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Rodgers Forge board sues homeowner over materials used in back deck

Cristino's deck

Cristino's deck

Cristino’s deck; it is all composite except for the 10 post sleeves, which are pressure-treated wood with vinyl.

The Rodgers Forge Community Association and homeowner Tonia Cristino are set to go to trial this spring over a dispute about the materials she used when renovating her back deck.

“I’m struggling with the fact that I am condemned for improving the value of my home,” Cristino said. “I replaced my existing deck because it was hideous and not safe. There are bigger problems that need to be addressed in the Forge, like unkempt yards that lead to the march of rats throughout the year. Why spend the money on taking someone to court that wanted to improve their home?”

Cristino had applied to the board’s architectural committee in May 2014 for permission to tear down her rotting deck and replace it. The committee rejected her plan.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 10.22.44 AM

The board instead wanted her to use black aluminum railings — which she found to be cost prohibitive, as she noted in this June 3, 2014, email to the architectural committee:

tonia deck aluminium railing

Deciding she did not want to pay for the more-expensive black aluminum railings, she eventually appealed the architecture committee’s decision to the full board, but the board sided with the committee in June 2014:

board rejects appeal

The old deck Cristino replaced

The old deck Cristino replaced

Cristino then moved ahead with her planned renovation of the deck using composite railings with vinyl sleeves on the 10 posts that separate the railing pieces. She received a letter from the board’s attorney, J. Carroll Holzer, in August 2014:

holzer letter

And another in September 2014 that said in part:

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 10.51.47 AM

The September 2014 letter was the last Cristino heard about it, she said, until she received a phone call at work more than a year later — in November 2015 — telling her a sheriff was at her home trying to serve her a summons. She said she felt “completely blindsided.”

ab

cd

sigs on lawsuit

The lawsuit was signed by board members John Rinehart (board president); his wife, Roxanne Rinehart (who is also a board member); Pat Foretich; Gerald Truelove; and Alison Dax.

“It’s very frustrating, unfair, and quite frankly, discriminating. There are two homes that have all white vinyl railings down the street from my house that did not receive a summons. [See photos below.] They also live a few houses down from one of the board members that is on my summons. So, why me?” Cristino said in an interview.

“I tried to go through the appropriate channels. I even went through the appeal process,” she said. “I was appealing for white, vinyl railing, but after a tight debate, I was rejected. I went back to the board requesting a compromise with a brown composite railing, but with white, vinyl post sleeves (the composite railing did not come with matching post sleeves). They still rejected my request. At that point, I felt they were completely unreasonable and unwilling to compromise.”

brandon white decks

Rear decks a few doors down from Cristino’s house

I sent a list of questions to board president John Rinehart  for this article:

1. I know many readers will say, “Wait a minute, I see white vinyl decks all over Rodgers Forge.” Why is the board pursuing this case in particular?

2. Many residents of Rodgers Forge have said it’s better to do things without permission because they fear if they get on the board’s radar (as Cristino did with her application to you) they open themselves up to problems. What do you say to those who might feel this [lawsuit] reinforces the “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” feeling?

3. At which board meeting was the lawsuit approved, and where can I find those minutes that detail the vote?

4. Have any of her immediate neighbors complained to the board about her deck?

5. Is there a cap on how much the board will spend on the lawsuit? How much do you anticipate it will cost?

6. Many homes around the Forge have structures that go against the guidelines (fences that don’t allow air flow; front-yard chainlink fences; additions; doors and shutters painted unapproved colors, etc.). Why are these allowed to go unchallenged while some homeowners are sued?

Rinehart declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. It is still not clear when the board voted for the lawsuit; a search through the meeting minutes was not successful in locating the vote.

[Also read: “Information about Rodgers Forge covenants“]

Cristino said she feels this type of lawsuit will make people less likely to approach the board for approval when they want to make changes.

“Now that people realize this is how they are running the neighborhood, I wouldn’t be surprised if less people submitted requests,” she said. “I’ve been told many times that it is better to ask forgiveness than permission.”

“I’ve been told many times that it is better to ask forgiveness than permission.”

She posted a note about the lawsuit on the private neighborhood website Next Door, and the vast majority of those who responded said they felt the lawsuit was unwarranted. One woman said she thought vinyl was ugly. I reached out to her for comment but have not heard back, and efforts to reach Cristino’s immediate neighbors were not successful.

One of the people who replied to Cristino’s post was Mark Hauswald, who bought his Rodgers Forge house in the late ’90s. He said in a subsequent interview that he has also experienced frustration with the board’s architectural decisions. When his next-door neighbor was replacing the siding on his addition, he asked Hauswald what color he’d prefer because Hauswald was the one who’d be looking at it. They settled on a muted color, but the board told the homeowner he had to have a different style of siding and it only came in a bright white — which Hauswald says is blindingly bright in the summer.

“To have someone who doesn’t even live on our block say he has to change it after we’ve agreed on something just doesn’t seem right,” he said.

When it comes to Cristino’s deck, he said it’s not his taste, but he’s not too concerned about what people do in their back yards and he feels the board should focus on the look of the front of the houses instead of the back.

“It’s weird to go to that much trouble over a back yard. That blows me away,” he said. “And to randomly say we’re going to put our foot down with this person [and sue them in court] but let others go, that’s what bothers me.”

“It’s weird to go to that much trouble over a back yard. That blows me away,” he said. “And to randomly say we’re going to put our foot down with this person [and sue them in court] but let others go, that’s what bothers me.”

