Shohola property rights legal battle
SHOHOLA, PA — Amelia and William Pearn own a home in a neighborhood known as Maple Park, which is located next door to a community called Walker Lake, which is governed by a homeowners’ association called Walker Lakeshores Landowners Association (WLLA). Since 2010, WLLA has been trying to get the Pearns to pay them thousands of dollars in “dues” or “assessments,” even though their property is not a part of Walker Lake and is not subject to WLLA assessments. That is essentially what two different judges have found.
Amelia has recorded this battle in a very detailed manner at the website www.shoholapa.com. One entry that points to the confusing relationship between WLLA and Maple Park is this: “Most of Maple Park [about 30 homes] gets some form of ‘billing’ from this HOA [homeowners association]. Some pay, some don’t. Some get sued, some don’t.”
The Pearns took title to the property in 2007, and the first billing from WLLA came in 2010; it was for “nonpayment of association dues, $5,440.90 plus attorney’s fees.” The matter went to Magisterial District Court, where Magistrate Alan Cooper determined that the couple owed $15 per year to WLLA for “water maintenance.” Given the three-year period under consideration, late fees and court costs, the judge ruled that the Pearns owe WLLA $235. However there was a deed dating to 1911, and a covenant on the deed dating to 1966, that the judge and the Pearns were not aware of, that would slightly change the picture.
WLLA did not agree with the decision and began an appeal. In the meantime, in 2012, the Pearns got another bill from WLLA saying the couple owes the association $7,061. The bill comes with a letter from Art Politano, president of WLLA, which says in part, “If you never plan on paying what you owe on this invoice, please consider donating your property back to the Walker Lakeshores Landowner Association. All fees will be waived for the transfer to complete. Hence there will be no cost to you should you decide to donate your property back to WLLA.” This came despite the determination by the judge that the home was never part of the WLLA.
Eventually the case went to arbitration, and in December 2014, the arbitration panel determined that the couple owes WLLA $1,287.96. This time, the Pearns appealed in part because there was no explanation from the panel as to how that decision was reached. Amelia wrote, “That is pretty ridiculous in my opinion. They could have at least made a breakdown of what that amount reflects. Is that an annual amount? Is that for two years back dues? Is it all fees from the beginning of time to date? No one knew.”
The case then moved to the Court of Common Pleas and Judge Joseph Kameen. His decision was informed by the discovery of a deed dating to 1911, giving the couple an easement to the beach at the lake, and a 1966 covenant stipulating that owners of Maple Park properties agree to pay the owner of the beach $10. WLLA now owns the beach.
Kameen ruled that the couple owes WLLA only $30 related to the three years for which the legal action was originally brought, and WLLA can’t level assessments against the Perans as their home is not part of the WLLS agreement or community. Perhaps not surprisingly, the WLLS is appealing this decision, and legal briefs are due by the end of August.
According to Amelia, the Pearns have now spent some $12,000 to pay for these legal actions. It’s been a costly battle. In the section of her website titled “Lawsuits,” she writes, “So here comes the seven years of hell that destroyed my home, my marriage and the American Dream for my entire family.”
It’s a situation that apparently has bedeviled previous property owners in Maple Park. Amelia writes, “I found a letter from a Maple Park property owner to the Pennsylvania Attorney General that was dated back in 2001. That person complains, among other things, that the HOA’s tactics are both ‘unorthodox and bizarre.’”
A Maple Park neighbor, Spence Sarnoski, said he has been to court many times with WLLA. He said there are many properties in the Lake Wallenpaupack area that have different, deeded lake rights, even though they are in the same community. He suggested one representative from WLLA and one from Maple Park sit down together and go over the deeds together, because “the information is all right there,” and property owners “should only pay for what they have a right to use.”
Elsewhere on her website Amelia writes, “Six out of six of Maple Park’s last foreclosures ALL had been in litigation with this home owners association over ‘back dues.’”
Calls to the WLLA and its attorney had not been returned as of press time.