News

Blackhawk couple sue HOA, say kids can't play outside

Suit: Children barred from trick-or-treating

A Blackhawk couple have filed a federal lawsuit against their homeowners association, claiming their children aren't allowed to play or trick-or-treat in their own neighborhood.

The lawsuit claims repeated discrimination against Seth and Carolynn Neri and their three children by the HOA of the Tennis Villas at Blackhawk and Pleasanton-based Community Association Management.

The suit alleges the HOA and the management company discriminate against families with children and ban them from accessing common areas within the community.

Neither the Neris nor Community Association Management could be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, the family of five moved to the gated community of about 30 single-family homes in the upscale area of Blackhawk, east of Danville, in the spring of 2012.

The Neris are the only family in the housing development with children. They were told that their three kids weren't allowed to play in front of their home, on the street or in the community's common areas, the suit claims.

When the family tried to put up Halloween decorations last year, they were told holiday decorations, as well as trick-or-treating, were prohibited, according to the complaint.

The family tried to work with the HOA, but after that failed, two of the children decided to write a letter to neighbors introducing themselves and asking them to consider changing the no-playing rule, according to the suit.

But, the complaint alleges, rather than receiving positive responses, the Neris got anonymous letters in their mailbox that said "No move!!" and "No Way! Move!"

In May, Carolynn Neri was told that if her children violated the HOA's no-playing rule, a lien would be placed on the family's home, according to the suit.

The complaint alleges that when Carolynn Neri approached the president of the housing development's board of directors about the rules, she was told that some residents in the gated community were "upset that (Carolynn and Seth Neri) were a mixed-race couple."

According to the complaint, because of the HOA's "discriminatory housing practices, plaintiffs have suffered violation of their civil rights, economic losses (and) emotional distress," including depression, panic attacks, sleep loss and other ailments.

A hearing is set for February.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Chris S.
a resident of Danville
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Hmmm. Sounds like the sixties all over again when baseball player Curt Flood rented a house in Alamo (check Google for the story). I thought we would have evolved by now!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sidney P.
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Guess who's coming to trick-or-treat?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Douglas
a resident of Blackhawk
on Nov 11, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Aside from what some other residents feel about their marriage, the Neri family should have done their research before moving in. In a private gated community, HOA's can set their CCR's to exclude quite a few things, and every different gated part of "Blackhawk" (Blackhawk (proper), Silver Maple, Tennis Villas, Saddleback, etc.) have their own set of rules. If they wanted their kids to be able to do everything they are complaining about, they should have moved into Blackhawk proper. Halloween is bigger than Christmas here. It sounds like they wanted their cake (the most exclusive section of Blackhawk) and wanted to eat it too (not following the rules). Give me a break!!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Blackhawk
on Nov 12, 2013 at 7:42 am

I was somewhat sympathetic until I read the worn, bent, dog-earred race card is being played. Move.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by What?
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 8:20 am

Two issues:
(1)Required that purchasers buying properties with HOA be given copies of the CC&R's prior to close of escrow. Plaintiffs in this case must have decided not to read the CC&R's, and their ignorance is not a defense to violating CC&R's;
(2)Read that the husband plaintiff is an Oakland police officer. How does an Oakland police officer afford to live in Blackhawk?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tracy
a resident of Alamo
on Nov 12, 2013 at 8:25 am

I want to know what kind of people live in an area where they don't want families or kids around. Do the residents at the Tennis Villas have grand kids?

It seems extremely shallow. I am shocked that those rules are even written down on paper. I can't believe the HOA has the balls to continue to try and enforce them. Lets remember, this family didn't just buy the house, they also pay the HOA fees for use of the common areas and are now being told that they cannot use. Race aside... They are still being discriminated because they are the only family being targeted. There are no other residents being harassed. Definitely something to think about. Do the other residents really think that those kids shouldn't be outside playing? Come on people, lighten up!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 8:42 am

Frank, I was somewhat ready to think you weren't a moron until you played the "race card" card.

Racism isn't dead in America - or Danville - as you prove. People who adopt an air of sanctimonious superiority when anyone notes that it has reared its ugly head again are racist-enablers, at best.

