Clayton News-Star

Clayton homeowners want their money back

A car drives through the Cobblestone neighborhood in Clayton.
A car drives through the Cobblestone neighborhood in Clayton.

Five Clayton residents are asking a homeowners association to refund their fees after learning they were never part of the group in the first place.

Last July, an attorney for the HOA that governs Cobblestone, a large subdivision on the south side of town, informed several residents that their lots hadn’t been part of the association for 15 years.

In a letter, attorney Michael Ganley of Chapel Hill wrote that lots on several streets had been part of the neighborhood’s first HOA, formed in 1993. But that changed when a different HOA replaced the original in 1996. At that point, the lots were left out of a new declaration of covenants filed with the Johnston County Register of Deeds.

In a phone interview, Ganley said he sent letters to 15-20 of the nearly 1,000 homes in Cobblestone. The letter offered the affected residents a chance to officially opt into the HOA.

“By no means whatsoever does the HOA want to kick them out,” Ganley said.

But Marc Christopher of Oxford Court, who received one of the letters, said he’s not interested in joining the HOA, one that he said has provided poor service.

However, Christopher does want his money back.

In small claims filed last fall with the Johnston County Clerk of Court, Christopher and four other residents asked the HOA to refund about $19,600 in fees they’ve paid since buying their homes.

A magistrate ordered the HOA to pay each of the requested amounts, but the HOA is appealing the judgments.

While the Cobblestone residents aren’t HOA members on paper, Ganley said they have been treated as fee-paying residents, who have access to a pool, tennis court and common areas.

“Regardless of whether they actually took advantage of those benefits, a benefit was provided,” Ganley said.

Christopher, who said he’s never used the tennis courts, said he wants a refund not only because of the technicality but also for needed improvements that he said the HOA never made.

“Every time you called up and complained, they wouldn’t do anything about it,” Christopher said.

Title search

In his letter to the homeowners, Ganley said the HOA’s board of directors, in 2014, asked him to perform title searches stretching back to the early 1990s.

Ganley said rumors were circulating throughout the neighborhood that several homes might not obe included in the covenants.

Based on his search, Ganley found that a handful of lots included in Cobblestone’s first HOA weren’t included in the second. That means most lots on Oxford Court and Yorkshire Drive up to Westminister Court aren’t subject to the active HOA’s covenants, according to Ganley’s search.

The amended HOA declaration in 1996 said the initial document recorded three years earlier was unacceptable to certain governmental agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. HUD is over the Federal Housing Administration, which provides mortgage insurance on loans made by FHA-approved lenders. The VA provides home loans for service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses.

Developer: We aren’t involved

The South Group and later The Walthom Group developed Cobblestone. And since the neighborhood’s inception, the HOA has hired several companies to manage and maintain the subdivision’s amenities and common areas.

Norwood Thompson of the Walthom Group said his company has no ties with the HOA or the property-management groups it hires. However after hearing about the dispute between the five residents and the HOA, Thompson said he did have an attorney look into the matter.

“It appears to us there’s no question they are in the HOA,” Thompson said of the affected homeowners.

At any rate, Thompson said residents should take the matter up with the HOA or property manager, not the Walthom Group.

“We are not involved in that and are totally out of Cobblestone,” Thompson said.

William Douglas Property Management Inc. was the property manager last year, when Ganley sent his letter to the group of homeowners. While his letter was dated July 15, William Douglas continued to bill some of the affected residents at least through the fall, according to a October statement for Dennis Draughon, one of the five homeowners claiming a refund.

William Douglas is no longer the property manager, and a representative who answered the phone at the company’s Raleigh office said she was unaware of the situation.

Cobblestone’s current property manager, Charleston Management, wrote Christopher and other affected homeowners a letter recently, apologizing for the continued billing. The next scheduled court date isn’t until the spring.