Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Letter to readers
At the Casablanca Homeowners Association, a 55-and-older condo community in central Las Vegas, residents are in open combat, with nasty allegations being hurled at the board president.
It’s a situation reminiscent of that “Seinfeld” episode in which Morty Seinfeld is accused of stealing condo association dues to buy a new Cadillac. The episode resonates in some valley homeowners associations because it feels so familiar.
I don’t mean to minimize the real grievances of frustrated residents, only to point out that no matter how advanced we think of ourselves, hostility for our neighbors can boil just beneath the surface. The wall between our civilized and our savage selves can be thin and brittle, and homeowners associations are sometimes capable of chipping away at the wall until there’s little left.
This story begins late last year, a few days after I wrote a column warning readers to pay attention to the actions of their homeowners association because they can be manipulated by unscrupulous board members and property managers or overrun by incompetence. With significant maintenance costs coming and years of revenue shortfalls from the foreclosure crisis, many HOAs face dark days ahead.
Casablanca is mired in a bitter battle for control of the board, with some residents complaining of financial mismanagement and petty corruption.
The dissidents say board President Mary Ann Berry hired an unlicensed contractor to do shoddy work all over the community and then referred him to elderly, vulnerable residents who needed work done on their condo units.
The Nevada State Contractors Board filed four felony charges against Gerald R. Shaw III, the contractor, for doing work without a license.
Shaw, who has racked up similar charges in the past, hasn’t turned himself in, and his whereabouts are unknown.
Dissident residents, including board member Phil Mazzilli, say Shaw is responsible for the association getting in trouble with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, costing the HOA $14,800. They say his shoddy work on a pool deck required maintenance soon after its completion. Charlotte Arrowsmith, a Realtor, showed me a condo in the community she was trying to sell for a resident. Shaw’s work was substandard, with cheap kitchen counters and a rough paint job, which was hampering Arrowsmith’s ability to sell the condo.
Much of the animosity started with a proposed cell tower that would have produced significant revenue for the HOA but was opposed by many residents, Berry said in a letter to residents.
The state contractors board has also issued a criminal citation for Berry to appear in court March 8 “for acting in the capacity of a general contractor without a license.” Basically, she’s being charged for hiring Shaw.
Berry didn’t respond to messages. Her attorneys, Michael Becker and Michael Castillo, sent me a statement: “Mary Ann Berry has dedicated 10 years of her life to voluntarily serving Casablanca Homeowners Association. Unfortunately, the voices of critics are often louder than the voices of appreciation. Ms. Berry maintains her innocence and looks forward to resolving her matter in court.”
An unfair witch hunt of a senior citizen? Perhaps. Given the animosity that clouds the situation, it’s hard to know.
Jerry Kurelic of Nevada Community Management, a company contracted to help manage the property, explained in a letter to the board why his company didn’t renew its contract. He said he still had the “highest respect for Berry” but had to leave because the “circus-like atmosphere” made working with the association next to impossible.
Kurelic said the cell tower proposal was met with “irrational hostility.” He said board meetings were “almost always disrupted by a very loud and very rude minority.”
He concluded: “Issues that could have been handled internally, in a professional manner, by an informed board acting on advice of counsel and management, had become the subject of anonymous fliers, government investigations and chaotic discontent within the community, which has and will result in a great financial burden borne by the association, and ultimately the owners of Casablanca.”
A Berry opponent speculated as to whether the letter was forged.
Kurelic did not respond to messages.
The results of a recent recall election of Berry are in dispute, and the rancor lives on.