Water Meters: Legal, Illegal then Legal. Cost for debacle? Still ticking upward and illegal Again 6/19

For new or prospective owners: What is the” Water Meter Scandal”   The part termed “scandal” in our opinion is due to the 2013 board president, Ms. Marguerite Kisner’s actions and the lack of action by the property manager from Sentry Management, Inc., to repair our VLC owned and purchased unit water meters and issue accurate bills for usage for 3 to 8 months in some cases.

What caused this?  When VLC purchased $50,000 of unit meters from Master Meter (paid from VLC association funds-means they are a common element and board required to repair) , the manufacturer used the wrong (short life) batteries for transmitting readings instead of the 10 year batteries that should have been installed. They were installed mid 2011and failures began to occur sometime around Mar-Apr of 2013.  Persons who would have expected a water bill began receiving only the account billing fee: $4.21.  One owner reported it to the president in late May and began calling in their readings manually. The president was reported to have shown her bill to others, jokingly about “$4.21”.

Those of us who own and visit off and on, or had working and transmitting meters were not aware of the problem. Many of us received an email from the president in June 2013, regarding 14 non working meters and her attempt to speak to the billing company and arrange repair.  Others, who had not provided their email addresses for the “friends” list, knew nothing.

I believe the emails can explain better than i: 2013 06 20 Kisner Email (removed other owner email addresses for privacy).. What is true in this email is that initially, the owner of the billing company was told by manufacturer that owners had to pay repairs or labor to fix. As the failures increased rapidly, and the amount of water being billed to owners less than paid out to City of Cape Coral, it was recognized their was a defect and MM offered to repair all at no cost. This reported the owner took a few months of negotiation.  I spoke with him on several occasions and found him credible and knowledgeable on COAs, meters and who owned his company.

By Nov 2013, owners began to hear of the meter failures and started asking questions about who had $4.21 bills; what was happening.  Unknown to us was the growing deficit as the year progressed. Ms. Kisner and the other board members were aware of it and the majority of them voted to cancel the meter billing contract, have the last reading at 11/7, not issue back bills (meters could still be manually read). Member Paul Weber consulted privately with an attorney who advised that the board was in violation of the existing amendment if they used dues to pay individual expenses.  (Is it any different than paying for everyone’s toilet paper? You use 12 rolls a month, I use 2, we all pay the same!)  The 2013 board prepared the 2014 budget, increasing each unit $47 per month for FREE UNLIMITED WATER!

The estimated amount not billed for 2013? $30,000 or so.  this was in addition to other financial issues such as  overspending on Legal by $16k.

The per unit amount of $47 is GREAT if you are a full timer, have a large family, rent the condo and can include Water in an larger rent. Unless unrestricted, usage goes up and the budgeted amount doesn’t cover. Or, the in residence population changes all the time so using last year’s total may be grossly short for current year.  It also was in violation of the Water Amendment, which called for individual payment by usage.

After owners became aware of the situation Ms. Kisner and newly appointed board member Pamela Decraene began a sort of Public Relations campaign that the amendment was illegal and all blame on the “former property manager” , terminated by Ms. Kisner and 2013 board as of 3/31/13.  Also, that there was a fixed delivery cost per building, every month, even if zero gallons were consumed and only owners with usage paid. The argument was that $21 per month should be allocated to each unit, like the $15 fee for Electric, regardless of usage. Why was none of this discussed by the president, who was on the 2012 board, president since 4/1/13 and discussing the matter for months with other members?  Read on and form your opinion.

As I began asking questions, several owners shared board emails, mostly written by Ms. Kisner and Ms. Decraene discussing the meters and urging “Board Only”. (this continues with the current board)

One email from Ms. Kisner to our property manager, rejected a FREE repair to the meters in Nov 2013.  The CAM assigned by Sentry at the time , Glynnis Lowman, who notified the billing company that VLC would not be able to accompany the technician as the maintenance man was too busy with priority projects.  (he was terminated the next week)

I cannot state what action our CAM should have taken when Ms. Kisner decided to not repair a common element, collect funds owed…..Ms. Lowman demonstrated that she could consult with the attorneys without restriction but appears to have taken direction from the president and not shared the situation with the full ownership. In fact, from April 1 through the Nov 13 budget meter, we received no communications from Sentry.

After hearing rumors at the pool, of an intended Special Assessment and dues increase, we attempted to obtain the truth, including whose water meters were not being billed.  I am employed as an investigator, have been an auditor/investigator and when I hear statements that make no sense from persons elected to represent, not rule us; will continue to seek the truth.

We asked Ms. Decraene who stated “Board Only” business. We sent an email to Ms. Lowman, asking how we could obtain the water bills after reading Chapter 718 of our rights.  One email circulated by Ms. Kisner stated she had ALL the water bills since onset of meters.  Ms. Lowman’s reply was that we needed to send a certified letter of request.  (this is not required – it is required the association produce after receiving unless specifically excepted)  We also asked by email the name of the association attorney so we could learn more about him/her, their credentials and review Lee County court records which list appearances.  Our reply was from Mr. Himschoot himself, and the legal bill obtained later lists charges for both the response on obtaining water bills and his reply to us. For this we were charged nearly $1,000!! Review the Dec 13 bill.  (the Jan 14 is worse)

We were contacted by friends of Ms. Kisner who had been contacted to ask “how do we stop this woman?” and told of her and Ms. Decraene making an appointment with the attorney. One forwarded an email from her requesting what the charge would be. ( yes we saved phone records, emails as I have been told numerous times of the prior and current board seeking to sue me).

