Missing a simple HOA fee could lead to losing your home

Legally little can be done

RIVERVIEW, Fla. -
Oleg Stepanov is a husband and father to a 9-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl. About a year ago, he received  a letter that put him in a state of panic.
 
"It was scary because I opened a letter and [it] says they would foreclose on my house if I did not pay $750," Stepanov said.
 
Stepanov was not only panicked but confused. He moved to the Panther Trace subdivision from Canada nearly a year ago but never got his HOA bill.
 
"In Canada I got mail forwarding here for a year. But I did not get that mail, and I still did not receive those bills," Stepanov said.
 
He said he tried to pay his $75 fee only to be told the HOA already handed it over to a lawyer. By that point, a legal fee had been added to what he owed, increasing his bill to $750.
 
Reluctantly, Stepanov settled. He said he had no choice under threat of foreclosure. He said that he even had to borrow money from neighbors to pay the bill.
 
"If I was foreclosed on that would have killed me and my family, like, where are we supposed to live?" Stepanov said.
 
Stepanov is not alone.
 
Action News got involved after another woman sent us an email pleading for help.
 
In it she wrote, "They [McNeil Management Company] are trying to foreclose on our home over the $80 annual fee," she wrote.
 
She claims she somehow missed the payment and when she tried to pay the HOA she found out it already turned her case over to a lawyer.
 
We called that law firm, The Tankel Law Group, and it agreed to settle.
 
But when Action News looked into it further, we found several people dealing with the same issue. So did Stepanov.
 
"This year I found it was not only me. I found out so many of my neighbors are dealing with the same issue. Why are people not getting their bill?" Stepanov said.
 
Action News wanted to find out why. So we went to the HOA, McNeil Management Company. But when we tried to ask questions, the manager shut us out by shutting the door and refusing to answer any questions.
 
Action News decided to look up records and found the company is among the top five in the county when it comes to liens.
 
It's also much easier for HOA foreclose compared to banks. Associations can demand payment within 45 days and if not paid can start legal action.
 
Owners like Stepanov can't help but wonder if his association is taking advantage of the less strict laws.
 
"I pay my electric bill every month. I pay my gas bill every month. Why can I not get a $75 bill from my management company?" Stepanov said.
 
Meanwhile, homeowners like Stepanov and the woman who emailed Action News are so upset they have vowed to push for a different management company.
 
To prevent this from happening to you, experts suggest to keep on top of your HOA. Even if you need to call them frequently. Also, do not ignore certified letters. They can be a final notice for payment.
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