I bet "some of your best friends" are minorities, right? Guess what? They tolerate you, nothing more, because they're better people than you are. Of course, that's not a high bar to beat.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Rick Pshaw
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 8:46 am

They are the only family being "harassed" because they are the only family not playing by the rules.

Tracy, if you got pulled over by the cops and were given a ticket, would you feel you were being targeted OR...
Was it because you broke the law (rules).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by LMP
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 8:46 am

People purchase homes in PUDs because they want to live by certain rules. Those who do not want to abide by such rules should live in other communities. The owners received the rules (CC&Rs) prior to purchase, so they knew what to expect. It's equally arrogant and unrealistic to move in and expect things to change.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Local lawyer
a resident of Blackhawk
on Nov 12, 2013 at 8:47 am

Tracy, you are so right on! What is wrong with the other residents? Sounds like they all ought to move into assisted living where they can be sure everyone around them will be nice and old and exactly like them. I'd be ashamed and embarrassed to live in a community that says no to families and no to children- in fact, as a resident, I'd work to change and update that, or move. I'm also a lawyer, who in this case would say regardless of any HOA or CCRs on paper- what about being HUMAN? Who are these people that don't want to let their own neighbors' children trick-or-treat in their own neighborhood!?! I hope they have to pay all the legal fees associated with taking such a scrooge-like attitude toward their own neighbors. It's so depressing this would come to a legal fight over being kind to one another. That is extremely messed up!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Rick Pshaw
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 9:18 am

Interesting that a lawyer would want to ignore contracts and instead want everyone to be human. Who decides what is "human?"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joseph
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 9:21 am

Don't go where you shouldn't go and don't do what you shouldn't do.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tracy
a resident of Alamo
on Nov 12, 2013 at 9:43 am

I see your point Rick.

I just don't believe that this situation is so clear cut.
It difficult to speak about the situation without having more info, but I have to also point a finger at the realtors.

They are paid so much money to represent their clients. It would be in there best interest to look over that kind've material. There are only so many CCR's in the area. Realtors should have copies of the various communities and someone who could take note of something so outrageous as this rule.

Again, the final burden falls on the family who purchased the home. But I'm guessing that they had no idea that these rules/laws were in place. Who would've guessed they were even a possibility. The bubble that the residents of the Tennis Villas live in is not reality and will probably be changed due to the lawsuit. Once in the hands of the federal courts, it will be shown that those types of restrictions cannot be enforced.

I'm curious.... At what age can the kids be outside? Are they allowed to sit on the grass in front of their yard to read or relax? Are any of the residents allowed to use the common area or be outside?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tracy
a resident of Alamo
on Nov 12, 2013 at 9:57 am

One more thing.....in a time where we are expected to care for our elderly, the elderly in the Villas community are sending a message that says that children should not be seen or heard. Just think if that neighborhood acted more like a community where people were kind and helpful. In our neighborhood (with kids and elderly people) we help the elderly with their trash cans, help with their pets when needed and you can't put a price tag on the conversations we have. They have wonderful stories to tell and they thrive on knowing how my kids are doing and watching them grow. It's a win/win situation that sadly does not exist in that Neighborhood. They are all missing out!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Douglas
a resident of Blackhawk
on Nov 12, 2013 at 10:08 am



First (if accurate as I don't have Tennis Villa CC&Rs), from SF Gate:

"According to documents posted online, the neighborhood's rules are strict: "In the common, open areas or streets, there is to be absolutely no skateboarding, roller-skating, ball playing or other games. Bicycling is restricted solely to ingress or egress."

The tennis villas have generally been for seniors and everyone knows that. If you choose to live somewhere where seniors are trying to protect their safety, you play by their rules.

Second, I have friends that live in Bettencourt Ranch (another CCR place) and they have the same CC&R as the Tennis Villas with regard to holiday decorations (also from SF Gate):

"Decorations "may be displayed three weeks before a major holiday," the rules state, "and must be removed within one week after that holiday."


And finally, here we go again with police officers thinking they don't need to abide by the rules. It does not matter to me what their marriage mix is, it matters that he thinks he is "above the law." Being he is in law enforcement, he of all people should have been responsible enough to read the CC&Rs before he signed on the dotted line. Also, what is he teaching his children by showing them that rules don't apply to them? Should his children just sue everybody when they don't get what they want?

