June/July 2015 – Van Loon Commons

Disclaimer: The posts and pages included are not sanctioned by the duly elected board of Van Loon Commons Condominium Association, Inc.  Furthermore, the phrase “IMHO” will identify (over and over),  “In My Humble Opinion”.

What is the purpose of this disclaimer?  A “blog” by nature is the opinion of its writer/owner and at no time was this blog represented as “the board’s opinion”.  In fact, IMHO, there would be no need for a blog if, in the opinion of the domain owner, the board did not need checks and balances, as all large or small organizations do.

See correspondence from Jason Himschoot, attorney from GAD of Fort Myers, attached.

Attorney Letter to Huttons June 2015

The above attachment was emailed to me and separately to my husband, James Hutton on 06/22/15 with a response date of 06/19/15.  A followup was sent later with a response date of 07/07/15.   We read it as a threat of litigation, and wondered the amount of money spent by the board for this?  Side Note – yes, we acknowledge that we received this. We are not liars and don’t play games.  Question – why did the board, CAM and attorney require us to request information by certified mail, which cost $7 each?  Cert mail is for the sender, to ensure receipt. Moving on……..

Before explaining what we think prompted this letter, we’d like to address some of what is included.

Trademark ?

We are not attorneys; only owners who have been owners since before the ground was broken for our building,  and since 2013, have been disturbed by actions of the board(s).  We looked up “Trademark” on the website for the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or www.uspto.gov.

Definition Cut and Pasted from www.uspto.gov:  trademark

protect words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods. Trademarks, unlike patents, can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in commerce.

Then, we did a search on the trademark listings from the Patent and Trademark website:

Trademark Search – Van Loon Commons

We didn’t see Van Loon Commons listed, though we have never searched for a “Trademark” before.  To our knowledge, all trademarks are identified by the Capital R with the circle around it.  It was difficult to bother reading any further when the first paragraph seemed to be another glaring example of what we have been dealing with for the past 2 years, since we began paying close attention.

We moved on to the claim of “defamation” and found Chapter 836 which was titled as:


It did not seem to apply though the section regarding not discussing the chastity of any woman was “interesting”, IMHO.  Cut and Pasted below:

836.04 Defamation.Whoever speaks of and concerning any woman, married or unmarried, falsely and maliciously imputing to her a want of chastity, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

Did we send a response to the attorney? No, because WE DON’T CAUSE LEGAL FEES FOR VAN LOON COMMONS.

(Side Note: There remains a webpage; www.vanlooncommonscondos.com, with the prior management company’s information listed. Were they issued a letter for “Trademark” issues or that they appear to be the association’s management company? )

So what do we think prompted this friendly warning, request or threat of litigation?  Since we were made aware of the water meter issue (explained elsewhere) by a current board member and her sister, also an owner – 3 requests were made in writing for information related to the water meters and other financial information. The first was denied in its entirety as “Client Privilege”.    After being elected for a few minutes  (and before being fired after a campaign to owners that I caused legal fees) I was able to obtain the information.  The next 2 requests were made in May 2014 and May 2015 – hardly being a pest to the association as has been intimated in writing.  On the day we traveled to the management company in May 2014 to obtain what I was not able to receive as a board member (why would that be?), the following prolific email was sent to owners.

C. Hutton Public Notice

It was so full of BULL, IMHO, that I could not stomach the effort to address it.  Remember Loni Anderson, the WKRP in Cincinatti star from the early 80’s?  I never forgot what she said in an interview regarding her divorce from mega star Burt Reynolds. She said that she grew up being told that you don’t wrestle in the mud with pigs because you both get dirty but the pigs like it.  I never bothered to roll in the mud and no, I didn’t cause legal fees and YES; I made it clear via email that I would be available  for the meter change.  The rest is not worth discussing again.

Remember this – owners are ENTITLED TO REVIEW THE BOOKS and as an accountant, I clearly had a reason to request information.  We purchased pre-construction in 2005, and closed in 2007 without any interest in seeing the books or records until December 2013. Why??

I have been told that I am the only one that ever made a request to do so.  1st – who cares?  2nd- that is sad. Seriously.  Out of 150 owners, no one else wants to see in writing, what we are owners of?  IMHO.  As one who has never been a crowd follower, it isn’t a factor in our interest in verification.

So, our 3rd and last request was sent by email on May 3rd and followed by certified letter, May 7th and the property manager scheduled a time for us to review the information at their office, located 30 minutes away in Fort Myers.  One document requested for a special billing listed as “Water Charge”, and different for each unit has not been obtained after more than 2 months.

