Shirlee Perry doesn't get out much anymore. Eighty-four years old with ailing legs, going outside usually is too much of a challenge, so she spends her days mostly watching TV at her Oak Cliff condo and caring for the two semi-feral cats that were born near her back porch and now practically live there.
She used to leave food for the wildlife in the woods behind her condo, just like her neighbors did when she moved in 25 years ago, but her HOA, the Wedglea Place Owners Association, asked her to stop. She also agreed to quit leaving the cat food out overnight, an arrangement that lasted for a time. But when they recently told her to stop feeding the cats entirely, that was a bridge too far.
The order came in the midst of a long-simmering feud between Perry and her neighbors. In 2012, she reported to police that a neighbor stole the three bowls she kept on her porch. ("No, no, no!" she yelled through the window; "Yes, yes, yes!" the man replied.) It was followed, according to Perry, by a series of fines. Under Wedglea Place Owners Association regulations, fine for rule violations are staircased, ranging from $50 for the first infraction to $250 for the fifth and beyond.
Perry, who insists that she submits her HOA dues on time every month, thought the association had stepped over a line and was being unreasonable. She refused to pay.
The association responded aggressively earlier this month: "They put a lien on my condo because I'm feeding two little cats outside my door."
Indeed they did. On March 5, Wedglea Place filed a lien against Perry's unit "for the nonpayment of assessments and related charges" totaling $1,302.13.
Kerri Kingsbery, whose Plano-based Vision Communities Management filed the document with the Dallas County Clerk's office, declined to provide specifics for why the HOA pursued the lien but said the situation is more nuanced than Perry's letting on.
For starters, it's not just cats. Raccoons, possums and rats routinely dine on the cat food.
"Her neighbors have been dealing with that for years," Kingsbery says. "The stench is terrible because of all the animals that are living in this environment."
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Besides, she says, if all Perry owed was fees, Vision Communities management never would've filed the lien. "State law even requires and outlines that associations may not pursue simply fines and fees," she says. This is half true. The Uniform Condominium Act, passed by the Legislature in 1993, states associations may not go so far as to foreclose based on a lien consisting solely of fines, but such liens can be filed, meaning that the debt is there waiting to be collected whenever the property changes hands.
The lien was a last resort. "We've reached out to elder services, we've reached out for every process we can think of to help this woman," Kingsbery says. No dice. Every agency they've contacted has declined to get involved.
Perry, meanwhile, seems perfectly content to stay where she is and is searching for a lawyer to make sure she can do so without fear of foreclosure.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.