Parking face-off takes toll
Homeowner association sues a couple for parking a van in their driveway. Family members say they need the van to transport their gravely ill grandfather.
By SALVADOR HERNANDEZ and CRISTINA BAUTISTA
The Orange County Register
ALISO VIEJO - Lenand and Carol Henderson moved into their four-bedroom home impressed with the manicured lawns, the maintained slopes and the overall neatness of the planned community.
Now the elderly couple, both 82, are looking for a way out. Family members said they are stuck with a $1,400 "parking ticket" from their homeowner association, a lawsuit, and a lien preventing them from selling or refinancing their home.
"I've never lived in an association," Carol Henderson said. "They don't deal with common sense. They just decide what the law is."
The couple have been squaring off in a lawsuit filed against them by their homeowner association. The issue – the prohibition against parking large commercial vehicles in the community and parking regular vehicles in driveways and on public streets – pitted several homeowners against the association more than a year ago and has culminated with the Hendersons facing a judgment against them in Orange County Superior Court.
The association argues that it is simply enforcing the rules that keep the streets pristine. Homeowners cannot park commercial vehicles on association property and their vehicles must be parked inside garages.
While the association states that the Hendersons were parking a large commercial vehicle at their home, the family said they are being fined for a vehicle with handicap access plates. They say they parked in the driveway to have room for a ramp.
It all began in May 2006 when homeowners in the Laguna Audubon II homeowner association started finding what looked like parking tickets on their cars.
"We don't mean harm to anyone; it's just important that residents stay in compliance with the rules that they signed," said board President Dan Newkirk.
Infuriated, several homeowners attended an association meeting in December 2006 where several protested against the fines and the association's enforcement of parking. A petition was organized to recall the board.
Meanwhile, the fines increased for the Hendersons, even after their grandson, Ron Wright, 39, told board members at a meeting that the family didn't own a vehicle – only a white van with handicap plates for his ill grandfather.
But Newkirk said the Hendersons told the board they would correct the violation. Wright said they never agreed to that. Instead, they explained to the board that the van was usually parked near his office in Laguna Niguel and was brought to the home as needed.
The notices kept coming between June and September and the fines totaled $1,400.
"We're not doing it to make money off of the fines," Newkirk said. "In most cases, if people have a good reason, the fines are wiped clean. It's just important to get people's attention about what the rules are."
Wright said he contacted the association's community manager, Jon Cernok of Merit Property Management, who told him he would look into the matter. Cernok would not comment.
The family did not attend any more association hearings. It seemed useless, Wright said.
Throughout the dispute, Lenand Henderson was hospitalized three times, and Kathy Griffith, the Hendersons' daughter, was injured at work.
"I was already going through so much stress," Carol Henderson said. "I'm over 82 years old. I just don't need this. When we saw this (community), we thought there can't be another place this beautiful and it turned heaven into hell."
Newkirk said the association's attorneys tried to contact the Hendersons, and that the Hendersons had opportunities to contest the claims.
Timothy Ryan, the Hendersons' attorney, said several calls to the association's lawyer, Andrew Kienle of Hart, King & Coldren, went unreturned.
Kienle did not return calls for comment.
Now the Hendersons have a $5,500 lien on their home.
The Hendersons and their family are still talking to their attorney to find a way to reverse the judgment.
"You shouldn't ever have to pay a $10 fine for something you didn't do," Wright said.
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