Christy Leatherman, like many area residents, belongs to a homeowners association and pays annual dues.
She says that when she and her husband bought their tidy, well-landscaped yellow house in Valley Center in 2010, they didn’t find out until closing that they would have to pay $120 in annual homeowners association dues.
Three years later, she says she’s still trying to figure out how those dues are spent by Mennonite Housing, the developer of the addition west of Meridian off of 85th Street North.
“When we ask them what our dues are being spent on, they say maintenance,” Leatherman said recently at her home. “Can I see the receipts? They say, no, we can’t.”
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Andy Bias, CEO and president of Mennonite Housing, a nonprofit group focused on affordable housing for people who are low-income, disagreed that information has been kept from Ridgefield residents.
“Nothing’s a secret,” Bias said.
He said residents asked him for financial information at their last meeting and he didn’t have it readily available.
Under state law, members of homeowners associations have the right to look at the association’s books and see how their dues are being spent. They also have the right to know when and where meetings are taking place and to see annual budgets.
Sharon Werner, chief attorney of the consumer protection division of the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, said her office fields complaints every year from homeowners concerned about how their dues are being spent or how their associations are operating.
“When anybody is buying a home, they need to be asking their Realtor if there’s a homeowners association and if so, where they can get a copy of the bylaws and the declarations so they can begin to understand the extent of any financial obligations they might have … and any rights that they might have in respect to the association,” Werner said. “A lot of people get frustrated because they want to attend meetings and don’t know how often they are or don’t know where they are.”
Leatherman said she and other residents have asked at “every homeowners association meeting except for the first one” in 2010 for information about how Mennonite Housing was using their dues. She said residents have asked to meet every six months instead of annually. She added homeowners feel they have no voice. No one who lives in Ridgefield serves on a board for the homeowners association. Bias said there is no board.
Ridgefield has 115 lots, 25 of which have sold. That means there are 90 empty lots.
“The homeowner association was formed for property owners obviously meant to be 115 households. The only meetings to date have concentrated on maintenance issues or what are Mennonite Housing plans to complete the development,” Bias said in an e-mail.
“The families have always had an opportunity to have the HOA focus and serve them. All we’ve done to this point is look to support the covenants for building and address maintenance. All while having the obligation on addressing the financial component associated with 90 lots in taxes and specials ($180,000 per year) with no revenue from Ridgefield Development to do so,” Bias said in the e-mail.
Bias said dues are used for lawn care in common areas and utilities for a well that has an electrical pump.
Not everyone pays dues. “Eight lots have paid HOA dues this year,” Bias said. “There’s still multiple years unpaid.”
Asked for records about homeowners association dues, Bias initially forwarded to The Eagle a one-page document with five entries. It showed a beginning balance of $964.96 and expenditures of $853.27 for the period from June 12 to Sept. 18. The biggest expenditure was $640 for mowing, which Bias says is done in-house by Mennonite Housing.
Asked for more detailed records going back to when Ridgefield was first built, Bias sent a document titled “Home Association Dues.” Collection of dues and expenses paid by dues were highlighted in the five-page document. But it also contained financial transactions not related to dues. The Eagle also asked for a copy of the association’s budget; Bias said in an e-mail that “I’ve given you all there is.”
Leatherman and her husband received a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan Program to buy their home. She said her education about homeowners associations began when she became concerned about overgrown common areas and empty lots.
“Our dues are supposed to pay for maintenance, but they don’t mow everything they’re supposed to” and not often enough, Leatherman said.
The document Bias provided showed one invoice for mowing from June 12 to Sept. 18.
In a Sept. 5 letter she sent by e-mail to Bias, Leatherman wrote: “At our last HOA meeting, Aug. 1, we brought to your attention again that the Ridgefield Addition is not being properly taken care (of). It has been over a month and nothing has been addressed. … There are places the weeds and grass reach over 6 ft tall. The residents can not get to the lake to fish or enjoy the sitting areas around the lake. This extreme overgrowth is causing a huge issue with bugs, mice, snakes and other critters.”
“If there is an accident and a child falls into the lake, they will not be seen,” Leatherman wrote in her letter to Bias, which she copied to Valley Center officials. “… Mowing around the lake and keeping it mowed is a matter of safety.”
Asked if the property was mowed Sept. 18 because of Leatherman’s complaints, Bias said, “I received a letter. That’s all I’ll say to that.”
But he said “the mowing’s been inconsistent, so we take responsibility for that. We could do a better job.”
Mowing probably should happen every 30 days, he said, “but it’s been a very rainy season. It’s been difficult to keep up.”
Leatherman also contacted Valley Center and Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau.
She said she and other homeowners since have received a letter from Mennonite Housing about a meeting Oct. 10 at which information about collection of dues and expenses this year will be shared.
“There will be a presentation by the controller for Mennonite Housing to answer any questions you may have in regards to the dues and expenses,” Leatherman’s copy of the letter said. “At the last meeting, it was requested that we let the community know a month in advance of any … meetings. This will be your only notification for the Oct. 10 meeting. Please plan to attend.”