The four-bedroom, reverse one-and-a-half story house in Olathe seemed like the perfect setup for Stuart and Marsha Holland.
Marsha’s father had just undergone his fourth cancer surgery, and the couple decided it was time to move her parents from Florida to Kansas so they could more closely monitor their care.
“They could live on the main level, and we’d live on the lower level,” Stuart Holland said. “And we’d heard some great things about the neighborhood.”
But five years later, as Ed Majewski prepares for more rounds of treatment in his ongoing battle with cancer, the Hollands are entangled in a conflict on the home front — this one with their HOA.
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The Avignon Villa Homes Community Association has decided to no longer allow the Hollands to park a car in their own driveway overnight. The decision was made, the HOA says, because the board has a responsibility to maintain “the integrity of the neighborhood.” The HOA’s parking policy requires residents’ vehicles to be kept in garages at all times, except for short-term activities.
And the Hollands have until Jan. 1 to comply.
The issue has pit neighbor against neighbor in an HOA already embroiled in a high-stakes war with another homeowner over a landscaping project it deemed was “over the top.” That case resulted in a lawsuit that has slogged on for years, with legal fees now in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“As a man of faith and a clergyman, I spend a lot of time in prayer,” said Stuart Holland, a deacon at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Lenexa. “In my reflection and my own prayer on this situation, the attacks on me personally don’t bother me a bit. But when it affects my neighbors, that’s when I have to speak out.
“At least among the board and among some neighbors, there appears to be no sense of compassion, no sense of empathy… I would say absolutely that this is a bully board.”
The three-member Avignon HOA board declined to comment on the Hollands’ case.
“The board wishes not to contribute,” board member Michael Harrington said in an email to The Star.
But other HOA residents have spoken out, posting comments on the association’s online bulletin board.
“I am always amazed when neighbors complain about our deed restrictions years after they have moved in,” wrote Kevin Drake, a former board member. “I guess when they initially sign off on all the documents, they think that some of the rules won’t apply to them or won’t be enforced…Good luck with your decision to comply or move.”
One year after The Star published a series on homeowners associations, the newspaper continues to regularly receive calls about problems in HOAs. The Star found that homes associations wield far more power than homeowners realize and that some actually torment the residents they’re supposed to support.
The turmoil in Avignon isn’t the first in the Johnson County neighborhood.
In 2013, when homeowner Jim Hildenbrand installed a landscaping project that featured a long, low accent wall running the length of his house, the HOA said he didn’t have approval and ordered him to halt the work. Hildenbrand contended that he did have approval. He sued, the HOA countersued, and the case went to trial in Johnson County District Court.
Hildenbrand lost that round and appealed. The Kansas Court of Appeals heard the case last year and sent it back to the district court, and it’s scheduled to go to trial in October.
The Hollands, who live next door to Hildenbrand, said they’d originally put a deposit on a lot in a different neighborhood and planned to build a home that could also accommodate Marsha’s parents. Then Marsha Holland came across the Avignon Villas subdivision, which comprises 153 homes near 118th and Greenwood. It had everything they were looking for.
But just as the Hollands were about to close on the house, the real estate agent told them they couldn’t park a car in the driveway overnight. The HOA’s parking policy says residents need written approval to do that.
“Her suggestion was that we could get a variance to have the third car parked here, and that we could probably renew it every year, so that shouldn’t be an issue,” Stuart Holland said. “So we got the approval, and everything was great.”
Until this year.
When he applied for the variance in January, Stuart Holland said, he never got a response. Then this summer, he said, Harrington — the newest board member — paid him a visit.
“He said, ‘You have the longest variance of any homeowner with a car here. Either we’re going to just do away with having to worry about you asking every year, or we’re going to deny it.’ ”
Harrington asked what the Hollands would do if the board denied their permit.
“And I said, ‘We’re probably going to have to sell the house — move,’ ” Holland said.
Within a couple of weeks, the Hollands received a letter from the HOA’s property management company.
“The decision is that you will no longer be granted a parking exception and all vehicles parked at your residence must be in compliance with the current parking policy,” said the July 14 letter. “Avignon Villa Homes board of directors has a duty to fulfill their responsibility of maintaining the integrity of the neighborhood.”
The Hollands were perplexed.
“I wasn’t sure what that meant,” Stuart Holland said. “As if having a car here would somehow destroy property values.”
Holland said he keeps long hours at work, and during the week his Toyota Highlander is usually only parked on the driveway from 8 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. Majewski, 83, parks his car in the garage. He said he uses the car almost daily, often to drive to his medical appointments.
“What is the harm of parking in the driveway?” he said. “I guess I’m too old to understand what being a good neighbor is.”
Mary Ann Majewski, 80, said when she saw the HOA’s letter, “I just wanted out of here.”
“Definitely not compassionate,” she said.
Holland spent two weeks writing a response, then posted it on the HOA’s site.
“The board is making it very difficult for us to stay, in fact, they seem to be trying to force us out,” he wrote. “How did a group of 3 become so powerful and intimidating in our neighborhood?”
Holland wrote that he and his wife felt a moral obligation to care for their parents “and allow them to live a full life, continuing to drive as long as God enables them.”
“How sad that the ‘integrity’ of the neighborhood is more important than people,” he wrote. “We realize that everyone in the neighborhood isn’t Christian, but we still ask the question: what would Jesus do?”
The letter prompted swift responses, some sent directly to the Hollands and others posted on the HOA’s online site.
“Cars parked in driveways/streets can quickly become an eyesore and an embarrassment,” wrote Jim and Fran McDonald on the HOA’s site. “I believe that the neighborhood and the Board has been kind and considerate to allow Stuart, for five years, to not follow the rules we all agreed to when we moved in. Going forward, I wonder why it would be so difficult for him to get by with two cars instead of three, particularly given the availability of Uber and Lyft.”
One resident wrote that “we do live in a restrictive neighborhood” with rules that all residents agreed to follow.
“If you knew you had 3 cars you should have bought a 3 car garage lot period,” said Di Garcia. “Not the Boards fault that you didn’t follow the rules. Rules are there for a reason and they are only trying to uphold what’s already in place. Everyone else lives by the By-Laws — what makes you different.”
Some residents tried to see both sides.
“Sorry for the difficulty that you are going thru,” said Janak and Linda Poojara. “I hope you do not have to move. I believe that people running our HOA are fair minded and are trying to accommodate on most requests — they are devoting their own time and trying to follow our bylaws as best as they could.” They added, however, that it may not be a bad idea to review the parking policy “to see if the hardship that home owners go thru outweighs any perceived benefit.”
The Hollands said they received a handful of supportive responses.
“One lady said, ‘I wish I had space in my own garage,’ ” Stuart Holland said. “ ‘I’d let you park there.’ ”
What happens next?
“I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” Stuart Holland said. “We don’t want to be forced to tell my father-in-law that he can’t have his car anymore. And the stress of this stuff is really taking a toll on him.”
While they love their house and say that their immediate neighbors have been wonderful, the Hollands said they feel others would just as soon they move.
“Never in a million years,” Marsha Holland said, “did we think we’d be dealing with something like this.”