Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beating the Forest Hills Gardens Association boot

I'm happy to report that I was finally able to prove the wrong doings of the Forest Hill Gardens Association's booting operation. It turns out that the practice doesn't even live up to the Association's own guidelines.

Once again my car was booted. My wife had run into the house and took the parking slip with her. When she came out a few minutes later the booting service was there. The booting service is supposed to wait 15 minutes before effecting the booting so that guests would have the chance to get to the house they were visiting and get a slip. This did not happen in this case. Basically, the Forest Hills Gardens Association's service thought they could make more money by not waiting. Makes sense to me but not even fair by their runs. I got the fine rejected. It may have taken close to six months to discover that the booting service had not taken the required photographs, but eventually the true came out. Below are a list of the lies that I was told by the booting service. As you can see, it's quite a list -- and all of this took place over 15-20 minutes.

My message to others is that if you are booted, push for proof. You may well find that corners were cut.

Part of a letter sent to the FHGA regarding the lies told to us by their booting service.

  1. “We did not know your car belonged to a resident.” Two weeks before the same people booted my car in the exact same place. Whether we should have been liable to being booted is one issue, to pretend you don’t remember the car you recently booted in the same location is yet another issue.
  2. “We came by a long time ago to put on the boot.” When my wife asked if they thought it odd that the car window was open and perhaps that was an indication the owner might have run inside, we were told that he had seen the window open but that they say this type of thing regularly. The window was not open all day. My wife had opened it as she was getting ready to drive away. She then noticed the mirror had been hit by a passing car and thus ran into the house to ask me for help. They came at that time.
  3. We were told that there was no 15 minute grace period.
  4. My wife was assured that the booting firm would provide information regarding the fact that my wife had run in to get help with our car. Someone had run into the side of our car that day. I assume you never got the explanation that they promised.
  5. The photo I saw taken was claimed not to be the 15 minute proof photo but was supposedly taken to show that the boot was actually on the car. We were told that he could not collect the fee if he could not prove the boot had been on the car. I rather doubt the booting firm requires proof of why people pay them money. He claimed that this photo was not the 15 minute photo but was a third required set of photos.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

So, what are those parking rules again?

As I walk down the streets of Forest Hills Gardens I pay attention to the variety of ways people keep their cars from being booted. This has taken on special meaning since my car was booted by the Forest Hills Gardens Association as part of their efforts to enforce resident-only parking.

I'm a resident and while my car has been booted twice over the years for reasons I find dubious, at best, I do wonder what the real rules are. Clearly, having a car registered at the Association's office is not enough. That I know for an expensive fact.

But as I was walking down the street today I noticed that a number of cars had police or fire department stickers. They presumably belong to someone living in the Gardens, but they certainly don't buy the Association's parking decals and they don't put notes on the dashboard. So, why aren't they being booted? For those who don't know, the police and fire departments have free parking on city streets. But Forest Hills Garden streets are not subject to these rules because they are private and not city streets.

Now, I have absolutely no problem supporting the police and fire departments -- why not add teachers, nurses, etc.? But it does beg the question of what are the effective rules of the Association when a registered car can be booted but a non-registered car is not. It's like the signs in the park that read no dogs and no ball playing, but the park is full of dogs and ball playing every day of the week. At some point, one looses confidence is what is real and what is not.

A resident

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Being Booted in Forest Hills Gardens

Forest Hills Gardens, located in Queens, New York City, is very close to many places people would like to visit, shop, or dine at. Parking in New York City is crazy on a good day and parking in FHG would be next to impossible if the streets were not marked for residents only.

The problem I have with parking in the Gardens is with the system used by the Forest Hills Gardens Association to enforce resident-only parking.

First, the Forest Hills Gardens Association, that controls the issuing of parking permits, uses the obtaining of parking permits as a general-purpose enforcement method for anything they are not happy with. Paint your door the wrong color and don't fix it to their liking, you'll not be able to get a parking decal for the following year(s).

Second, the parking decal cost $60 per year. Is it made of gold, you may ask? No, just the normal plastic decal you see on university parking lots and at hospitals. Clearly, the decal does not cost $60 to make and distribute, so exactly does one get for $60? I don't know the answer. My neighbors say it just another way to get more money -- like those fees on the telephone bill for the conversion from rotary phones to touch tone. Don't you think they got that paid for already?!

Those decals are indeed important. Don't have one and the every-present booting company van will immobilize your car and demand/extort $130 to release your car. That just happened to me. The Association apparently does not like my garage door but is unwilling to release the records on my house -- which I believe will show that all the changes were approved by the previous owner.

Now, I can park my car on the street if I identify it to the Forest Hills Gardens Association. Remember, resident have a right to park -- but apparently not the right to have a decal which proves that right. I have registered by faxing in my vehicle's make, model, and license plate number. Because they will not sell me the profit-making decal, I have to put a piece of paper on the dashboard stating what the Association already knows: that I live here.

So yesterday I get a call from my neighbor informing me that my car had been booted just in front of my house. My car has sat there for years and every day I have that piece of paper on the dashboard. Apparently, when I shut the door a few nights back the paper flew off the dash to the floor. We parked at night and I did not notice.

