Union Democrat staff

'Tis the season to be...

Well, for a few folks in Crystal Falls, Pine Mountain Lake and likely a few more Mother Lode subdivisions, "jolly" would not be the word.

Angry and outraged might fit better. So might indignant and disbelieving. "It's ridiculous" is the way Nadell Everhart put it.

Her problem? Because she's $264 in arrears on her Crystal Falls Homeowners Association dues, Everhart is now facing foreclosure and a raft of collection and legal fees that have ballooned her once-modest debt to $1,300.

Merry Christmas.

And Everhart is not alone. A number of Crystal Falls residents who have

fallen a year - or $264 - behind on their dues payments are facing

foreclosure and payment of extra fees. Pine Mountain Lake, with annual

dues of $1,800, also begins foreclosure proceedings against those who

are a year or more delinquent.

Although Tuolumne County Assessor Ken Caetano said very few homes

are actually foreclosed upon by homeowners associations, mere

initiation of the process can make a property owner's blood run cold -

particularly in an economy that's as cruel and unforgiving as today's.

What's missing from this story seems to be compassion.

What homeowners' associations are doing is perfectly legal.

Property owners moving into subdivisions with associations agree to pay

the dues, which fund maintenance and upkeep of clubhouses, pools, golf

courses, stables and other amenities.

And certainly the associations have a right to collect delinquent

dues. When years of lax collections left Crystal Falls with $88,000 in

unpaid dues, the board was obliged to collect it.

But today's recession economy demands that these obligations be tempered with common sense and neighborly concern.

Yes, 90 percent of homeowners may still be paying their dues. But

among the remaining 10 percent are probably families that must choose

between putting food on the table and paying dues that keep the tract's

pool and stables in good condition.

The last thing these people need is hundreds of dollars in legal

and collection fees levied by a Modesto collection outfit and

threatened foreclosure.

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, there's a reason: In 2004, a

Copperopolis-area homeowners association's decision to foreclose on a

Copper Cove resident for failing to pay a paltry $120 in dues made

national news.

And it inspired reform: In 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed

a bill banning foreclosure on homeowners who owe less than $1,800 in

back dues or are less than a year delinquent.

What homeowners associations are doing today is in line with that

law. But just because it's legal does not mean it's right.

The times today call for compromise and compassion, not the

sledge-hammer solutions that some associations have resorted to.

The medicine needed to cure these ills? A dose of Christmas spirit would be a good start.