Give me a break!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mr Rabbit
a resident of San Ramon
on Nov 12, 2013 at 10:18 am

This couple knew about the association rules before they moved in. I am sure based on what is required to transfer property in this age these were disclosed, and they were required to sign off on this. Now, they are complaining that the rules are being enforced. More and more we find neighbors easily complaining, and then conjuring up reasons to make the claim stick – in this case mixed race). I hope the association dukes it out and prevails. Let's try to return to the old days where people take personal responsibility of their choices.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lee
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 11:23 am

Douglas. Get your facts right. Bettencourt ranch encourages Xmas decorations. A couple of years ago they had contest for the best decorated homes


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Douglas
a resident of Blackhawk
on Nov 12, 2013 at 11:46 am

Lee - get your facts right. It doesn't say no decorations, it says 3 weeks before and 1 week after which I checked with their HOA. Yes, they have had contests in the past but that has nothing to do with the timing of the decorations. It still doesn't mean you can put them up the first week of November. [removed]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Neri family, there are wonderful places nearby that would welcome and value you and your children. I get that you want to challenge the status quo, but life is short and why waste another minute of your kids' childhood is such a stale and uptight environment? I say start packing! Good luck to you.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Catherine
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 1:27 pm

@ ?What - Police officers get paid quite a lot and through public records it was recorded that in 2011, Neri made $215,607 (98,472 base + 32, 448 OT + 84,687 Pension/401k stuff).

Web Link

So, it is not crazy for him to afford an 800/900 thousand dollar home in Blackhawk, especially with loan programs that are available for both vets and police officers.

I just would have been more responsible about reading all of the CC&Rs and vetting the neighborhood before signing the dotted line. For a family that has lived in Danville for supposedly so long, they should have known the Tennis Villa owners are all retirees or close to it. Why in the world would you move into such a place. How boring!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by mom of 3
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Ignorance is no excuse. If they own in an HOA neighborhood then CA law requires that they sign the CC&Rs AND get a copy, which is big and maybe they didn't read it, but that is their problem. The family should have noted that there are no other children in the area, and clued in that maybe it wouldn't be the best area for their children. The HOA protects ALL residents and if those people don't want kids skateboarding around then so be it. I live in a neighborhood where the HOA forbids any parking on the street from 1-5 am, and I love that. If someone moved in that couldn't live with it I would be the first to tell them to MOVE, because I don't like cars all over the streets!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Douglas
a resident of Blackhawk
on Nov 12, 2013 at 4:19 pm

The other thing that has been completely missed here is that they were able to purchase the house so their rights according the Fair Housing Act were not violated. No where in the act does it reference that you cannot prohibit skateboards, roller skates, etc. in common areas of a development.

Straight from the HUD website...

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and disability.

This case should be thrown out of court!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Danville
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 4:31 pm

It doesn't matter what we think or what the CC&R's say. If this goes to court or it gets settled the Neri's will win something. Either money, a change in the CC&R's or both. Obviously this is what they want and their attorney too. But the bigger issue is many neighbors will resent them for it. And, now that the race card has allegedly been brought up it's kicked up a notch and will be scrutinized more. I feel sorry for the kids, they didn't read the CC&R's for sure!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carolyn
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm

The Neri family might or might not win, but is it really worth it. I am sure being a police officer is stressful, and even if they get the rules changed, they cannot change how people treat them there. Why would you continue to want to live in a neighborhood that obviously doesn't want you there? This can't be good for their ADD son or the health of any of them. It is just a shame that they didn't read and research what they were getting themselves into when they thought they were getting a steal of $640,000 for that house in Blackhawk.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by GG
a resident of Danville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Wow Carolyn, are we supposed to be impressed that you have information concerning the Neri's son and the price they paid for their home? Aren't you in the know.....really, get a life. The bottom line to all of this is the Neri Family knew the rules before they signed the rules. This case is ridiculous.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Danville
on Nov 13, 2013 at 8:53 am

Many California neighborhoods had CC&R's which prohibited the sale of units to "undesireables" in past years - with that term variously deemed to include Chinese, Negros, etc. Those "rules" are still on the books in many older neighborhoods - but they were and are illegal and unenforceable. It took people with the guts to break those rules to get that established.

