By Matt Tomsic
Published Aug. 17, 2012
On Tuesday, a county judge will auction Sandy Weaver’s property in Stono Ferry for unpaid homeowners association assessments.
Weaver, a single mother of three and breast cancer survivor, didn’t know her property was about to be sold until late July when a Business Journal analysis found her case among hundreds filed against Charleston County homeowners over the past decade.
She did know that Stono Ferry Homeowners Association had filed a lien in 2008 along with a notice of foreclosure, but wasn't aware the case had progressed to a foreclosure sale, which was signed by a judge June 12.
“I keep saying it over and over, I just can’t believe that this is truly happening,” Weaver said. “But every day that nothing’s done — my property is going to be sold on Tuesday, and it just can’t happen.”
Weaver fell behind on her homeowners association dues and owed $6,400 in assessments, according to a complaint filed in May 2008. Weaver said she got the foreclosure summons while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer.
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“They served this complaint to me, and honestly, it didn’t make it on the first page of my concerns,” Weaver said, adding that on top of cancer, she was trying to juggle taking care of her children and working. “I can’t make HOA fees equal to everything else I have to deal with.”
The case proceeded slowly, and Weaver’s debt increased as she missed assessments and received $300-worth of fines for debris from a fire that destroyed her home in December 2010. She has been living elsewhere since that time.
By June, the case had reached a county judge, who ordered the foreclosure. State law allows homeowners associations to file liens for unpaid assessments and foreclose on property if the liens and assessments remain unpaid. A Charleston Regional Business Journal analysis found hundreds of foreclosure cases filed by associations since 1993, sometimes for as little as $300 in unpaid assessments. Homeowners associations aren’t regulated by any state agency, and lawmakers have tried to pass legislation to provide oversight but those efforts have failed.
Stono Ferry has policies for unpaid assessments, filing liens and foreclosing, said Jill Crocker, the president of the Stono Ferry Homeowners Association board, but she wouldn’t talk about specific cases, including Weaver’s foreclosure.
Crocker said after 30 days, the board’s attorney sends the homeowner a letter saying it intends to file a lien. At 60 days past due, the attorney puts a lien on the property. The board waits until 90 days and for the debt to rise above $1,000 to file a foreclosure or complaint in small claims court.
Homeowners associations risk losing amenities and insurance coverage when homeowners don’t pay their dues, and foreclosure lawsuits can be an effective tool to recover unpaid dues.
Homeowners usually respond after the first notice and either pay the assessments or negotiate an agreement, Crocker said. Foreclosures are used as a last resort.
Stono Ferry Homeowners Association contracts with a property management company, Asset Management and Consulting Services. Attorneys and AMCS update the board at monthly meetings about unpaid assessments and potential legal action, Crocker said, but the board doesn’t vote on individual cases.
“Normally, they don’t ask us for input,” she said. “Our management company gives the attorneys the approval to proceed.”
AMCS and Stono Ferry’s attorney were unavailable for comment and did not return messages.
Weaver understands she’s accountable for her unpaid assessments, and she’s approached the board to pay back the assessments and attorney costs after learning of the foreclosure case, but the board has rejected that offer.
But she doesn’t understand how her debt blossomed in four years from $6,400 to a $22,000 judgment. By June, Weaver owed $7,700 in assessments, $6,200 in interest, $600 in fines and $6,300 in attorney’s fees, among other costs.
Her attorney, Patrick McDonald, is questioning how Weaver wasn’t notified of the foreclosure sale, and court records show attorneys served documents to Weaver by mailing copies to her vacant lot on Tattersall Lane.
“She’s trying every tack to try to appeal on a very humane level to these people,” McDonald said. “And so far, it’s fallen on deaf ears.”
Unless an agreement is reached by Tuesday, a judge will auction Weaver’s lot — valued at $164,000 — to the highest bidder in a Charleston County courtroom.
“They have the authority, the ability, the power to take my property over six stinking thousand dollars,” Weaver said. “The ultimate end that my property is going to be sold Tuesday is not an option.”
Reach Matt Tomsic at 843-849-3144.