If the intent of the Association's rules is to make sure only residents park, why did my car get booted? One could say that not having a decal or the paper made it impossible for the boot firm to now that my car was not actually the property of someone who should not be there. I'm sure that is exactly what the Forest Hills Gardens Assocation would claim.

The booting people take a photo of the car to later prove that they were correct to boot the car. They also have to wait 15 minutes just to be sure you are not a visitor getting a pass from the home owner.

Here is my question: during the time they are photographing my car -- a car they have seen sit in the same place for years -- and while they are waiting for 15 minutes, has it ever occurred to anyone to check the license plate of registered cars?!! If the Association's motives were sincerely directed to protecting against the abuse of non-residents, you might expect them to take a reasonable effort to avoid booting the cars of residents.

Naturally, the Association does not have a strong motive to be accurate. The booting company will haul off the car if the fine is not paid -- a fee that the Association gets half. If residents did not fear being unfairly booted, they would not buy the $60/year/car decals.

In my opinion, Forest Hills Gardens Association has made a mistake to turn an enforcement permit into a profit center. As we all know, once you start getting revenue from a source, it is very difficult to give it up. The obtaining or non-obtaining of decals allows for a system of enforcement that I believe has run amok. The Association would probably deal with the residents in a more even-handed manner if it did not have such an easy to use threat.

What I would love to see if for the decals to be be reduced in cost to reflect what the really are: evidence of the right granted through property ownership for parking one's car.

Forest Hills Gardens home owner

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Before you buy in Forest Hills Gardens

I was lucky enough to buy a home in Forest Hills Gardens a dozen years ago when houses were a third of the price they are today. I have learned that while most aspects are great, not everything is so wonderful.

My biggest surprise was how the Forest Hills Gardens Associations Architectural Committee works -- or doesn't work. When I purchased my home I knew I had to sign the Association's covenant. What I did not know was that the previous owner had violations -- which I inherited.

Of course, you're thinking that anything that should have been fixed could have been charged to the previous owner. That's normally true. The first violation was that my front door was new and needed to be painted. I had no problem with that issue because I knew the door required painting and I had no problem that I was being told which color to paint it.

The problem was that I found out ten years later that the garage door was also in violation. While I can understand that the Architectural Committee might have missed it given that it cannot be seen, I'm at loss to understand how I could have had a member of the Committee, Ugenie Nelson, standing 15 feet from the now offending garage door and not notice it. She was there looking at some stucco work that I had done right after moving in.

This begs the obvious question of whether there was a violation and I was not told of it or that the rules became stricter since my moving in. My personal opinion -- and I've heard this view from others -- is that things are becoming stricter. Things that were once okay or at least tolerated are now resulting in threatening letters.

So what does this mean to prospective new home owners in Forest Hills Gardens? I wish I knew what to say. The covenant that one probably sees for the first time at closing does not list past or current violations. The only recommendation I can give is to ask someone from the Committee to visit your intended purchase before closing and write a letter confirming that everything is okay. I had an engineer's report and now I wish I had had an Architectural Committee report.

By the way, I doubt that any reasonably well taken care of house is strictly conforming to the Forest Hills Association's guidelines. Most of these houses are reaching 100 years in age and the products to keep the original appearance are often extremely difficult to find -- certainly not at Home Depot.

I'm writing here because I've not been able to obtain the answers to the questions I've asked directly. Perhaps some of you know the answers and perhaps others of you have questions of your own. Please share your opinions in the comments.

Forest Hills Gardens home owner

Frustations with the Forest Hills Gardens Association

This blog is for me to blow off steam at the frustrations I experience living in Forest Hills Gardens. While I love the area and my neighbors, the neighborhood is under the supervision of the Forest Hills Gardens Association.

The Forest Hills Gardens Association is not all bad. The maintenance people are wonderful and hardworking. It's the house appearance rules that are the root of most all evil. I used to live on Cape Cod and thus no stranger to historical and architectural commissions. A well-functioning system can work to the advantage of all because most people either don't know what is appropriate or they don't care -- thus causing an eye-sore for the neighbors.

What makes the Forest Hills Gardens Association's system a problem is how the system is enforced. Instead of actively looking for problems, they depend on neighbors reporting other neighbors. As you can imagine, this poisons a neighborhood in short order. Because the reports are all secret, one ends up suspecting everyone who might be a bit odd or acts in an officious manner. What makes it doubly galling is that the rules to some degree respect common designs long in use. Does one send in the photos of architectural elements just like one's offending element to prove it conforms? If the number of occurrences is not high enough, one could have inadvertently reported your neighbors and thus put them in the same hot water.

After one is reported, the Forest Hills Gardens Association Architectural Committee sends out a threatening form letter to the home owner. And, yes, I received one -- as have many others. That's when the fun really begins. In my case, I had trouble just finding out what the objections were. The form letter was far more informative on what problems I would have as a result than what had caused the problems.

After I figured out what the problem probably was, I could not get any answer to why I had been able to buy my house with outstanding violations against the previous owner. The conversation ended when I asked for all the records on my property. The offending element -- a garage door -- was something designed by the previous owner. All I wanted to know is whether he had submitted a plan, as is required. If so, was it approved or rejected. It approved, why a problem now and if rejected, why did this not come to my attention earlier. I've waited years to hear. The clock is still ticking...

A resident of Forest Hills Gardens