Cloud lifted over decorations for Georgetown Commons couple
Christmas lights, a little landscaping and summer potted plants almost cost Eric Rehak $12,000.
The Murrysville man and his wife, Mary, were in court last week, facing $12,645 in fines levied by the homeowners association at Georgetown Commons — a $8,685 fine for landscaping, $3,300 due to potted plants lining their driveway and $660 for a slew of holiday lights violations. Magisterial Judge Charles Conway shot down the fines, ruling in favor of the Rehaks.
“We've had a cloud over our heads for two years. I feel like it's finally lifted,” Rehak said. “We're not renting our place — we own the townhome. We should be able to express ourselves with decorations and flowers.”
The violations against Rehak date back to the summer of 2011, when he expanded his deck with permission from the association and planted several shrubs and small trees adjacent to the deck.
The association sent him a letter of citation, which Rehak said he appealed and association attorney Ryan Lemke said he did not. As Rehak and the association's council began to negotiate and argue, no action was taken.
“Throughout the spring, he wrote us letters and said that he couldn't take (the plants) out at that time because grass seed wouldn't grow,” Lemke said. “We did agree to him taking them out before April 30 (2012), but he took issue with the violation.”
On July 4 of last year, fines began accumulating for a set of four or five planters lining Rehak's driveway. Lemke said the planters violate a rule prohibiting any items blocking “ingress or egress” to the home.
Rehak also was criticized for displaying holiday lights — brightly colored and in his windows — too soon. He began decorating Thanksgiving weekend, despite a rule adopted by the council in February of that year mandating that holiday decorations can be on display for two weeks before and two weeks after the celebrated holiday.
That rule also banned the use of colored lights, a decision that Georgetown Commons Council President Ladd Thompson said was too extreme.
“I haven't changed what I was doing since I moved in,” Rehak said. “At this point, I'm almost 58. I'm heading to be retired. I don't want this aggravation. If I could, I'd sell my house and get the hell out of here.”
Lemke could not be reached for comment. Thompson wouldn't comment on Conway's decision other than to say that the council will decide next month whether or not to appeal the case.
Rehak represented himself in Conway's court last week.
“I lived the nightmare, no one knows the details as well as I do,” he said.
That won't be the case if the homeowner's association appeals the ruling, he said. He and his wife are relieved at the ruling — she enjoys planting and decorating and many of the plants in question belonged to her deceased mother and have sentimental value.
“The dollar amount was very significant, especially when we're talking about things like a small amount of landscaping and holiday lights,” Rehak said.
“But the big picture is, this is very frustrating for me. I truly believe I follow the rules.”
Although the homeowners association had levied more than $12,000 in fines against Rehak, Conway said he has the authority to issue judgments of up to $12,000.
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or firstname.lastname@example.org.