Our last contact from the property manager was May 20th when she emailed that she may have to obtain it from the former management company who posted the billings and that any subsequent requests for information must be sent to the board attorney.

One week later, we received a newsletter from the Association.  The “newsletter” included a copy of our owner information request and a statement that was a complete distortion of any statements made by us regarding our interest in protecting our investment.

VLC BOD Pub – Mailed to all owners May 27 2015

Highlighted in Yellow, is the section about a “Legal Challenge” by the Huttons. ??   Requesting information is a legal challenge? The wording is so unbelievable to us, and several other owners that we can only imagine who was the actual author. I have cut and pasted the paragraph for dissection:

Legal Challenges
Enclosed with this news letter is the latest official information request by catherine Hutton along with follow up correspondence from her. This is once again the start of a campaign by her to find fault with your board’s actions and file claims to the state against Van Loon. Many may remember she filed unsubstantiated claims to the State in 2014, causing us to use legal fees to review the allegations. This current request has started the legal meter running, costing us to use funds that could be used to improve rather than refute. Catherine has had a conversation with board members expressing she will not stop till she can win and bring your board down by suing Van Loon. This is a very distressing and alarming situation. Your board urges all owners to read the attached sheets and form your own conclusions. Owners should then express their views to Catherine & Jim Hutton. Your board will remain focused on meeting the needs of all 150 owners and is confident we have communicated and acted properly for Van Loon Commons.

# 1)  How is reviewing and verifying the books and records, a start of a claim? The State of Florida does not police associations beyond a few issues, such as PROVIDING OWNERS INFORMATION DULY REQUESTED UNDER CHAPTER 718, elections, and other small matters. For most issues, one would have to obtain an attorney, unless knowledgeable in navigating the legal systems.

#2) Why does the board need to go to attorneys for an owner information request? Legal meter running?  What does that even mean?   And why would the attorney include in his “warning?” that any future requests must go through him? Who dictated that and who is running up legal bills by not simply following the Statute, in place to protect owners, who are like equal shareholders – entitled to view the financials.

#3) What do they need to refute rather than improve?

#4) Catherine blah blah blah **** “expressing she will not stop till she can win and bring your board down by suing Van Loon”???  What does THAT MEAN?  And it is either a lie, or there is a serious hearing and comprehension issue with board members to whom we have spoken.  We have made it clear, we are not selling our unit until one day, when it is worth what we paid. That may be a very long time, or never, and will continue to watch the finances as long as we are invested here.  NO, we won’t simply take the word from rotating volunteers that all is well.  There is too much to lose as an owner, and the liability can be large if left unchecked.

#5) What does it mean to bring the board down?  Those are not words that would come out of our mouths. Salty speech may at times, but that sounds like WWF (wrestling) which is not us.

#6) Suing Van Loon??  For what?  Yes, owners could probably sue to enforce the Water Amendment which was in effect in 2013 and only VOTED on by the board to set aside as not legal.  Why should anyone have to?  The amendment appears to still be listed on the Lee County records, as well as one passed in 2012, that allowed the association to treat the individual water billing in the manner of dues.  Who is threatening to sue?  The board.

#7) Tell the Huttons what you think?  is this to incite the other owners against us when we are at the pool?  We have received some feedback though it was supportive.

Also notable in the mailing was the section regarding the $4,500 audit. Last year (2013), I questioned that the books prepared by the former management company had a total expense under $1,000 for Water, when meters were failing and owners not being billed for usage. I estimated the expense would be closer to $30,000 though obtaining the information had hurdles.  The board signed off on that audit report in mid 2014.   The 2014 expense for Water on the books was around $50,000, with a budget of $86,000. Several times during the year, I questioned negative water expense being posted to the books and was ignored by the board and property manager. Included in the May 2015 information request was to view the water bills, which totaled closer to $80,000.  See why we will periodically want to review them ourselves?

The mailing affirms that the $4,500 audit for 2014 included errors – errors which should have been apparent to anyone looking at Budget to Actual.

As for our Water Meters – we are looking forward to the next announcement of the status.  We cannot remember ever owning a property that could not get a water meter working and our son who is a technician for our New Jersey town’s water authority finds the situation comical.

There are several reasons that a meter may not be transmitting a reading. There is NO reason that manual readings could not be done.  Like many, we call in our readings for our New Jersey usage most months, when no one is home for the meter readers.  If we were under-reporting, it would be caught up with a physical reading or upon turnover of ownership.  WHAT A CRAZY IDEA, huh?   IMHO.  🙂

We will be in town soon and there are many relevant Bible verses that come to mind, when considering our current management. Foremost is: “Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do”.    I am trying………