A "rule" which prohibits neighborhood children from ringing their neighbor's doorbell and saying "Trick or Treat?" As with the "rules" which prohibit or restrict means of state-authorized personal transportation such as the use of bicycles on streets I strongly suspect that those are also illegal.

A neighborhood "rule" which is actually a thinly-disguised means of discriminating against "undesireables" - like families with children in a neighborhood which is not a legally-designated "adult community" - is against the law. And the people who would try to enforce such "rules" are bullies - plain and simple.

It is neither "arrogant" nor "unrealistic" to expect a neighborhood to abide by simple rules prohibiting discrimination.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kassi
a resident of Danville
on Nov 13, 2013 at 9:13 am

Who wants to live in Blackhawk, anyway! Yuck!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Catherine
a resident of Danville
on Nov 13, 2013 at 9:28 am

This really seems like a lose-lose situation. Even if the Neris win, you can't tell people how to treat them and they will be shunned even more. There are no laws that say you have to be nice to your neighbors or open your door for trick or treating. So they either stay and are made to feel worse, or they move which is what the Tennis Villas wanted in the first place. Money won't make up for the bad life experience.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by C. R. Mudgeon
a resident of Danville
on Nov 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I get the impression from the article that at least some of the rules that the Neri family is suing over, are specific to the little Tennis Villas sub-section of Blackhawk (30 homes), and not necessarily to the total development, although that's not totally clear.

A search for "Blackhawk Tennis Villas CCRs" didn't lead me to the complete CCRs, but did point to this fairly brief listing of rules for the Tennis Villas:

Web Link

The only item related to kids' playing was: "In the common, open areas or streets, there is to be absolutely no skateboarding, rollerskating,
ball playing or other games. Bicycling is restricted solely to ingress or egress."

There is also a series of basically typical architecture rules, which include the above-mentioned holiday decorations rule:

"Holiday decorations may be displayed three weeks before a major holiday and must be removed within one week after that holiday."

The play rules are admittedly kid-"unfriendly", but this sub-section of Blackhawk seems basically intended for older couples, empty-nesters, etc. I'm not too familiar with the area, but the homes look like they are on the order of zero-lot-line homes - not really attached townhomes, but with almost no space between them, and fairly minimal front and back yards. So there is some room for play on the individual properties (the rule only governs common areas, and streets), but not much. (I also note that bike-riding "in and out" is fine.)

I'm not sure what to make of the "no trick or treating" bit, although strictly speaking that might be covered by a general "no soliciting" rule. In the end, with (apparently) no other kids in that 30-home sub-section, it would probably be better to have the kids trick or treat in the main area of Blackhawk, which (if memory serves) had a reputation of being "good pickings" for candy....

I'm not going to try and pick sides in the "Neris vs. HOA" fight, although I tend to think that a federal(!) lawsuit is probably not justified. In most HOAs you have a blend of "live and let live" types who are fine with the usual (and minor) bending of rules, etc. But there always seem to be a few "pain in the a**" sticklers who seem to delight in finding rules violators. And at the same time, there's usually a few who push the boundaries of the rules too much (basically the "rules are for other people" types). I have some guesses/opinions on which is which in this case, but without knowing the involved parties, it would be just speculating....


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Danville
on Nov 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Strange as it sounds, I'm pretty much in agreement with CRM on this one (although I'm not sure how you identify whether a bike rider is using the street for "ingress or egress or not.) It's probably a "federal" case because it's brought under federal law, although that's just a guess on my part.

As to the folks who posted things like "Ignorance is no excuse. If they own in an HOA neighborhood then CA law requires that they sign the CC&Rs AND get a copy, which is big and maybe they didn't read it, but that is their problem."

How about this rule:

"Residents are to keep their garages clean and available for parking their qualified
passenger vehicles (see CC&R's section 4.06). The exceptions for this rule are if the passenger vehicle is a third vehicle or is too big to fit totally within the dimensions of the garage."

