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Townhomes at French Creek v. Woods

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

June 25, 2018

TOWNHOMES AT FRENCH CREEK, etc. Appellant
v.
CHRISTOPHER G. WOODS Appellee

          APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE AVON LAKE MUNICIPAL COURT COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE No. CVI 1700068

          AMANDA A. BARRETO and LINDSEY A. WRUBEL, Attorneys at Law, for Appellant.

          CHRISOPHTER G. WOODS, pro se, Appellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          JULIE A. SCHAFER, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         {¶1} Appellant-Plaintiff, the Townhomes at French Creek Reserves Homeowners Association, Inc. ("HOA"), appeals the judgment of the Avon Lake Municipal Small Claims Court. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.

         I.

         {¶2} The Townhomes of French Creek Reserve is a planned community. Pursuant to the community's amended declaration of restrictions, reservations, and covenants, each lot owner within the HOA is required to pay monthly maintenance fees for each owner's share of the common expenses. Defendant-Appellee, Christopher Woods, is a lot owner within the HOA. Woods opted to allow the HOA's property management company, Carlyle Management ("Carlyle"), to automatically withdraw the monthly maintenance fees from his checking account on the tenth of each month through the Automatic Clearing House ("ACH"). Woods was current with payment of his maintenance fee to the HOA until April 2015. On April 10, 2015, Carlyle attempted to withdraw the $175 maintenance fee from Woods' checking account, however, the attempt was returned due to insufficient funds in the account. Subsequent to the failed withdrawal attempt, Carlyle sent monthly statements to Woods with his outstanding balance. However, Woods never responded and never paid his balance.

         {¶3} The HOA subsequently filed a complaint in the Avon Lake Municipal Small Claims Court, seeking unpaid maintenance fees, assessments, and late fees due and owing to the HOA in the amount of $1, 083.00, plus continuing maintenance fees, late fees, and legal fees in the amount of $325.00.

         {¶4} A small claims hearing was held on May 17, 2017. The HOA appeared represented by counsel. Charles Shulman, president of Carlyle testified on behalf of the HOA. Although duly served, Woods did not appear at the hearing. Following the hearing, the trial court issued a judgment in favor of the HOA. However, the trial court determined that the HOA was not entitled to legal fees incurred due to Woods' delinquency and continued non-response and that the HOA's collection policy of monthly late fees on any unpaid balance was of no effect. Consequently, the trial court only awarded the HOA $215.00 for the single unpaid assessment, one late fee, and the returned check fee from April 2015.

         {¶5} The HOA filed this timely appeal, raising two assignments of error for our review. Woods did not file a merit brief in this matter. Thus, we may accept the HOA's statements of the facts and issues as correct and reverse the judgment if its brief reasonably appears to sustain such action. App.R. 18(C). For ease of analysis, we elect to consider the assignments of error out of order.

         II.

         Assignment of Error II

         The trial court erred in finding [the HOA] was not entitled to recover monthly late fees on the unpaid balance due to [Woods'] delinquency.

         {¶6} In its second assignment of error, the HOA contends that the trial court erred when it determined that it was not entitled to recover monthly late fees on the unpaid balance due to Woods' delinquency. Specifically, the HOA argues that its "Rules and Regulations are permitted by the [HOA]'s Declaration and are enforceable."

         {¶7} In this case, the trial court made several findings of fact before determining that the HOA was "estopped from recovering * * * the additional late fees" and that "[a]n award for these charges would be patently unreasonable, unjust[, ] and inequitable." Specifically, the court found that Carlyle "controlled the amount that could be credited to them for HOA fees" and "[b]ecause of Carlyle's decision to not credit the April 2015 fees, the late fees accumulated * * *" However, in making its determination, the trial court made no mention of the HOA's declaration, bylaws, or rules and regulations nor did the trial court provide any legal support for its conclusion in its journal entry.

         {¶8} A "[p]lanned community" is defined as "a community comprised of individual lots for which a deed, common plan, or declaration ...


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