Erin Colgan also replied to Cristino’s post. She and her husband, Jim Hopfer, said in an interview that they had issues with the board when they applied for a new deck several years ago. An architect and a licensed contractor came up with a plan and the county approved it. But they said the board’s architectural committee didn’t like it (and said the county would never approve it although it already had) and made them revise the plans — including making the deck smaller than what they wanted. And, the couple said, the board told them they’d be sued if they didn’t do as they were directed.

They eventually acquiesced to the board’s changes and the deck was approved.

Hopfer said he walked down his alley and took pictures of more than a dozen existing decks that were the size and style he wanted and sent them to the board.

“I asked, ‘Are you planning to sue all of them, too?'” Hopfer said. “I think there should be some control, like people not being allowed to build chicken coops. But to sue over a different colored piece of wood? That makes no sense.”

Colgan said the main thing that bothers her is that she wanted to do custom shadowbox fencing under the raised deck to match their fence, but the board directed them to use lattice, which they felt looked rather cheap. A short time later, a neighbor a few doors down built a large deck and used shadowboxing — and no one stopped her.

“The thing that is driving everyone bonkers is that the people that don’t ask permission get away with it, and the people that ask for permission get punished,” Colgan said. “It doesn’t seem fair or right to pick and choose how to enforce the rules.”

She said friends in the neighborhood who had large decks warned them not to seek permission from the board.

“They said don’t ask or you’ll regret it,” she said. “And they were right.”

Although there are a large number of unapproved exterior changes that have not resulted in lawsuits, this is not the first time the board has taken someone to court.

In 2009 the board sued a family on Lanark Road because of its rear porch (read about that here). The family ended up tearing down the porch and moving out of the neighborhood before the suit went to trial.

Lanark porch

Lanark porch

In 2007 the board lost a lawsuit related to a planned addition on a 5-bedroom end-of-group house that faced Pinehurst. The owners wanted to expand their kitchen and maintained that their addition was on the side of their house; the board took the position that the addition was on the back and therefore violated the county’s setback zoning rules. You can read about the case in this Baltimore Sun story.

The board said this was the side, not front, of the house.

The board said this was the side, not front, of the house.

In 2012 a homeowner on Hopkins Road applied to the county for a setback variance so that she could build a bathroom on her first floor and enclose her back porch. Several board members testified against the variance and it was denied. Instead of enclosing her porch, she renovated it. The board then maintained that she had broken setback rules when building her landing and it hired Holzer to fight the landing. You can read about that here.

Hopkins landing

Hopkins landing

Eventually the county said the landing could remain as it was.

To view the court filing in the current lawsuit with Cristino and accompanying documentation, click here.

A trial date is set for May 2.

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15 Comments on "Rodgers Forge board sues homeowner over materials used in back deck"

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Resident

So while half the neighborhood was out looking for Alison Dax’s dog Tucker, she was suing one of us?

Resident of RF

As a member of the Architectural Committee, she was required to sign the document, whether she voted in favor of it or not. There have been changes regarding this since this occurred for this reason.

thanks!

I’m glad the Flyer is calling attention to these things again. You know that the RFCA is not going to publicize their ridiculous actions against our neighbors.

R Fontaine

I had the same problem long time ago with a similar crazy HOA board in Mays Chapel. I finally had to sell both my units and move to avoid the insanity of group think. God save us from the do gooders of the world.

Margie S

Ridiculous with all the other problems!

J novak

My family is the one mentioned in this story from Lanark Rd. As long as the community association has enough money (paid from your dues) & holzer on retainer, this type of thing will continue. I think the only thing that will stop them is to get together with other homeowners and go on the offensive & sue the association for their completely inconsistent &.arbitrary manner in which they enforce the, so called, covenants. The only way to stop a bully is to stand up to them.

Mac phail

This is ridiculous! These improvements are beautifully done! It seems they are going on the taste of only the members of the board

Stevenson Lane

This is insane.

Murdock Road
I feel so badly for the people that try to improve their property in Rodger’s Forge. The RFCA does not care one bit that the alleys are rat-filled, trash-filled, or a run down mess. They are a bunch of hypocrites that allow their friends to do what they want and won’t allow others to improve. They have no vision or taste. How can I comment on this situation in a valid manner? I am the former owner of the Murdock ( Pinehurst Road) home mentioned in the article. We had three attorneys tell us we had no covenants and my wonderful builder got a valid permit from Baltimore County. [A board member] went to zoning, talked to a friend there, and got a stop work order permit. The board was willing to spend, at the minimum, 50,000 dollars on a case they would never win. Three years later we had won every appeal due to to our dedicated lawyer and the RFCA caused us to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees. At the same time, we watched other additions being built some were much larger than ours was going to be! One was even built on Dunkirk Road without a permit! It is a huge addition and was constructed without a permit which is illegal. The RFCA did nothing! We were harassed and had people trespassing on our property. They opened our back gate and let our beloved yellow lab out and she was missing for 24 hours. This… Read more »
Peter

Note to self: Don’t live in Rodgers Forge. Guess what hurts property values? A homeowners association with a track record of stupid lawsuits.

Dave T

I have a friend who threatened to invalidate the entire covenant over the issue of uneven enforcement… maybe challenge them with that. The HOA can sue then entire neighborhood, or drop it, or risk having the entire HOA invalidated.

Forge Resident Dos

@Forge Resident, I am with you. I stopped paying a couple years back because of this crap.

Forge Resident

This is exactly why I do not pay the RFCA dues. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Scl

These community associations should be abolished. Jerks. Why are they picking on her when other homeowners have done the same thing with no consequences. Who would want black aluminum railings on a deck?? I hope she wins.

RF non member

Nice piece of research and writing. Note Dave T. RFCA is not an HOA – it is a voluntary membership association with this one “power” handed down from the developer.

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