Ruling favors DK, next steps are up in the air

PORT ORCHARD — The dust has cleared in the neighborhood legal battle of Driftwood Keys and the next steps are clear as mud.

According to a Oct. 3 ruling by Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Russell Hartman, Hansville’s Driftwood Keys — as a homeowners association — has the right to place liens on properties and collect membership dues.

The judgement is the result of an escalated dispute of four residents upset about paying dues to the Driftwood Keys homeowners association for amenities they don’t use.

The residents, Sharon and Michael Feola, Linda Smith and George Willis, originally filed the case April 9. A continuance was scheduled after a court hearing Sept. 19.

According to court documents, they sought a court ruling to whether the Driftwood Key Club is a legal homeowners association that has the authority to enforce payment of annual dues by placing liens on properties. Court documents state Driftwood Key Club placed liens — a monetary encumbrance of a property due by the time it is sold — on all their properties.

“The court finds regarding membership and lien, they (the four residents) should have known a legal relationship was created at the time lots were bought,” the judgement states. “Court finds there is personal liability and they (the residents) do have to be members and there are lien rights.”

The judge did not grant Driftwood Keys or the residents reimbursement of attorney fees. A legal order will be made from the judges decision later this week.

The decision that Driftwood Keys has the right to collect dues and place liens is no new news to Driftwood Keys board members.

“We always thought that was the case but I guess we just needed someone else to tell them that,” said Driftwood Keys President Bill Buegel. Buegel said he was out of town during the legal proceeding.

Kingston attorney Gerald Kearney said his clients might negate the ruling at the Supreme Court level.

“Judge Hartman was of the opinion the lawsuit was far more reaching than this,” Kearney said. “This could ultimately be decided by Washington State Supreme Court if one or the other decide to appeal.”

Kearney said although the ruling is disappointing for him and his four clients, the case is complicated.

“Something like this has never been decided before in Washington under these circumstances,” he said, adding there wasn’t a past similar case to set a precedent for the proceeding. “In the leading cases against homeowners associations, usually the associations had well-crafted documents that give it authority. The documents belonging to Driftwood Keys are a mess.”

Both sides are in a period of regrouping.

The Driftwood Key Club scheduled a board meeting Thursday night to discuss the hearing’s implications.

“We insist on not commenting at this time,” said Bruce O’Conner, Driftwood Keys trustee. “It is our policy of Driftwood Keys not to comment on litigation.”

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