Disputes within community associations are common, occurring on a daily basis.  But disputes that end up costing $400,000 are not common, especially when the dispute comes down to inches. Four inches that is. This particular dispute was over a political sign that was four inches taller than the covenants allowed. Not only has a dispute over the size of a political sign bankrupted the Old Bellhaven community, their common grounds are now up for sale.  Battle lines have been drawn and the once community-centric association has lost all sense of community.  
The dispute stems from a couple who felt attacked after receiving a letter from the Board of Directors which stated it was the association’s “final request” to remove their sign.  The owners acknowledged their sign went against their community’s covenants but felt their rights were being violated and responded by cutting their sign in half and placing both halves on their front lawn.  The board was not amused and passed a resolution which stated the association could fine residents up to $900 per covenant violation.  Following this incident, the couple submitted plans for roof and deck projects which the board denied.  The homeowners were angry and decided to sue the association. 
After rounds of failed settlement talks, two Fairfax County judges sided with the homeowners stating the association was responsible for paying homeowner’s legal fees of $100,000.  In addition, the association also had amassed nearly $300,000 of their own legal fees.  Due to the high amount of fees, the owners within Old Bellhaven voted for bankruptcy.  In order to cover some of the association’s debts, a court appointed bankruptcy trustee put the community square up for sale.  Could this happen in your community?  What do you think the lasting impact of this will be in Old Bellhaven?

Melissa M. Garcia
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