Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Everyone knew no one should ever sign a document without reviewing it in its entirety. And everyone has been guilty of doing exactly that a time or two. Who had ever read all the terms and agreements before they check off they’ve read them? However, the proof was in the pudding, especially in difficult times. Sometimes it could be the bane of someone’s existence and other times it could come in quite handy.
“Steve” learned this lesson quite well. He dealt with contract negotiations from his worst nightmares. Unintentionally he got into a legal duel with his neighborhood’s homeowner’s association and he was even part of it. The twists and turns of his journey were crazy. Luckily, he found out he could use contracts to his own advantage and lawyered up. Order in the court, Steve is serving up his own justice system.
In The Begining
Picture this. Steve owned a vast amount of property on a farm that was pretty much unused. Talk about potential. The piece of land he owned was just off the back of the property. Originally, Steve wanted to use it for farming but never got around to it. Around this time, a bunch of homeowners organized collectively to hire a construction company to have roads, electricity, and water made available if a certain percent of the property was developed. Sounded pretty simple. The construction company, in turn, went around asking other homeowners who had no houses on their land if they could build houses for them at no price.
But there was a catch. They needed a certain amount of people to sign up for this to happen. “Bob” had then approached Steve to buy half of Steve’s property. The amount Bob offered was more than half the original cost of the land and seemed like a no-brainer for Steve, so he agreed to the sale. Steve even had extra money from the sale to build a large house on his side of the property.
For a few years, he lived there with his mom. But, space was getting tight and Steve was feeling generous, so he divided the remainder of his land and built her a house next to his. But the biggest plot twist of Steve’s life happened when his mom was diagnosed with cancer and his mom passed away. All before the plans for the house were done. What was Steve going to do now that his mother was gone?
With no one to live in the extra home and his mother passing away, he moved out and someone else moved in. Steve now had himself a renter. Seemed like easy sailing, until Bob decided to start a homeowners association for the neighborhood right before Steve moved out. Steve wanted no part of that and not only did he not join, but he moved out anyway and continued renting his property.
However, that didn’t deter Bob from his agenda. Two years later, he contacted Steve. What did Bob ask Steve? Bob wanted Steve to join the homeowners association because he wanted to improve the security of the neighborhood and make the road by Steve’s property the only entrance to the neighborhood. Despite the homeowners pressuring Steve, he held firm to his answer and said no.
Normally that would be enough for people and for them to back off. Which Bob did, but the homeowners association wanted to put a welcome sign on the edge of his property. Their reasoning was it was the only logical place to put it.
Not only that, but they also wanted to build a guard post and have a security guard permanently monitoring who went in and out of the property. All of the proposed construction changes would be on Steve’s property.
Bob was an understanding guy, yet again. So they came to an agreement. The homeowners association agreed to mow the lawn on the part of the property they would use and pay 35 bucks per month to use the land. Steve was happy with this since he made a little profit and they already had a gardening service. On the plus side, he still didn’t need to join the homeowner’s association and his tenant could peacefully live there for the past three years. Until one fateful day changed the course of his interactions with Bob and the rest of the homeowner’s team.
On what should have been a peaceful day, Steve’s tenant’s daughter was terrified for her life. Someone’s weapon had gone off near the house and by her window. This had gone on for about three to four times a month. Now not only had Steve’s tenant been contacting him but the homeowner’s association had as well. It reignited them to ask him to join. Man, Steve could not catch a break. However, they both had a proposition for Steve. Steve would join the homeowner’s association but he would have exclusions for the monthly fees and they would build an entire wall around the property of homeowners association property, which would include electric fencing and security cameras. They expressed how they wanted to do this for a while but were unwilling to because he was not part of the homeowners association. Without seeing a downside to this deal, Steve agreed.
Construction took about a full year for the wall to be built along with the other changes. Everything should have been fine. But Steve was sadly mistaken.
A month after all the plans were done, Steve’s tenant revied a letter from the homeowner’s association about his dogs barking. This was the perfect opportunity for the tenant to tell them that they were exempt from the rules due to the exclusion clause the homeowner’s association agreed to.
However, the homeowners association had an ace up its sleeve. Not only did they cancel the exemptions but they had 30 days to comply with them. Steve ignored this since he was going by their original agreement where he was exempt. But, no can do. The homeowner’s association still canceled the exemptions and claimed Steve had to pay late fees for the missed year of back pay. Steve should also refund the money to the homeowners for the exclusions Steve originally had. The homeowners also thought Steve owed money for the landscaping services used for his property. If Steve didn’t meet these terms he would be fined for each infraction he had. This had Steve’s nerves boiling. During this interaction, Steve learned the value of reading contracts.
