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Raleigh Family Threatened With Loss Of Home Over Tree House

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RALEIGH, N.C. — What you put in your back yard is your business right? Not necessarily. OneWake County family could lose their home because their neighbors do not likewhat they built on the property.

This problem involves a neighborhood association. Lots of neighborhoods have them.

The associations are kind of little democracies. Neighborhood rules are enforced byboard members who are elected by the neighborhood.

As Scott and Alison Watson found out, the power of the boards can reachright into a homeowners own back yard. Their house could be foreclosed on because of their board's decision.

Mitchell Watson's parents built him a tree house last Christmas.

"I thought it was amazing," the 7-year-old said.

The tree house is complete with siding that matches the real house, shingles,windows -- even window boxes.

"He was stunned," Watson said. "He brought all of his friends from theneighborhood over as it was being built and said, 'Look, look! It's my owntree house.'"

Three months later, the Watsons received a letter from their Durant TraceHomeowners Association, formerly known as Heathrow. The letter stated their tree houseis "not allowed" and "must be removed."

"We were completely shocked," Watson said.

The Watsons admit they did not ask the association for approval beforebuilding the tree house. Alison Watson said she did call the managementcompany, Pindell-Wilson, to find out how to get it approved.

"He told me, 'Oh, the board's not going to approve a tree house under anycircumstances. It's just an eyesore. You're gonna have to take it down.'"she said.

Soon after, the association sent a letter threatening fines, liens -- evenforeclosure if they do not take it down.

"It's absolutely absurd," Alison Watson said.

The problem is that the neighborhood covenants clearly give its board ofdirectors "sole discretion" for approval of any outside structures.

"I would tell you most people see covenants for the first time at theclosing," real estate attorney Barry Mann said.

Mann said most home buyers do not realize how much power boards can have.

"You better get approval for anything you do on that property before you doit," he said.

Mann said boards are supposed to be consistent.

"They can't pick and choose the people or the actions they want to enforce,"he said.

That is what the Watsons believe their board is doing. They point to a treehouse down the street, sheds and many wooden play sets -- some with prettyextravagant construction.

Board president Kevin White told Five On Your Side he "wouldn't want [thetreehouse] next to him" and the board "already made its decision." As forthe other structures, White would not say whether they were approved.

"I don't get why they want to take it away from me," Mitchell Watson said."Nobody can get harmed in it. All it can do to you is give you a splinter."

Last month, the association started fining the Watsons $50 a week for thetree house.

If the structure is down by August 1, the association will drop the fine. If it is not down by September 1, the board said lien and foreclosureproceedings will begin.

As of Wednesday, the Watsons have not decided what they will do.


Monica Laliberte, Reporter
Greg Clark, Photographer
Lori Lair, Producer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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