Subdivision Battle Boils Over

By Eric Stirgus
April 12, 2004

Jill Travoss knew the problems in her McDonough subdivision had gone too far when she saw her picture next to Michael Jackson's on an entertainment Web site.

Like the embattled singer, Travoss, an author of three poems for the popular "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, is having her own legal troubles.

Last month, she was arrested on disorderly conduct charges after allegedly making several harassing telephone calls to a neighbor. Her husband, Jim, was arrested a day later on criminal trespass charges amid suspicions he spray-painted the mailboxes of eight neighbors.

"I've become a celebrity," says Travoss, 52, a uterine cancer survivor who wrote the poems to inspire others to persevere against disease.

The charges against the Travosses not only expose a long-standing dispute at the Laurel Springs subdivision, but they paint an ugly portrait of the increasingly confrontational world of subdivision covenants and politics.

The disputes, explains Richard J. Roll, president of the American Homeowners Association, often arise from arguments over covenants and differences in personalities.

"They [homeowners] feel like just because they bought their property, no one can tell them what to do," said Roll, whose group provides, among other services, legal advice to home buyers. "What they don't realize is that type of attitude destroys a neighborhood."

In October 2001, the Hadaway Homeowners Association in Lawrenceville in Gwinnett County took a resident to court after she converted her garage into a bedroom for her terminally ill mother - a violation of subdivision covenants.

And last year, a subdivision in Acworth in Cobb County made news when the homeowners association sued one woman for painting her home brown and white.

The color scheme, the association's attorney argued, wasn't "consistent" with the rest of the subdivision. In these types of disputes, it's rare for the police to become involved.

But that's exactly what has happened in Laurel Springs.

And Travoss, whose poetry sometimes focuses on simpler times - with children running through sprinklers and Grandpa singing - finds herself in the middle of the controversy.

She and her husband deny the charges, and last Wednesday, she waived an appearance in Magistrate Court on the charges.

And I thought of all the silly things
that occupied our day . . .
like the stupid fight we had last night
- Jill Travoss, "Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul"

Laurel Springs looks like most middle-income subdivisions - except for the giant water tower that stands between two homes.

Here, the front lawns are neatly manicured. There's a gazebo near the cul-de-sac. Most of the subdivision's 60 homes were built within the last four years - most priced in the high $100,000 range.

For more than a year, the talk of this subdivision has been about rules. Before closing, homeowners are given a 28-page list of covenants.

In recent months, police have been called to the subdivision several times.

Complaints range from garbage cans being purposely knocked over; to some neighbors receiving insulting letters; to accusations by the Travosses that a neighbor urinated on their trash can.

All of it, says Laurel Springs resident Ed Fugate, a committee chairman of the homeowners association, sounds "too wild to be true."

The dispute at Laurel Springs began innocently enough.

In September 2002, Jim Travoss told a neighbor, Mary English, that the wisteria vines painted on the columns of her home were against subdivision covenants, she recalled.

He also told English she needed permission from the homeowners association to put plants in her front yard.

English, in turn, wrote a letter to her neighbors, objecting to Jim Travoss' tone and his assertion that he's the president of the homeowners association.

The troubles boiled over at a March 21 homeowners meeting at the gazebo.

After the meeting, English called McDonough police, saying Jill Travoss made several harassing telephone calls.

When police arrived, Jill Travoss appeared intoxicated, they said.

Travoss calls the whole thing a "vendetta." English, meanwhile, says the Travosses are "trying to bully and terrorize the neighborhood."

Now, the Travosses have put their home up for sale. And in a gesture of goodwill often found in a "Chicken Soup" book, Travoss says she's looking toward the future, not the past.

"I don't want to stoke the fire," she says. "I want it out.

"None of us have won because it hurt everybody."

© 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

©2005 American Homeowners Association (AHA)®
Stamford, Connecticut 06905.   All Rights Reserved.
Toll-Free 1-800-470-2242
  America's #1 Homeowner Organization Since 1994