JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind -- A Johnson County homeowner is fighting to keep goldfish in her driveway despite requests from her homeowners association to move them.
Carol Hanquier has lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in the Silver Springs neighborhood for 20 years, but said her neighbors keep getting louder and louder.
“We wanted fish and fountains to try to block some of that noise and create a peaceful area around our home," said Hanquier. “I come out, I feed my fish, I take care of them. I sit by the fountains. It's the one spot outside that can be relaxing at times."
Hanquier was seriously injured in a 2008 car crash and is now on permanent disability, with anxiety and other health problems.
“The fish are extremely soothing,” said Hanquier. “It’s something I look forward to. I’m by myself all day long.”
Hanquier said she’s had the fish on her driveway for two years, so she was surprised when she received a July 28 letter from the Silver Springs Homeowners Association telling her to remove the fish by August 11 or she would be in violation of the HOA’s covenants.
“I was very surprised,” said Hanquier. “They’re extremely quiet. They block the noise we hear on a regular basis.”
Hanquier fought back, and claimed the fish provide emotional support for her disability.
“I have chronic pain, strokes, epilepsy, headaches,” said Hanquier.
Under the Fair Housing Act, homeowners associations have to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled residents.
Hanquier received an August 8 letter from the HOA’s attorney, Scott Tanner, telling her she failed to make the proper architectural request to modify her property.
“If you would follow the architectural procedures in the Declaration, you wouldn’t have a problem with the Association,” read Tanner’s letter to the homeowner.
The letter also indicated Hanquier did not claim the fish as a form of emotional support until after she installed the ponds.
Tanner told Call 6 Investigates they didn’t know Hanquier was claiming the fish as an emotional support animal until she responded to the HOA’s July 28 letter with a HUD complaint.
“There is a covenant, you will see in their declaration, that requires a homeowner before they make an improvement or alteration to their property they have to submit an architectural request,” said Tanner in a phone interview with RTV6. “They never did that."
Call 6 Investigates asked Hanquier if she asked for permission before putting the fish on her driveway.
“Fish are not restricted in this neighborhood,” said Hanquier. “Ponds are not restricted in this neighborhood. Why would I ask permission for something that is not restricted?"
Tanner said now that the HOA knows Hanquier is using the fish for her disability, she can keep the fish, but she has to move them off of her driveway, such as to the backyard.
“She’s insisting on sitting them in her driveway,” said Tanner.
Hanquier said she can’t move the fish to her backyard because she uses the space for her service animal, a miniature horse.
The horse has been legally on her property for five years.
“She’s for mobility,” said Hanquier. “She helps me walk.”
Tanner pointed out the HOA accepted her request for the service animal.
“While your neighbors aren’t happy about you keeping a pony on your lot in a housing subdivision, the board as stood behind your right to have the pony as a reasonable accommodation under the (Fair Housing Act),” read Tanner’s letter. “Hence, the board is obviously willing to work with you to provide reasonable accommodations that would allow you support so that you can enjoy your property.”
Hanquier said she had to fight with the board to get her service animal at home.
She said the HOA is inconsistent when it comes to enforcing the covenants.
“It’s more of a good old boys club and we don’t belong in the club,” said Hanquier. “They go after people that are not in the club.
Under Indiana law, homeowners and HOAs have to follow a grievance procedure before a lawsuit can be filed, including a face-to-face meeting.
Currently, Hanquier and the board are working on finding a date to meet in person and discuss the fish.
Call 6 Investigates asked Hanquier why she doesn’t move to the country where she isn’t under an HOA.
“I would love to move to the country,” said Hanquier. “We’re waiting until our children are out of high school so we can move somewhere that is less hostile.”
A recent Call 6 Investigation found most complaints about HOAs filed with the Indiana Attorney General’s office are closed because of insufficient evidence, no violation found, or the agency does not have jurisdiction, records show.
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Community associations are private entities, not government, and assessments paid by association members cover the costs of common area maintenance, insurance, landscaping, as well as savings for future needs, according to the Community Associations Institute.
To avoid an HOA nightmare:
• Research the HOA before you move in
• Get educated by reading the covenants, bylaws, and attending HOA meetings
• Elect board members or run for a position yourself
• Get approval before you make changes to your home
• Pay your dues on time