After speaking out about issues with their Lawrence homeowners’ association, Breeann Bass and her family feel like they can get their quality of life back — at least somewhat.
Bass, her fiancée, Kalisha Peterson, and their four kids have felt targeted since they moved into the Woods on 19th, an HOA-governed neighborhood of a few dozen houses at 19th and Delaware streets. Bass shared the family’s story about harassment with the Times last month, and since then, some neighbors have reached out to apologize or offer support, Bass said.
The two women of color have documented troubling interactions between neighbors, themselves and their kids since they moved in last summer. They also documented when certain HOA covenants were enforced against them but not against others. Bass also said the family came home at various times to find their Black Lives Matter flag or their rainbow flag lying on the ground.
The women were concerned to the point that they stopped letting the kids play outside unless they’re out there with them and bought surveillance cameras for their home.
Bass and her landlord, Brian Stultz, said they thought the most blatant example of rules being applied selectively was a letter that Bass received last month from the HOA’s lawyer, Brad Finkeldei, asking her to cease operating a commercial business from her home. Bass said she was not operating a “cosmetology/haircare business” as the letter alleged, but that she occasionally does hair for friends and family for free.
She then discovered that her neighbor John Rodgers, president of the Woods on 19th HOA, has an LLC registered at his home.
Rodgers has not returned emails or phone messages seeking comment. However, he sent a letter to homeowners on behalf of the HOA late last week attempting to explain some of the HOA’s recent actions. He wrote that the volunteer HOA board did not thoroughly review the letter about the home business before Finkeldei — who also serves as Lawrence’s mayor — sent it to Bass last month.
“The board’s intent with this letter was to address the concerns of a perceived unlicensed hair salon being run from a home within the HOA, which in addition to being in violation of Kansas law and regulations, could lead to associated increases in neighborhood traffic and health concerns, especially given the enhanced regulations put in place to protect the public from COVID-19 spread,” Rodgers wrote in the latest letter, dated June 3.
Rodgers acknowledged in his letter that several homeowners have businesses registered to their addresses, and that is not in violation of HOA rules. In addition, he wrote, the HOA board “strongly condemns any acts of racism, sexism and homophobia, as well as vandalism and other malicious activities.”
Bass said she thinks the HOA was scrambling to come up with an explanation for why it had attempted to enforce a rule against her and not others. She said it seemed as if the business issue was “the only one worthy of an explanation,” despite other concerns that she had raised to the Times and on social media.
“(T)he letter was more to save face and less to resolve the actual issue at hand; we have been discriminated against, in more ways than one, because of our race,” Bass said in an email.
But Bass said she appreciates some of the other parts of Rodgers’ letter: for instance, that the HOA board will look to improve transparency, will establish an online form for residents to report concerns to be investigated and addressed quickly, and will encourage residents to create a Community Cares Committee — independent of the HOA board — to welcome new residents, organize events and ensure that all residents “have a voice and know whom to contact with concerns.”
“While I disagree that the HOA Board ‘strongly condemns’ acts of discrimination, since ‘condemning’ would mean acknowledging and speaking against it rather than denying and making up excuses,” Bass said, “I do agree that the board has come up with ways to hold each other accountable and ensure that it is a democratic process rather than the dictator setup it had before.”
She said she also appreciates the use of the word “residents,” as previous communications have made it clear that “homeowners were the ones with the rights,” she said. She and her fiancée rent their home.
Bass said the family has retained a lawyer and filed a formal complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They have not received any covenant violations, notices or letters since last month, she said. They plan to stay in their home until their lease is up next year because they haven’t been able to find another residence that would be affordable, in addition to the expense of moving.
Bass said she doubts that relations between her family, the HOA board and other residents will change drastically before their lease is up, but she said she thinks that exposing the issues the family has faced has “opened the eyes of many in the neighborhood.”
“I hope that if another family of color were to live here, they may have a better experience… that’s my goal!” she said.
— Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-422-6363.