Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Harassment, honest mistakes or an attempt to take someone's house? No matter what you call it, it's a fight between a local senior and his homeowners association.
Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears examines how an HOA’s math could cost a valley man his home, and we look to see whether the state is doing enough to stop it.
"No matter what happens you don't give up."
John Radocha learned a lot as a wrestler in high school and college, "Brings back memories." But he said he's in the fight of his life now, at age 80. His opponent? The Astoria Trails North Homeowners Association.
"I want it stopped. Leave me alone. Let me live. How much more time do I have on this earth?” said John.
As a snowbird who only lives in Las Vegas half the year, John pays his assessments in advance, six months at a time. He's been doing that since he bought this northwest valley home in 2000. But he said it's coming back to bite him, "They've been taking my assessment money and applying it to a bogus fine that they've put on me."
That long-disputed fine is more than $8,000 now. It stems from a problem with the original paperwork for his backyard landscaping. In 2005, Astoria Trails North filed a lien on his house when the fine hit $2,000.
But here's where things get confusing. The lien notice says delinquent assessment, but the amount is attributed to a fine. State law allows HOAs to foreclose for unpaid assessments, or monthly dues, but they can't take your home for unpaid fines.
"It's like a psychological thing that they're doing to me. They just keep doing it and doing it and doing it."
That’s despite specific notes on his checks that he's paying assessments only. Account statements from the management company First Service Residential show on multiple occasions his dues were diverted to the fine account. Then late fees were tacked on for payments that weren't late. Diverting those dollars is against state law.
"That's a crime, technically?" asked Darcy Spears.
"Correct. They should not be doing that," said Sharon Jackson, Nevada Real Estate Division Ombudsman.
"They are required to accept your assessment payments and apply them, and it should be applied to your assessments. Not to your fines or not to the collections," said Jackson.
John thinks his HOA looks at his house and sees dollar signs because he owns it outright, having paid if off completely several years ago, so there's no mortgage whatsoever. That's why he thinks the HOA is targeting it for foreclosure.
First Service Residential wouldn't go on camera. They told Contact 13 the mistakes with John's account are just that, mistakes, caused by a computer error when they changed software. When John catches it, they correct it and reverse the late fees. But John thinks they're trying to set him up.
"And once it gets by they can say, 'Hey, he didn't pay his assessment.' And you know once the assessment is not paid, they get first choice on foreclosure."
John took his case to the Real Estate Division in October, where he said nothing happened.
That’s no surprise to Jonathan Friedrich a commissioner with the State Common-interest Communities Commission, "It sickens me. It upsets me."
"I get people coming to me all the time that the complaints are filed and they are dismissed. They call them unsubstantiated," said Commissioner Friedrich.
Friedrich said the Ombudsman's office is overwhelmed and understaffed.
"As a result of that, what's happening?" asked Darcy.
"I believe that the investigators are pressured into dumping cases," said Friedrich.
"Absolutely not," said Ombudsman Jackson. "I'm in complete disagreement with that. I believe that the division has a duty and an obligation as a regulatory agency to ensure that any case that comes through here is looked at, is given a thorough going-through-to make sure that if there's violations of law, they're being addressed."
Jackson explains the violations must be willful. John's case was closed in November for "insufficient evidence." But the division has reopened it to take another look. So how many cases have gone forward to a full hearing in the last year?
"We've probably seen around 20-25, approximately, that have gone on to hearing and have been successful," said Jackson.
That's out of about 500 complaints, being handled by just five investigators.
"The agency is not overwhelmed. They are receiving the services they are paying for. Would we like to see additional staffing? Absolutely," explained Jackson.
As for John, instead of a wrestling uniform, he now wears a "Bullied Homeowner" badge to remind his neighbors of his ongoing battle.
The president of John's HOA board declined an on-camera interview. He said he's tried to make things right, even offered to cut John's fine balance by 50-percent, but he claims John has refused to work out a solution.
The Ombudsman said changes are on the way, including new options for homeowners to work out disputes before a full investigation is launched.