NEWPORT NEWS-Bill Garlette says he's just about broke from fighting his homeowners association.
He and his wife Janeth live in Kiln Creek in Newport News and they're being sued for $300,000.
The Villages of Kiln Creek Owners Association claims the Garlettes have committed on-going violations of the Association covenant.
Garlette, an expert in organic gardening, is known to his neighbors as Captain Compost. He built a Koi pond in his backyard eight years ago. Every year since then, the association has approved his yard, he said. The most recent "OK" came in July. Within a month, however, he'd received a letter from the Association outlining more than two dozen violations - some related to the pond and others like excessive debris and bushes and trees that need to be trimmed.
The Association also claims Garlette harassed and intimidated association officials and threatened bodily harm.
Garlette believes he was targeted after a neighbor started complaining about his property. So he ripped out anything up that could be construed as a violation. That only led to more accusations.
"They have continued to say I'm burying toxic waste. I'm threatening to kill persons and there are all these things. They had police stationed at the HOA office because they felt threatened from me," says Garlette.
The lawsuit claims Mr. Garlette threatened to "kill persons who reported certain of the 24 violations to the Association.."
Garlette adamantly denies the charge and says he only expressed anger over what he believed was the Association trespassing on his property.
The situation got even uglier when Terri Curl, who owns property adjacent to the Garlettes, took them to court claiming they threatened her. The Garlettes say Curl threatened them.
Both parties called 911 in late September saying they were being threatened. Last month, a judge dismissed Curl's case.
This is an extreme case of homeowner versus association, but disputes are common. According to the Community Associations Institute, there are 8,200 community governed associations in Virginia.
Virginia Beach attorney Kevin Duffan says he gets calls all the time from homeowners wanting to lawyer up to settle a dispute.
"People get very emotional about what goes on at their home or their neighbor's home," says Duffan.
Duffan warns that fighting an association is usually an uphill climb.
"The homeowners association is likely going to be able to fall back (the reasoning) on all they're doing is enforcing the rules--that everyone agreed to and everyone signed up for," he said.
HOA by-laws must meet guidelines set by the State Property Association Act, which gives them a lot of leeway. However, they also have to abide by the rules.
Duffan recommends a proactive approach to getting along with your association.
"Get involved. You can join the HOA board or attend the meeting and make sure you have some input on what those laws are," he suggests.
Several neighbors have come to the Garlettes' defense. Erica Remson says the Association oversteps its power and she and others will ask the Association to drop its lawsuit.
Today, the Garlettes' yard is cleared of debris, the pond is gone and the ground is covered with soil. Mr. Garlette says he's trying to comply with the rules.
After hiring two attorneys and paying to fix his property, he's almost broke.
In a statement emailed to 13News Now, President of the Villages of Kiln Creek Owners Association, David Radcliffe, states:
“After repeated attempts to try to obtain the cooperation of Mr. and Mrs. Garlette, the Villages of Kiln Creek Owners Association was left with no choice but to file a lawsuit in the Newport News Circuit Court, seeking a court-order directing them to bring their lot into compliance with the high standards that all owners in Kiln Creek agree to abide by when they purchase their lots.”
Garlette says he's considering a countersuit.