Natomas couple settle long, bitter dispute with homeowner association
By Hudson Sangree
22 September 2015
A retired South Natomas couple who accused their homeowners association
of denying the husband, a disabled former Marine pilot, access to the
community pool have settled the case for a six-figure sum – provided
they move out.
The parties signed the settlement earlier this month, two years after
Allen and Cynthia Campbell filed a complaint with the state Department
of Fair Employment and Housing saying the Sonora Springs Homeowners
Association had illegally discriminated against Allen Campbell by not
fixing the pool’s broken chairlift despite his complaints starting in
The case was a rare instance in which residents successfully challenged
a homeowners association, which tend to have inordinate power compared
to individual homeowners, experts said. HOA boards can levy fines and
assessments, seize property and take other measures against homeowners
who don’t pay or disobey the rules.
While HOA dues pay for law firms and professional property managers,
homeowners who want to fight the board’s authority usually have to hire
and pay for their own lawyers, which is prohibitively costly for most.
In this instance, state housing officials intervened, and the Campbells
won $109,0000 as part of a mediated settlement.
“Homeowners should be encouraged by the DFEH ruling and the size of the
damages in this case,” said Marjorie Murray, president of the Center
for California Homeowner Association Law in Oakland, an advocacy group
for HOA residents. “Both the ruling and the penalty send a clear
message to homeowner associations like Sonora Springs ... that they
have a legal obligation to comply with state and federal fair housing
laws protecting the disabled.”
About one in four California residents lives in a community governed by
a homeowners association, where an elected board of residents oversees
upkeep of common areas and enforces regulations about home colors and
parking. Despite the prevalence of HOAs, there is no government entity
that regularly oversees them. Occasionally a state agency with special
oversight – in this case housing discrimination – steps in.
The department’s summary of the settlement, written by a staff attorney
and provided to The Sacramento Bee, supports the Campbells’ contention
they were retaliated against for complaints against their HOA,
including questions about the association’s finances that they say were
Allen Campbell, who once sat on the HOA board, said the association
seized a home for $3,500 in unpaid assessments but never accounted for
proceeds from its sale. He said he wasn’t allowed to inspect the
association’s bank statements, as other board members were, and that he
subsequently told the FBI and other government agencies about the funds
he thought were missing.
He resigned from the board in protest in 2011. After that, he said, the
HOA ignored his repeated requests that the broken pool lift be fixed so
he could use it.
“Mr. Campbell was a former HOA board member who had a falling out with
the HOA and filed complaints to various governmental agencies against
the HOA and OMNI (Community Management),” the department’s summary
said. “This very likely explains the HOA’s and OMNI’s treatment of Mr.
Campbell and their failure to fix the chairlift ...”
Lawyers for Sonora Springs and OMNI, the HOA’s property management firm
with offices in Orangevale, did not respond to requests for interviews.
In prior letters and statements, board members and attorneys described
the Campbells’ behavior as harassment.
The Bee first wrote about the Campbells’ case in July 2013, after the
couple were fined, disciplined and denied homeowner privileges by the
Sonora Springs HOA and its attorneys. The association oversees a
192-unit subdivision of newer homes near Interstate 80 and Truxel Road.
As part of what the Campbells described as a campaign of retaliation,
an association lawyer – Darren Bevan with the Sacramento firm of
Baydeline & Jacobsen – wrote a letter in March 2013 telling them
they weren’t homeowners, and had no association privileges, apparently
because they purchased their home with a veterans’ loan that transfers
title only when the buyer repays it.
In response, the California Department of Veterans Affairs wrote a
letter on the Campbells’ behalf explaining that they were the
“purchaser and homeowner” of their property and enjoyed all the rights
and responsibilities of ownership with regard to the HOA.
In August 2013, after The Bee’s story ran, the association’s lawyers
acknowledged the Campbells’ rights as homeowners and their HOA
privileges were reinstated. That included use of the neighborhood pool,
but Allen Campbell said when he tried to use it in the past two years,
he experienced stress, injury and humiliation.
Campbell, 77, is a former U.S Marine pilot who is 100 percent disabled
from his military service. As a civilian, he helped save nuns and
orphans from the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and later was called a hero
by Rwandan officials. For a number of years he’s been in ailing health,
including recent hospital stays for heart trouble.
Campbell said he needed to be able to use the pool to exercise his
limbs, withered from nerve damage he suffered in a jet crash, but the
chairlift that allowed him to enter the pool remained broken for years
despite his repeated requests to the HOA to fix it.
When it was eventually fixed, Campbell said he was forced to retrieve a
battery from a locked storage area and install it each time he wished
to use the pool lift, but he wasn’t able to perform that task because
of his physical limitations.
“One of the meanest things they’ve done so far was to pull a deal like
that,” he said Monday.
On one occasion, Campbell said his foot became stuck between the lift’s
footrest and the pool wall, causing him excruciating pain and leaving
him stuck without help. A shaky cellphone video he shot documented his
Part of the settlement agreement allows the Campbells to sue the
association for personal injuries, and they said they might still
pursue that option.
The settlement requires the association to take steps to fix the pool
lift and to ensure that disabled residents have access to community
In a written statement, Kevin Kish, director of the state Department of
Fair Employment and Housing, said: “The settlement requires property
repairs in consultation with a certified access specialist as well as
fair housing training, which we think will go a long way in creating an
environment free from discrimination.”
Another provision of the settlement, agreed to by the Campbells,
requires them to move before receiving full payment. Their home was
listed for sale as of Tuesday.
Cynthia Campbell said the couple plan to stay in the Sacramento area
but won’t buy another home that’s part of a homeowners association.
“Never again,” she said. “People do not understand the power HOAs have.
They think it’s just lawn maintenance and the pool. They have way too
much legal power. You’re walking into a trap.”
Hudson Sangree: 916-321-1191, @hudson_sangree
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