POINCIANA, Fla. – Residents of a 55-plus neighborhood in Central Florida have been awarded nearly $35 million in a civil case following a judge’s ruling that they were charged improper homeowners’ association fees.
“It’s been a long battle,” Lita Epstein,who chairs the Poinciana Community Development District, told the Orlando Sentinel.
Each resident could receive up to $10,000 following the Nov. 2 judgment issued by Polk County Judge Wayne Durden, according to Carter Anderson, an attorney for the plaintiffs. The lawsuit represented more than 5,000 residents of the Solivita development in Poinciana, which spans parts of Polk and Osceola counties.
Developer Avatar Properties proposed a bond measure in 2015 to sell a clubhouse, pools and tennis court to the resident-run development for $73 million, the newspaper reported. However a valuation of the amenities by a certified appraiser found them only to be worth roughly a quarter of that.
As attorneys reviewed the proposal, they found what they believed to be improper fee collections by the developer.
The lawsuit said residents paid HOA fees, along with two separate fees to the Solivita Club, which maintained the amenities owned by the developer. The company was a subsidiary of AV Homes, which was purchased by home builder Taylor Morrison in 2018.
Taylor Morrison told the Sentinel in an email it would not comment due to the litigation. The community's lawyer said the developer told him it plans to appeal.
The fees went back to the early 2000s, but the statute of limitations means plaintiffs were only allowed to ask for a return of fees dating back to 2013, the newspaper reported.
Norm Gundel, 69, who was one of three named plaintiffs on the lawsuit, told the Sentinel the judge's ruling will be a boon to the community.
“It saves every homeowner in the community approximately $1,000 per year, and refunds those same illegal fees all of the way back through April 2013,” he said.