Disputes between condominium homeowners associations and residents are nothing new on Maui. But a recent clash between Haleakala Shores’ association of apartment owners and one of its residents, Jean Prandini, has some unique twists. On March 20, 2006, Prandini filed a complaint against the association and its property management company, Management Consultants of Hawai’i, Inc. (MCH), on five counts ranging from violations of unfair and deceptive trade practice statutes to Prandini’s right to decorate her own apartment.
The trouble began in October 2004 when Prandini, 62, hung an Ed Case for U.S. House of Representatives political poster in her apartment. Even though the sign was inside her home, it was visible from the outside, so the association assessed her a $25 fine. When Prandini challenged the fine, insisting the bylaws couldn’t trump her right to hang something inside her own home, she claims association officials harassed and threatened her with further fines if she failed to comply.
Prandini removed the sign a month later, but apparently then discovered that MCH—on behalf of the association—had already withdrawn the fine from her checking account. Prandini was outraged, since MCH had gained access to several residents’ checking accounts by enrolling them in an electronic funds transfer program to automatically deduct maintenance fees and electricity bills from checking accounts. According to MCH’s enrollment application, any other charge to a resident’s account “has to be authorized… by the owner, in writing.”
Prandini claims MCH then failed to respond to repeated letters and appeal requests, which also made her miss the 30-day deadline to appeal directly to the association. In late December 2005, MCH notified Prandini that she still had an outstanding $25 charge. Over a year later, in January 2006, they began assessing late fees on the past due balance.
In a May 18, 2006 hearing on Prandini’s complaint, Circuit Court Judge Joseph Cardoza instructed both parties to enter into mediation. John Zalewski, an attorney with the Oahu-based firm Case, Lombardi and Pettite, which is representing MCH, said the judge acted wisely in sending the case to mediation.
“I don’t see anything unfair or deceptive,” he said “Issues like this unfortunately arise.”
Zalewski blamed an “unfortunate clerical error” for MCH’s withdrawing the original fine from Prandini’s account, not deception. He also said MCH returned the money to Prandini shortly after the unauthorized transaction. This claim was apparently news to Lance Collins, Prandini’s attorney.
“The first we heard that was in court,” said Collins, who is also running for a Maui County Council seat. “Mrs. Prandini hasn’t seen it [her $25 fine]. I haven’t seen it.”
State statutes set minimum penalties for unfair and deceptive trade practices and they get stiffer when it comes to seniors. Since Prandini is 62, Collins says she may be entitled to at least a $5,000 judgment. She is also seeking punitive damages and attorney’s fees. But money is not as important as the principle for Prandini, said Collins.
“She just wants her $25 back,” said Collins. “Anything over and above that and attorney’s fees, Mrs. Prandini is considering donating to a worthy cause.”
Prandini is also seeking a court order that allows her to decorate her apartment however she likes, Collins said. Though she would not say if the candidate she endorsed had anything to do with her troubles, Collins added that Prandini did believe her criticism of the association and her vocal nature inflamed the issue.
“Their treatment of my client was outrageous,” said Collins. “They should be made an example of.” MTW