A Hispanic family residing in the Pointe West subdivision along Lake Lanier in Hall County is suing its homeowners’ association for discriminatory practices under the Fair Housing Act after plans to construct a backyard family gathering space were nixed.
Dr. Martin Moreira and his wife, Zulema, filed the complaint in U.S. District Court-Gainesville division in April in response to fines and a lien the HOA placed on Moreira’s home.
The dispute began in the spring of 2017 when Moreira first submitted plans to the HOA to install a play area for his grandchildren, a barbeque cooking set, a spa-pool, fireplace, a gazebo and other outdoor living amenities in his backyard.
Moreira said he has spent more than $100,000 to date on this equipment, as well as on architectural drawings and applications to meet the HOA’s guidelines.
“I invested a great deal of money thinking there would not be any issue to build a playground for my grandchildren,” Moreira told The Times in an interview last week. “It is sitting in storage at the moment.”
An initial application was filed in March 2017 that included drawings and specifications for what was to be constructed.
Moreira prepared a 16-page document detailing everything he would have installed, right down to the exact pillow cushions for a patio table and chairs. He also planned to plant trees as a buffer for his neighbors.
The lawsuit cites emails with a member of the HOA stating that there was “little that can be done with what he wants to do.”
Moreira, however, was asked to submit additional applications after more items were identified for further review.
His application was eventually denied in June 2017 over issues with a retaining wall’s proposed location along the property line, as well as the location of swing sets and a gazebo, according to the lawsuit.
Moreira’s suit claims that the HOA’s architectural committee “deviated from practice and procedure while reviewing and making a decision about these applications.”
The Hall County building inspections division confirmed to The Times that it had issued a permit for the retaining wall, but records show it was never inspected by code officers because it was never built.
“It would have been acceptable to us,” said Lamar Carver, chief building official for Hall County.
County permits were not required for other elements of Moreira’s project, such as installing the playground, cooking area or gazebo.
Without the HOA’s approval, however, Moreira was never able to move forward on his plans -
except that he did so, anyway, beginning construction on the project until the HOA obtained a restraining order compelling him to stop.
“I was so excited about this project and getting it done,” Moreira said.
The lawsuit claims that Hall County building inspections staff confided to Moreira’s architect that HOA members were looking for something to kill the project when they sought more information from the local government regarding Moreira’s plans.
Moreira claims to have identified seven other properties in the subdivision with similar projects, with some even visible from the street, which his will not be.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on protected statuses, such as nationality, ethnicity and religion.
Moreira is of Cuban descent, and his wife is from Argentina.
“The issue with prejudice is not so much guided by nationality as it is by actions,” Moreira said. “I believe in traditional family values.”
Moreira and his wife said they have received explicit and hostile phone calls late at night from HOA representatives since the dispute began and plan to introduce phone records in court supporting this claim. Moreira did not share these with The Times.
Requests for comment made by The Times to two HOA representatives were either declined or did not receive a response.
Moreira is requesting a jury trial and seeking punitive and compensatory damages, as well as equal treatment in the HOA approval process.
“I never expected it would come to this,” he said.