OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – A family that mistakenly placed trash bags along the curb for collection on the wrong day received a $927 bill from their homeowner’s association, a fee the property owners considered unreasonable because they received no prior warning.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Wade Suckoo, a 17-year resident of the Brighton Lakes subdivision near Kissimmee. “If I commit a violation on my property, send me a warning notice that says, ‘Hey, you’re in violation. Take care of it’.”
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Suckoo claimed he was unaware of an HOA rule prohibiting trash containers from being left on the street for more than 36 hours.
After Suckoo contacted News 6 to express frustration with the unexpected charge, the volunteer board of directors that oversees the Brighton Lakes Community Association reduced Suckoo’s bill to $100 for the 15 trash bags he admits he left on the curb.
“I’m a man of principle. You do not try to rip me off like that,” said Suckoo.
In early September, as Suckoo was making improvements to his home’s landscaping, he filled several large trash bags with discarded mulch.
“I put out around 15 to 17 bags,” he said.
On the Wednesday morning the county’s solid waste division was scheduled to pick up bulk trash items, Suckoo said he placed the bags of mulch along the curb.
“When I came back from work around a quarter to four, I saw that the bags were still there,” he said.
Trash collectors do not pick up bags of mulch on bulk item collection days, according to an Osceola County spokesperson. Instead, such debris would be collected on days specifically designated for yard waste.
When Suckoo contacted the county, he claims he was told to leave the bags on the curb for yard waste collection the following Tuesday, nearly six days later.
But before county trash collectors arrived, the bags of mulch vanished.
“Sunday night a pickup truck came with a trailer, and they picked it up,” said Suckoo.
The homeowner later learned the truck was driven by a handyman who had been hired by the HOA to remove Suckoo’s trash bags.
Two months later, Suckoo received a letter from the HOA’s attorney demanding that he pay $927 for the cleanup.
The charge included a $400 bill from the handyman, a $200 HOA fee and $327 in attorney costs.
Under Brighton Lakes HOA rules, the association has the authority to remove trash from a homeowner’s property and issue a bill for cleanup.
“In a time like this with COVID, who has $900 to blow on something stupid like this?” asked Suckoo, who said he lost two weeks of work this year while battling the virus.
Besides being blindsided by the unexpected cleanup bill, Suckoo disputes the number of trash bags the handyman claims he took from the curb.
The handyman’s invoice indicated “over 60 bags” had been removed.
“That’s impossible,” said the homeowner, who insisted he had only placed about 15 bags of mulch on the curb.
Suckoo’s neighbor told News 6 he recalled seeing only about 15 or 20 bags on the curb that day.
“It was a small pile,” said Joe Gominho.
But the handyman, Frankie Santos, told News 6 he properly billed the HOA for the bags he collected.
“My back was hurting the next day,” said Santos.
Santos took a photo, which he attached to the invoice, that shows the pile of trash bags before he loaded them onto his truck.
Suckoo believes that photo, which was attached to the handyman’s invoice, confirms there were much fewer than 60 trash bags.
The homeowner later questioned the HOA’s law firm about the apparent discrepancy between the photo and the invoice.
“Since we (the attorney’s office) don’t see it personally, we only have that to go on,” a paralegal with the Frazier & Bowles law firm wrote in an email to Suckoo. “We also don’t know if there were more bags underneath or if that photo was taken after some bags had been removed. Either way, the trash was not supposed to be there and had to be removed, This is their fee for removing the trash and is non-negotiable.”
After contacting News 6, Suckoo said he raised concerns about the trash cleanup bill at the next HOA meeting and was put in direct contact with a board attorney.
“The Association’s vendors, both a trash removal company and management company, have the pre-authorized, standing authority to remove major debris (including trash bags) from the property, the lawn, or the curb,” the Brighton Lakes Community Association Board of Directors wrote in a statement to News 6.
“(The) Board of Directors was not pleased to review the work of the vendor on the file, including the timeliness of the notifications and the level of record documentation to support an abatement invoice for trash removal left on the curb/driveway,” the statement said. “Currently, the Board of Directors is evaluating its vendor policies and contracts to take into account a reasonable amount of days for the county’s bulk trash pickup based upon the county schedule.”
Although Suckoo says he would have gladly moved the trash bags off the curb had the HOA reminded him of the rules and given him the opportunity to do it, he agreed to pay the $100 cleanup bill.
“I am going to try to get on the HOA board the next time there’s an open seat,” Suckoo told News 6. “The HOA has too much power here in Brighton Lakes.”