Attorney Trey Wilson - RL Wilson Law

29 December 2008

San Antonio HOA Sells Disabled Couple's Home


Every day is a struggle for Dan and Elaine Lambert. Dan has a traumatic brain injury and is partially paralyzed. He was struck by a train while working for the railroad. Since the accident, he's had two strokes and four heart attacks. Elaine says she went for six or seven weeks with open sores on her legs. She suffers from a disease that causes painful sores and swelling in her legs and has bouts of severe depression.

With their belongings already packed after getting an eviction notice from the new owner, Dan and Elaine each take some of the blame. The couple says the HOA dues were simply not a priority as they dealt with getting through their illnesses. They say certified letters from the HOA's attorney went unopened or thrown out because they thought it was junk mail.

Still, they think the HOA has gone too far. "There's no way in hell this association should do this to retired people or disabled people," Dan told us.

Homeowners' association usually don't do sell homes of those who owe them money. Instead, if you don't pay your dues, the association slaps a lien on your house. That way you have to pay up before you can sell it.

Instead filing a lien and leaving it at that, the Heritage Hills HOA took the unusual step of foreclosing and selling the house. The Lambert's home sold at a public auction on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse. The house valued at $156,000 sold for only $2,200. That is the amount the Lamberts owed after late fees, attorneys fees and interest were added.

Tom Newton is the HOA attorney who sold the Lambert's home. "I'm not kicking anybody out of their house," he explained to the Trouble Shooters. "What I'm doing is holding them to the obligation they accepted when they bought the property."

Trouble Shooter Brian Collister asked Newton, "[Do] you feel comfortable kicking a disabled family out of their home for a few hundred dollars in HOA fees?"

Newton replied, "I feel comfortable in taking those steps necessary to enforce my client's legal rights, and if that means that ultimately somebody may go through this foreclosure process, it's unfortunate, but it is a consequence of their own making." During all of this, no one with the HOA or its attorney ever picked up the phone and called or came to the Lambert's home. They never simply knocked on the door and tried to talk to them about why they were not paying their fees.

Collister asked Newton about this; "Don't you think if you're going to take their home away from them you should at least go talk to them face to face?"

"No, I don't," Newton answered, "I don't, and I'll tell you there are some people out there who have whatever sort of issues they have. They become violent when you approach them about their shortcomings or failure to abide by their obligations, and I think it is a dangerous situation."

The Lambert's say they're not dangerous or violent. They're just surprised that a homeowners association can go so far because they owe so little. The HOA says it sent the Lamberts certified letters during the three years they did not pay their dues, and they had plenty of opportunities to pay up and keep their house.

Wednesday, the Lamberts sit down with the HOA and the investment company that bought the house. They're going to try and come up with a way where the Lamberts can keep their home. We'll let you know what happens.

Trey Wilson --Named By Scene in SA Magazine As One of San Antonio's Best Real Estate Litigation Attorneys -- September 2008 -- As voted on by peers