Persecution Complex

Windsor Place resident Pat Snyder wages a jihad against the homeowners' association, which she accuses of cronyism, racism--even hastening the death of an elderly black woman

But more often than not, HOAs remain in the shadows.
Vernon Busby has been a detective with the Phoenix Police Department's document fraud division for 10 years. Although there are more than 5,000 homeowners' associations scattered throughout the Valley, Busby has only managed to build a successful case against one. The problem, Busby explains, is one of evidence.

"What you're trying to prove is fairly simple--theft," he says. "If they [HOAs] adhere to some semblance of basic accounting procedures, it makes it easier to build a case. But very often, there are no books because everything is handled on a cash basis. And if there are books, they're often incomplete."

Busby adds that confusion often abounds in HOAs because their bylaws often bestow vague yet far-reaching powers.

"You put yourself under a taxing authority that is not under the same rules as public government," he says. "It can get really confusing."

Busby plans to investigate Pat Snyder's allegations. Though he has only spoken to her over the phone and has not reviewed her case in detail, he says he has been impressed by her grasp of the law.

"Lots of times, people just focus in on the petty personal BS," he says. "I'm not seeing that from her."

The debacle over the pipes was not Rosa Anderson's only run-in with the Windsor Place board of directors.

On February 15, after a series of break-ins at her new condo, she wrote to the property management company, saying she planned to install security bars over her rear windows and door unless she heard otherwise. She heard otherwise, but not until the wrought-iron security bars had already gone up.

"As you have been informed, those [bars] are not approved by the Association," Grant Sumsion, attorney for the association, wrote to Anderson. "The exterior walls on which you have installed them are not your property. Rather, they are part of the common area belonging to the association. Because you have refused to remove the bars and the security door, they will be removed shortly by the Association."

But there was one significant flaw in the board's argument: Security bars nearly identical to Anderson's had been guarding the windows of a condo in a neighboring building for almost six years.

In the letter she typed shortly before her death, Anderson stated that the condo's owner had told her he had received approval to install the bars in 1990. The owner has since left the Valley and could not be reached.

Anderson also wrote that property manager Joe Wilson had told her the bars on the neighboring building had been approved. She made the same argument during an April 17 board meeting, which the NAACP's Oscar Tillman also attended.

"I've been to meetings before where people could care less about my organization and my race," Tillman says. "But this was worse than anything I had ever experienced."

Tillman says Anderson was not allowed to state her case, and was rudely shouted down by members of the board. When he saw that they would achieve nothing, he says, he and Anderson left the meeting.

"I just couldn't stand it any longer," he says.
Schaible disputes this, saying Anderson was given a chance to state her case. He says that if anyone was rude, it was Tillman.

"I've never had a conversation quite like the one I had with that man," Schaible says. "When he first called me, he wouldn't even let me speak.

"Then, at the meeting, he never even said a word, until the end. He said, 'You'll be hearing from our attorneys.' Well, we never did."

Pat Snyder attempted to tape the meeting, but shortly after Anderson began to address the board, the audio level on the tape slowly dissipates.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if they have some kind of high-tech device that interferes with tape recorders, something that they picked up at one of those security places," Snyder says.

In the fragment of tape that remains, Anderson can be heard calmly pleading her case about the bars and her justification for installing them. Aside from an occasional question from Wilson, she is allowed to speak.

Schaible says the flap over the bars grew out of a misunderstanding. He claims that when Wilson told Anderson about approved security devices, he was describing the retractable metal shields that several owners had installed.

"Joe Wilson knew more about this property than anyone," Schaible says. "He would have never approved those bars."

Wilson has since moved and could not be reached for comment.
So why was one owner allowed to slide for six years, while Rosa Anderson was pounced on as soon as she put up her bars?

Schaible and Loomis say the neighbor's bars were largely concealed from view by a brick wall. There is no such wall behind Anderson's condo, which fronts a walkway and parking lot.

"I didn't even know those bars [on the neighboring building] were there until this whole thing came up," says Loomis.

It is a response Pat Snyder calls disingenuous, to say the least, considering that Loomis has lived at Windsor Place for 14 years.

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