MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Todd Bodine is accustomed to the sound of winning.
The NASCAR driver has won the sport s truck series twice, most recently last year. But earlier this month, if you were to pass by the Bodines well-kept home in the Harris Village neighborhood of Mooresville, you would have heard the sound of Todd Bodine losing, as he and a crew of helpers tore down his prize pool house and tiki hut board by board and piece by piece, the result of an epic four-year battle with his homeowners association, or HOA.
A select committee of North Carolina lawmakers considering reforms of the HOA statutes heard that 53% of owner-occupied homes in the state are governed by HOA s. But few of those homeowners sue their HOA and appeal all the way to the state Supreme Court, only to lose and have to tear down a structure, plus pay opposing attorneys fees and fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Bodines did.
I think I ve been done wrong, Bodine said, sitting in shorts by his pool, the remnants of his poolside bar covered with a tarp. And it s incredible how unjust it is.
The disagreement started in July of 2007 when the HOA board president who the Bodines had entertained over beers as they built their pool abruptly told them the pool house was not approved. The president never said it's OK for you to start building, said Keith Black, the Greensboro attorney who represented the Harris Village HOA.
Todd Bodine insists the HOA president had told him verbally to go ahead and build. Everything was always, fine, OK, looks good, said Bodine.
The issue came to a head at an emergency meeting in the Bodines driveway. Bodine was upset. It was on then. I got in his face, Bodine said. He and his wife went inside their home while the board members talked things over. The board members signed a Request for Architectural Approval checked approved pending the approval of the Town of Mooresville Codes Department, which the Bodines quickly secured.
But the dispute continued. The board s attorney contends that the document was conditional on the Bodines submitting final drawings with dimensions and that the board never realized how large the structure would be. The HOA had issued interpretations of the covenants limiting the size of accessory buildings including tool sheds and utility buildings to 320 square feet. But the document was never recorded as part of the covenants. They ignored the phone calls, the e-mail and built the thing, said Black.
So when the Bodines returned home after several weeks on the road racing, they faced threatening letters and the prospect of fines from the HOA. They were fining us $100 a day which is absurd, said Bodine. The Bodines filed suit.
Bodine insists the HOA targeted him, knowing he could afford the fines. I was gouged pretty hard because of who I am, Bodine said. I believe a lot of it was because of my celebrity as a NASCAR driver.
But Black, the HOA s attorney, says the lawsuit had nothing to do with Bodine s status, further saying the HOA tried to settle. They said, No. We're not gonna do it. You're wrong. Kiss our rear end. We'll see you in court, said Black.
If it s true that you can t fight city hall, Todd and Janet Bodine found you really can t fight the HOA. They lost at every level. It started when the trial judge gave a directed verdict to the HOA so the jurors who sat through days of testimony never even got to deliberate. We were all dumbfounded, said Bodine. Then the Bodines lost on appeal. And finally the state Supreme Court refused to even hear the case.
In the whole four years no one said the Bodines pool house hurt Harris Village. Hell it was nice looking, said Black. That wasn't the issue. Nobody said it's ugly and you have to take it down.
Instead the HOA stood on principle and said if they let the Bodines build a pool house without the permission of the HOA board then what next? They open the door for anybody and everybody else to say, Well I want to paint my house purple and have pink toilet seats all over the front yard, said Black.
The Bodines say other Harris Village homeowners have broken the architectural guidelines of the HOA, so they believe the fight got personal. I think it was a small group of people out for vengeance, said Bodine. They saw their cash cow and they were going for it.
So now the Bodines are on the hook for their own attorney s fees, the HOA s attorneys fees and almost $40,000 in accrued fines. The HOA put a lien on their home for the unpaid fines. Bodine was fed up. I told em, Take it. Take the house, he said.
Having exhausted their appeals in the courts, the Bodines would like the state legislature to consider reigning in the powers of HOA s, a group of almost 18,000 neighborhood governments in North Carolina run by neighbors. A lot of time their power is just way too strong, said Bodine.
Black and other attorneys representing the HOA s say that neighbors have legal remedies built into the law and if they don t like the way the HOA is run they can always throw out the board by electing someone else. Anytime somebody loses all of a sudden they want it to be changed, said Black.
But the Bodines are hardly the only homeowners to run afoul of a group of neighbors bent on tearing down their property. And the state legislature is considering several bills to reform HOA s. None of them will help the Bodines who this month tore their pool house to the ground.