Harbour House condo owner feels bullied by her HOA

Now living in a construction zone nightmare
Posted at 6:55 PM, Jan 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-06 22:13:36-05

The day after Christmas 2015, Karen Durrett's life changed when her dream home became a flooded mess.

"It's been a nightmare," Karen told ABC Action News anchor Wendy Ryan.

Karen came home from work to find a major flood in her condominium caused by work being done in her next door neighbor's condominium by Alvarez Plumbing Company.

A pipe broke on December 26, 2015 causing Karen's kitchen, living room and bedroom to be filled with water, ruining her laminate floors.

Karen's entire flooring inside her condo had to be replaced and she said it took three months of negotiating with Alvarez's insurance company for a financial agreement to be worked out to repair the damage and replace the floors.

Karen then obtained  permission from Harbour House's Manager Perry Labord to begin work on her condominium and hired a licensed, insured contractor Han Van Iersel to replace all her floors and floor boards.

She chose to replace the flooring with acid-stained concrete and scheduled the allotted days with the building's doorman, which Karen said was standard operating procedure for the Harbour House.

After the work began, a neighbor below Karen's unit allegedly started complaining to LaBord about the construction noise during the sanding of the floors.

The next day, LaBord called Karen to inform her the work must immediately stop and a written scope of work must be submitted before work could proceed.

Karen provided Labord with a scope of work, and Labord gave Karen permission for the work to proceed. 

Then, Karen's contractor, Han Van Iersel began work again and an epoxy was laid down on the floors.

Within 24 hours, a neighbor allegedly complained to LaBord about the smell.

So again, LaBord asked the work to stop.

LaBord also claimed Karen's contractor Han Van Iersel had cracked the foundation of the floor, which LaBord says she discovered after entering Karen's unit that day.

Karen says LaBord did not request, nor was she granted permission to enter her condo at that time. 

Karen subsequently discovered LaBord's footprint on the floor, where the epoxy was still wet.

Karen says she feels violated that LaBord had been in her home without permission and without Karen being present.

"I felt like I felt in 1993 from my home invasion. I felt unsafe. I chose this place because there's a doorman, security and because I had a sense of safety that I had for nine and a half years. And now I have no sense of safety at all."

Then, without any further discussion on March 10, 2016 the Harbour House HOA sued Karen in Hillsborough County Court seeking  an Emergency Temporary Injunction against Karen, stopping any more work from being done until she went in front of a judge.  

Karen says the complaint filed by the Harbour House HOA alleged many false statements and misrepresentations against her.

So Karen was forced to hire an attorney to help defend her case.

Then on March 23, 2016, Karen received a letter from the HOA Board's Attorney David Lopez from the law office of James R. De Furio in Tampa.

In Lopez's letter, the HOA Board claimed that all repairs inside Karen's condo now needed board approval.

The letter also demanded that Karen return her floors to the condition they were in prior to the repair process beginning. 

The condition of the floor prior to work beginning was a flooded out and damaged floor.  Therefore, Karen believed the HOA’s demands were unreasonable, if not impossible.  

Given the work that Karen was having done in her condo, she did not believe that board's approval was required, according to the HOA documents.  

Still due to the injunction in place, negotiations between Karen's attorney and Lopez began.

Karen requested a meeting between the HOA President Dan Mack believing that a sit down discussion could help resolve the issues at hand.

But Lopez refused to have the meeting, indicating that his client, the HOA, was not interested in any such discussion

Days turned into weeks and weeks have turned into months.

Now a year later, the injunction is still in place and Karen is still living in the middle of a construction zone.

Her home is no longer a safe haven.

"I'm angry because the first thing that I see when I walk in every day is that footprint. The stress of this is worse than than the stress and the trauma that I suffered after a sexual assault," Karen explains. "I've been diagnosed with OCD and PTSD as a result of a home invasion and sexual assault in 1993 so living like this is a living hell for me!" 

And it's not just the emotional stress. Karen has also endured financial stress.

Her attorney's fees for the last year to fight this injunction and to go through the mandatory arbitration process are now over $26,000.  

Karen also says she's spent $10,000 on new floors and missed numerous shifts at work due to mandatory court dates and mediation.

According to Karen, the injunction remains in place only because of false allegations made by the HOA board which includes her contractor Han Van Iersel was unlicensed and uninsured, even though she submitted proof of his license and insurance to the board, when initially stopped by Labord in March of 2016.

The HOA board also hired a structural engineer who claims Karen changed or modified a 'common element' in the building by sanding and painting the floors.

But Karen and contractor Han Van Iersel say they never modified any common element inside the condominium due to the fact that the work was not structural in nature and no structural modifications were made.  

"What has the last year been like for you?" Ryan asked Karen.

"A living hell! I'm in a constant state of anxiety. I'm not sleeping. I've gained 15 pounds from stress eating. I have hives and welts and a toothache, I can't afford to go get fixed. I've taken on an extra shift just so I can pay my attorney's fees. My back aches. It's really been a nightmare. It's one of the worst things I've ever gone through."

So where do things stand?

Perry Labord was fired many months ago and over the last year, Harbour House has hired and fired several different building managers.  

Ryan called the current Manager Tom Vento and left messages but he never returned her calls.

HOA President Dan Mack stepped down but remains on the board. Ryan called Mack several times and left messages but he never returned her calls.

Ryan did speak to the new HOA President Lori McGehee over the phone. When Ryan asked about Karen's condo construction case, McGehee simply said, "no comment," and hung up.

"We've made several moves to resolve this through my attorney. We've offered to put down laminate flooring which I purchased and do not even want," Karen said.

Still it seems the HOA board is not backing down through their Attorney David Lopez.

Karen's attorney has tried negotiating with Lopez with no success. Karen believes she has been reasonable in attempting to resolve these issues with the HOA, as well as make numerous concessions. 

Karen believes all of this could have been resolved if the HOA had been willing to sit down with her in March of 2016, over a matter which appeared at the time to be a misunderstanding.

Now, it's costing both sides a lot of money.  

"His fees will be paid by every condominium owner in that building and the rest of the association doesn't even know about it," Karen explained.

Ryan called Attorney David Lopez several times to discuss the case but he never returned her calls.

Karen says, "People ask me 'why don't I just move?' And I say 'it's not right what's being done to me!'"

"So you want justice?" Ryan asked.

"Absolutely I want justice and I will fight for it!" Karen said emphatically. "They never expected a blue collar worker to be resourceful enough to fight them to this extent."

But Karen is a fighter and she's not backing down anytime soon. In fact, she just filed a counter lawsuit against the Harbour House HOA asking for all of her legal fees to be covered and her floors finished so she can put this behind her.

And she's ready to go to trial if that's what it takes.

"I'm up against an entire association that's bullying me. That is egregious! They're abusing their power, selectively enforcing rules and regulations against me. But I was also raised to not back down from a bully."