I bet every HOA in Danville has that rule and 99% of them have homeowners who violate it - and they don't do anything about it. But hey - "ignorance is no excuse" Move!!! Move now!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by spcwt
a resident of Danville
on Nov 13, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I feel sorry for the people who live here, because their HOA funds must be used to hire lawyers to deal with this lawsuit and if they lose, it may end up costing them thousands of dollars in civil damages. That's money that is better spent elsewhere. People think Blackhawk is for rich people, but keep in mind, this is the dumpy part of Blackhawk, where the elderly and poor people live.

The Nevis's claim the HOA rules discriminate against kids, but the HOA rules apply equally to everyone. No one is allowed to throw footballs, skateboard, or play in the common areas. That's the rules, whether you're a kid or an adult.

A lot of people get nervous when kids play in the street, for fear of running them over with cars. It's a safety issue. The HOA could get sued if they allowed the kids to play in the street and get hurt.

Do apartment buildings discriminate if they don't let kids ride bikes and throw footballs in the hallways?

If you want to throw a football, go to a park. There's plenty in Danville.

The Nevis's claim that the HOA only punished their kids. But the Nevis's were the only ones out there playing around in violation of the HOA rules. No one else was. They say other residents were allowed to walk around and socialize, but that's not the same thing as playing in the street.

The Neris's parked their cars where they weren't supposed to, left cardboard boxes laying about, cut branches off HOA trees they didn't like, put up ugly solar lights in violation of HOA rules and only took them down after being forced to, they put letters in people's mailboxes in violation of federal law, and they continued to violate the no playing outside rule even after they knew it was against the HOA rules.

I have three kids. They play in the street. Trick or treat. Skateboard. It's awesome. But if I lived in that Blackhawk neighborhood, I'd abide by the rules. That's what good neighbors do.

And I wouldn't sue my neighbors over something like this. What a joke.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Christa Michaelson
a resident of Diablo
on Nov 13, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Huh? Is aptly named. The race card IS too often used to prop a silly grievance. This family sounds as though they have also played the entitlement card. But the race card---naw--they have alienated any support here.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Danville
on Nov 14, 2013 at 10:02 am

spcwt, your excuse for the discriminatory policies: "That's the rules, whether you're a kid or an adult" was foreshadowed over a hundred years ago by Anatole France:

"In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread."

Of course, most people recognize that he was being ironic. I assume you don't.

Christa, you are playing the "race-card card." That is, if anyone notes a racial element to any controversy, the r-c-c players immediately accuse that person of "playing the race card" - meaning that they are now the bad guys. Clever. Except you have no better idea of what's actually going on that I do. So you're immediately absolving the HOA board of any racial motivation and accusing the family of making a baseless claim, without knowing any of the facts. That's playing the "race-card card."

What that means is that ***you*** are guilty of what you're accusing others of doing. Maybe you should stop forming opinions without knowing any facts.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Nancy
a resident of Danville
on Nov 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Good luck prevailing over the HOA. These clowns signed the rules. Next case.
The trick and no treat is the lawyer who took this case.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Derek
a resident of Danville
on Nov 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm

It really makes my head spin to think what Clarence Thomas and a few colleagues did for Monsanto.
In the same way, I often wonder how HOA's were ever granted the level of power they wield, and who exactly is responsible. It would make a great thesis paper for a law student.
At least with regard to this issue of of the Neri kids playing in their own front yard, I hope they kick the HOA's azz. The question isn't limited to why the Neri's didn't pay attention to the CCR's, the bigger and perhaps only thing that matters is how this part of the rules can even be legal.
We limited our Danville real estate search to non-HOA properties when we started looking eight years ago, and I continue to be glad wifey and I made that decision.
Oh, and SPWCT - is there really a "dumpy" part of Blackhawk that's escaped my notice? And if so, how is it that the bluenose's up there haven't had it burned to the ground?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Janey
a resident of Danville
on Nov 15, 2013 at 8:08 am

They moved into an old folks community. Not the right place for their family. They should consider moving if they don't like the old folks community rules. This is similar to moving into an apartment building for seniors and then getting upset that they don't want to hear loud music or late night parties. Move!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Danville
on Nov 15, 2013 at 9:39 am

Actually, Janey, it's not an "old folks community." Such things do exist but this isn't one of them. It's just a neighborhood where most of the folks got old and didn't move, and are now trying to bully anyone who isn't just like them.

I don't like your attitude. You should: "Move!"


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