Left with no options, Steve took action and lawyered up. However, the judge said something he did not like. The judge said most of what the homeowners association did was mostly legal and they had the right to revoke the exclusions. However, they had to give Steve a 30-day notice. After leaving court, Steve walked to his car when Bob approached him. Most of what Bob said was rude and irrelevant, except for one statement. Bob said Steve should have understood the documents before he signed them. This statement followed Steve until he finally got home.
Steve brought up his copy of the original document and realized Bob was right. But Steve also wanted to see if there were any rules that had a loophole he could break. He didn’t need to get further than the first page to come across one.
One of the rules written in the contract was while the street address of the property was used to identify the homeowners association property for practical purposes, they needed a unique property number for legal records.
Steve remembered the piece of property he gave the homeowner’s association was the part he was going to use for his mom. And the address they had used was for the property number for the exclusion agreement. The next day Bob had shown up with two documents. One document said Steve’s exemption would expire in 30 days. In the other document, Steve had said the agreement would no longer be required. All of this left a bad taste in Steve’s mouth, so he decided to beat them at their own game.
With Steve’s plan set in motion, 30 days to the hour after the homeowner’s association had given Steve the 30-day notice, he knocked on Bob’s door. What was the icing on the cake was Bob was the president of the homeowner’s association. Score. As payback, Steve had his own two documents for Bob to sign. The first document explained how Steve planned to build a house on his homeowner’s property. The second document explicitly explained how the homeowner’s association had 30 days to remove the establishments off of his property like the guard shed they had previously built. Bob tried arguing but Steve left immediately after.
This led to a tug of war between Steve and the homeowner’s association’s lawyers. At first, the lawyer said the guard shed would stay on Steve’s unused part of his land. Steve argued he planned to build another house, so the land wouldn’t be unused anymore. Smugly, the lawyer informed Steve that doing so would be spiteful and not accepted in court. Steve had told the lawyer he hadn’t built the home yet and the land was not big enough for a large house.
Five days later, he heard back from the lawyer. The lawyer said the terms of the agreement meant Steve couldn’t cancel without the homeowner’s agreement. Ha. That was laughable. Considering the homeowner’s association had canceled their agreement. Steve emailed them proof of the cancelation. Remember Bob? Well, he then asked Steve out to lunch the next day to discuss the issue.
Steve said, ‘No thanks.’
Other members of the homeowner’s association tried to talk to him as well. And they got the same reply as Bob. After Steve rejected the homeowners, the lawyer reached out to Steve again and asked if they could reach an agreement. Curious, Steve asked what he had in mind. The lawyer quickly replied they would discuss exclusions in exchange for access to his property. This didn’t appeal to Steve.
Steve said, “No, thanks. Please don’t call again.”
Nine days before the homeowner’s association 30 days were up, Steve heard from a different lawyer. This lawyer asked to negotiate a surrender. Steve agreed and met with the new lawyer the next day.
This time around Steve had his own documents drawn up with his own offer. His offer included everything the original agreement had as well as a few new tidbits. One new requirement was instead of paying 35 bucks a month they would then pay 500 bucks.
Another change added was if the homeowners association canceled the agreement for any reason they would be forced to pay 7,500 bucks to Steve. The most important change however was if any homeowners association member took legal action they would be forced to pay for Steve’s legal fee directly through Bob. And if Bob left then the homeowner’s association would then have to pay. The original lawyer wasn’t happy about this because he said it was unfair but he would have the homeowners take a look at the contract.
Now Steve knew he asked for outlandish things but had not expected anyone to agree. But the next morning the new lawyer called Steve to ask him if he could sign the contract. When Steve arrived at the meeting, he found out two shocking news. The document wasn’t changed from Steve’s new proposal. And the homeowner’s association signed the document. Steve mentioned there was no change to the document to the new lawyer.
He asked, “Why did he sign this? It was stupid to sign it.”
To which the lawyer laughed and said he advised the homeowner’s association against signing the documents. But the homeowners said the new lawyer wasn’t paid to think or give legal advice to them. It took six months for the homeowner’s association to realize how much they were in a bind due to the contract. This led to many mediations between the two angered sides. Again, the mediation ended in Steve’s favor. Checkmate. At the end of the day, this proves you need to understand the documents before signing them or you’ll pay the price. Right, Bob?