In early June, homeowners at Greystone at Eastlake Vistas, a 269-unit condominium complex, found themselves caught up in a circus of tricks, lies, accusations, and betrayals that seemed more fitting to an episode of The Bachelor than the inner workings of a homeowners’ association.
Richard Monson serves as president of the California Association of Homeowners Associations. He estimates there are 55,000 such associations in the state, and says dysfunction too often plagues them. “There’s one primary reason,” he explains, “which is far and above the other reasons, and that is the complacency of the homeowners, the unwillingness of homeowners to be involved in the administration of the association. Consequently, when an election is held, there is very meager participation. There are even fewer people interested in serving on the board of directors. And so the pool from which the board of directors is taken is very, very small.”
He adds, “Most people running for office have an agenda.”
I can’t expect them to know much.
Depending on who you ask, the dysfunction at Greystone will have a different beginning, but we’ll begin on March 31, 2015, when, during the monthly HOA meeting, a boardmember submitted a petition “apparently signed by 18 owners demanding that the board be recalled and Summit Property Management, Inc. fired,” as stated in the meeting minutes.
The boardmember who submitted the petition agreed to be interviewed so long as her name not be used. So we’ll call her Caroline Jarvis.
“I was getting the attention of the boardmembers, like, ‘Hey, you have to take back your control, because right now you don’t have control,’” Jarvis says.
The real problem, she claims, was that the management company wasn’t doing its job correctly, and she was the only boardmember who understood how the relationship between the association and the management company was supposed to work. “What was happening was that people would buy and then sell, and no one would really stay on the board but myself,” she says. “They were brand new people. I can’t really expect them to know much.”
The president of Summit Property Management, John Kiss, was, Jarvis says, taking over meetings, and taking advantage of the inexperienced boardmembers who didn’t understand that they called the shots, not him. “He took that and ran with it for so many years that it bothered me,” she says. “So that was why I [announced] a recall election.”
But, she didn’t expect that the recall would actually happen, because in the eight years of the association’s existence, they had never had the 25 percent quorum needed to make a vote official.
We’re going to have a real election.
Some of the accusations Jarvis makes against John Kiss and Summit Property Management are less-than-specific, and maybe somewhat personal. “He always considered me as a complainer,” Jarvis says of Kiss, for instance. But the rest of her complaints about the management company are all tied in with complaints about the maintenance company, Spotless Image.
Immediately after the recall announcement, the board sent a 30-day notice to both Spotless Image and Summit Property Management that their contracts were ending. Jarvis held an executive meeting of the board at her home, where they discussed and agreed to sign a new contract with Menas Property Management as well as a new maintenance company, a new pool-service company, and a new janitorial company.
Nathaniel Guerrero, owner of Spotless Image and a homeowner within the community, believes that the boardmembers were manipulated into signing these new contracts.
“The inexperienced boardmembers got nervous, and [Jarvis] used that by saying, ‘Look, if you don’t go on my side, you guys are going to get recalled,’” Guerrero says. “This is what she told them: ‘I can stop this if you agree with me to get rid of Spotless Image and Summit Property, you can keep your position.’”
When Guerrero heard from Kiss that Summit’s contract had been canceled, he knew his was next. But he also knew that the recall was an opportunity to turn things around. “I said, ‘No, we’re going to have a real election.’ So I started knocking on people’s doors and explaining what’s going on and this and that,” he says. “And Julie [his custodial employee] was going around knocking on people’s doors. We had some people that wanted to be boardmembers, and everything was good.”
Julie caught homeowner Josh Hervas on the way back home from his mailbox. Hervas says she asked if he knew about the coming board recall and re-election, and if so, had he voted? Hervas responded that, yes, he knew, but, no, he hadn’t yet voted.
“She said, ‘Let me tell you about the people that are running,’” Hervas says. “She showed me five names and spoke about each one and explained who they were. That was the only five [out of the ten candidates] she showed me. She said, ‘You get five votes and you can vote any way you want. Here’s a paper with their names on it. Just feel free to make sure there’s five votes on there.’”
When Julie produced a stack of envelopes and offered to mail the ballot in for him, Hervas declined.
“She doesn’t even live here,” Hervas’s wife Jasmine says, expressing confusion about why the custodial worker would come seeking votes for the HOA’s board.
Like Jasmine Hervas, other homeowners expressed confusion and some suspicion of what was happening. Others listened with concern.
Homeowner John Snoddy was one of the latter. He’s lived in the community for approximately two and a half years, and he had some complaints about things that were promised but not getting done.
“They’ve been talking about fixing the playgrounds for two years, and nothing has happened. And they’ve been talking about replacing the pool equipment and furniture for at least a year, and nothing’s happened,” Snoddy says. “So when someone was going around door-to-door suggesting that you vote for the recall, that seemed very reasonable to me. They asked me if I’d be willing to be on the board, and I said, ‘If I can make a difference, I’d be willing to help.’”