We were completely unaware of legal fees being run up by Sentry’s manager and the president as we were denied the information owners should have readily available. At some point, Ms. Kisner took over a room in the clubhouse as an office for board only ( I have not set foot in), without any owner vote, discussion.  This would be a logical place to store all financial records, contracts and other information owners may want to review, if it is going to remain a VLC business office!

The attached legal bills are owner information’ no private thoughts, opinions or attorney client decisions.  The past dictators, I mean directors are listed as meeting with attorneys for  “election and water meter” consulation? Election?  “Candidate statement”? Would that be the singularly mailed Pamela Decraene statement, received 1/2/14 by most and reported as “inadvertantly omitted”?   2014_Legal_Bills_Kisner_Decraene 

Note the charges with “Board Members” plural, “directors” plural for election and water meter issues.  Who other than president Kisner was included?  What discussions on the 1/28/14 election were required?  (another matter entirely- the handling of the election, owners who reported not receiving ballots. Our ballot was rejected by an owner who stated to our neighbor we had voted yesterday. How? We had one ballot, one ballot envelope yet there was a signature in the line for our unit that is not Jim’s or mine.  2014 01 28 Ballot Log

On our next visit, we will request to see “our ballot envelope” as they are required to maintain for one year after the election.

Ms. Kisner and Ms. Decraene began a campaign against our recorded Water Amendment after attention was put on the issue, by owners who want to pay their individual water and sewer; not a joint bill, that it was illegal.  Some of the argument regarded  “seasonals” and “absentee” owners not paying their fair shares. The argument continues to be fueled by them though Ms. Kisner was not re-elected and the legal bills exceeded budget by early April.  As of today, the current president and Ms. Decraene, with support in spreading emails to discredit any analysis or questions by me from Ms. Kisner, continue to argue that the amendment was illegal. Will provide and explain.  Winner? GAD attorney who I can only imagine what amount of legal we have reached and will show you if requested the number of requests made through Mr. Aliperti to obtain for the 3/31 analysis.

Subsequent to the election, I was able to obtain only a few months of the Champion billings despite my certified letter sent.  The response I received from Sentry prior to the 1/28 election, on the advice (per legal bill) of attorney was “Client Privilege” .  ?? . The bills for mid summer showed zero gallons of usage for full time residents Kisner and Decraene whose units had 2 residents each.  Hmmm…..

Subsequent to the election I was also informed that Kisner and Decraene estimated their own back water/sewer and made full payments to cover the multiple months not billed.  Chapter 718 states that board members in arrears to the association are considered vacating the seat. As no bill was issued, it appears their interpretation was that they were not in arrears.  The year end bill lists Decraene not paying the last 3 months of $4.21 to the billing company.  When you vote to not repair, not issue a corrected bill and you yourself weren’t billed……..form your own conclusions.

Ms. Decraene provided substantiation of her payment to the newly elected BOD members: $352 on 1/8/14. Ms. Kisner made a similar payment of just over $300 on 1/8/14 after sending her year end success letters of always paying her and her husband’s bills!

The notice below was posted and two attorneys attended the 1/28/14 annual meeting and election, to explain why our amendment was not legal; therefore no wrong actions by the BOD took place. Many times I asked the question: if it were illegal, and we don’t have to bill for all back water and sewer usage to the failed and failing units; are those of us who paid going to be issued refunds for what we paid illegally?  No response to date on this logical and fair question.

Bulletin_Board_for_Lawyers_Pre_ElectionAfter the election a current BOD member whom I publicly supported in a letter urging owners to return their ballots (how it was learned many did not receive at all), Brenda Hallihan waivered on her stance on the water meters after listening to the attorneys argue illegal.  (at the $675 per hour election meeting).   Knowing that board members have a fiduciary duty to uphold governing documents and any accountant could see our budget was deficient and should be reviewed as first order of business, I sent a position letter to the BOD  (forgive typos-I’m incredibly busy and work full time M-F)  Dear Mr.

Two other attorneys, unrelated had been consulted by Mr. Weber and myself on the legality and I urged the “new” board to find other counsel and separate legal functions of collections from advisory. crazy negativity from me?) .  Instead, the BOD continued to publicly speak of being careful, taking this slowly, etc etc. two BOD members  solicited the 2/20/14 legal opinion below, for presentation to owners at a 2/26 and/0r 2/27 meeting.  (I was not advised of the 2/26 meeting until a guest speaker – billing company sales rep  invited and all owners were notified)

2014_02_20_Legal Opinions

*Note in the legal letter, the suspension of rights for owners who are in arrears for pool, clubhouse, common area.  Anyone know where the BBQ Grill is that they can’t use?  I voted NO on this matter as the units mentioned were familiar to me, including one owner who passed away 14 months prior to this vote; 3 units in foreclosure which I have sympathy for the investor or resident ALL owners for financial information yet will publish the unit numbers without considering personal situations.

To be continued on FREE NO CHARGE post and Deboest’s latest, on not taking rights from non paying owners – can’t find yet in condo docs or bylaws. Was voted on 2/27/14.

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