still paying back.

“Everything looks threatening – that’s my biggest problem,” he said. “You don’t have to threaten us. Just talk to us and let us know what you need to do.

The neighbors say they have constantly encountered obstacles trying to bring about meaningful change within the association. Some of them went to town and even filed complaints with the state attorney general’s office. In a statement, the city said it “plays no role in establishing or exercising control over homeowners associations (HOAs).”

Two seats on the association’s board of directors are up for grabs, which are taking place by mail, according to a letter from Sharper Management. In another letter to homeowners signed this month, the association’s lawyer said the council had no plans to change its guidelines.

“The Association is legally required to collect assessments and therefore must use liens and seizures to do so if landlords fail to pay,” the letter states. “This action plan is not necessary if landlords simply pay their assessments on time.”

Jolene Johnson worries about what the association might do to her property. His house is surrounded by perennials, apple trees, tomato towers, a large composting cage and a garden with several different vegetables, structures planted over 10 years ago.

The association is now telling him to remove the flower beds, composting cage and half of the tomato towers in the backyard, saying there was no trace of approval from them at the time. era. If she did not comply, he said he would send contractors to remove the gardens at Johnson’s expense.

“We really don’t want [move],” she said. “But if we can’t find a way to stop the harassment, we can’t continue to live here.”

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