Twisted Thinking In Changing Times
By James Donahue
Joseph Prudente, a 66-year-old resident of
Beacon Woods, Florida, has become a victim of laws created by a community of home-owners who once sought to buy their way
into a utopian environment.
Because he bought his home in a deed restricted
community, and because he chose to keep his adjustable rate mortgage when low interest fixed rate mortgages were readily available,
and because he ignored litigation by the homeowners association, Prudente is now in jail . . . indefinitely . . . because
he can’t afford to buy new green sod for his lawn.
Obviously a lot of Prudente’s trouble
is of his own making. If he had been thinking he might have headed things off before events led to such a drastic finale.
Yet we also can say Prudente has become a
victim of world economic woes in conflict with archaic rules that no longer have a place in our fast-changing world.
Prudente bought his house in Beacon Woods
in 1998. Deed restrictions in places like Beacon Woods means that home owners have all agreed to meet certain requirements
for upkeep on their homes, yards, driveways and sometimes personal living standards. A homeowners association, comprised of
elected members of the community, acts as a policing agency to make sure everybody lives up to the standards agreed upon by
people buying into the neighborhood.
For those who can afford it, deed restricted
communities are great. Restrictions can include not only keeping the property in good repair, but they also put controls on
excessive noise, prohibits unsightly out-buildings, junked cars and can even restrict who lives in the homes. For example,
neighborhoods that cater to senior citizens sometimes prohibit anyone under age 55 from living there.
Prudente, obviously on a fixed retirement
income, started getting in financial trouble when rising interest rates on his adjustable rate mortgage raised his house payments
$600 a month. When he couldn’t make his car payments, the bank repossessed his car. Then a daughter and her two young
children, who had fallen on hard times, moved in with him and his wife, Pat. The story is not unique. Similar scenarios are
occurring all over the country as prices rise and people lose their jobs.
Prudente apparently didn’t take the
Beacon Woods Civic Association seriously when they called on him to install new sod on his lawn after the grass turned brown.
This happened after his lawn sprinklers broke.
“To me, keeping the house is more important
than the grass,” Prudente told the local media from his jail cell. “I just ignored them.
The Association took the matter to court
and a Pasco County Circuit Judge ordered Prudente to go to jail, and to stay there without a chance of posting bond, until
the sod work is completed.
Now Prudente finds himself in a Catch-22
situation. He can use the house payment money to sod his lawn and get out of jail. Then the property goes into foreclosure
and the family risks being homeless.
And if Pasco County, Florida, is like most
other county governments in America, it is so hard up for cash that the sheriff is charging inmates at his jail rent for every
day spent behind bars.