Group homes face debt

Court orders loser in covenant dispute to pay attorney fees

`A lot more than usual'

$300,000 judgment might force facilities for elderly to close


July 26, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The operator of two group homes has been ordered to pay the Columbia Association nearly $300,000 in attorney fees stemming from a court fight over one of the homes.

On Friday, Howard County Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. ordered Richard Colandrea to pay the association $297,978.46 - an amount Colandrea's lawyer says could force the homes to close.

The association usually seeks to recover the costs of litigation when it takes residents to court over covenant violations, but the amount is usually much lower, said David H. Bamberger, who represented the association and Wilde Lake village.

"In most cases, the case is resolved after a much shorter period of time," Bamberger said. "This litigation went on for years and as a result, the amount that was incurred was a lot more than usual.

"I think that Judge Kane appreciated that a lot of work went into the case and he recognized it would be unfair and inappropriate for these nonprofit community associations to have to bear the burden of enforcing covenants when people don't comply with the requirements voluntarily."

Colandrea's lawyer, James G. Kress, said the ruling could have a "chilling effect" on residents who have legitimate disputes with the Columbia Association.

"I can't imagine that a community association with a $50 million annual budget has pursued this like they have," said Kress, who handled the case pro bono. He said his client may not be able to pay the judgment, which he said could force the homes to close. No decision had been made on an appeal.

Colandrea and his mother, Carmen Colandrea, run two eight-bed assisted-living homes for the elderly on Waterfowl Terrace.

The first home opened about 15 years ago, when Carmen Colandrea began caring for her mother at home. The second opened a few years later.

In the 1990s, Wilde Lake officials said the facilities needed to be licensed as home businesses.

The Wilde Lake Village Board granted a license for one home in 1996, but rejected the other, noting concerns about noise, traffic and trash.

In April 1996, the Columbia Association and Wilde Lake sued to enforce that decision. Bamberger said his clients did not want to evict the residents at the second house, but wanted the business phased out. The Colandreas argued that Wilde Lake violated federal housing law by discriminating against the elderly.

Kane ruled that the covenants applied in the case were not discriminatory - a ruling Maryland's highest court upheld in November.

The Columbia Association returned to court with a petition for attorney fees, and Kane held a hearing Friday.

The Colandreas cannot accept new residents at the unapproved home but do not have to close it until it is vacant.

Two residents remain there and six or eight live at the other one, Kress said.

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