A Gilbert homeowners association is moving to seize the home of a single mother with terminal breast cancer to recoup $1,000 in legal fees.
And Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman is determined not to let it happen.
"It’s absolutely pathetic that someone is committed that this woman should die a homeless person over homeowners association fees," Berman said. "They really will look like the most heartless neighborhood in the country."
Evelyn Lyles, 44, fell behind in her bills last summer, including $40 monthly dues to the Western Skies Estates 4 HOA, as she tried to work full time while undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy for recurring breast cancer.
But what began as a lawyer’s letter for $393 last November ballooned with late and legal fees into a $2,216 bill and a foreclosure action last month.
"It’s hard for me to believe that they took it this far," Lyles said. "I didn’t even know they had that type of power."
Guy Wolf, an Ahwatukee Foothills lawyer representing the association, said federal law prohibits him from discussing specific cases. He said association members also would not be permitted to comment.
But in general, he said, people may believe they have worked out a payment plan when there has been no such agreement. Or they may be paying, but not fast enough to work off the debt when late fees and legal fees are added.
"While they think they’re catching up on their dues, in fact they are getting further behind as the legal fees accrue," Wolf said. "In general, homeowners associations have the power to foreclose if the dues that are unpaid go unpaid for too long."
Lyles was trying to catch up on medical and other bills, and said she worked out a payment plan with her mortgage company. But when she offered to pay off the association balance of $393 last January, she said Wolf told her it was too late. With legal fees and late charges, she now owed more than $1,000.
Wolf told her he would file a complaint in South Mesa Justice Court and she could work out a payment plan, Lyles said.
"He said just pay as much as you can," she said.
The court document and her conversation with Wolf led her to believe she could pay off her balance with monthly payments of $55, or more when she could afford it.
A default judgment was made against Lyles for $1,046. Over the next several months, she made regular payments of $55 to $75. Lyles said the next thing she received was a foreclosure notice on Sept. 11.
"I had heard nothing from them, and they cashed my check every month," she said.
She borrowed money and paid Wolf $1,000 within a week, bringing her payments to the association for 2003 to about $1,800.
Court documents show a lien was placed against Lyles’ two-story home in July, but Lyles said she never received notice. That same month, she took out a loan to take her three children to Florida to watch her 14-year-old compete in a national track and field competition.
"If I had known this, I would’ve paid my fees. I wouldn’t have put my home in jeopardy," she said.
Lyles has responded to the foreclosure notice, disputing the $1,046 Wolf and the association claim she still owes and asking for an explanation of his legal fees.
"When this first started, I owed $363," Lyles said. "When I tried to make amends with (the association), all they kept doing was sending me letters from their lawyer."
Berman said he told Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, about Lyles’ situation, "and he was livid." Farnsworth last year sponsored legislation to rein in homeowners associations, including requiring that they wait at least seven years before seizing a home for unpaid dues.
"The nice thing would be if Mr. Wolf would drop his attorney’s fees," Berman said. "That would solve it immediately. It would just go away."
If Wolf refuses, Berman said neighbors could help pay the legal fees, or he could meet with the association.
"We’re not going to let her lose her house," he said. "We’re going to find some way to take care of this."
Lyles’ breast cancer, first detected when she was 27, was in remission for six years but has now spread to her spine, thorax and sternum. She told her three children last week.
She continues to work as a logistics analyst with MD Helicopters after daily radiation treatments. On Saturday, her 45th birthday, Lyles will participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
"I am terminal. My kids know that," she said. "That’s why I’m so adamant to do all I can for my kids now. So that when I’m gone, they won’t just fall apart."