Editor’s note: After this article, there is a response from the Steiner Ranch Master Association HOA president.
By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
A flurry of social media posts in Steiner Ranch apparently has triggered legal action by the HOA with multiple residents receiving cease-and-desist letters. The Steiner Ranch Master Association, the main Steiner Ranch HOA, claims incorrect information has been shared and defamatory statements have been made.
The election this month for three SRM board positions seems to have ignited multiple social media posts on several pages especially by one candidate running for a board spot. That led to legal action from the HOA and SRMA email blasts to residents detailing lists of accomplishments among other things. It also led to a virtual town hall meeting on June 8 to explain how the SRMA works and what it’s doing with homeowner funds, etc.
Steiner resident Amy Yukich received one of the cease-and-desist letters. She is running for one of the board positions.
Yukich posted on the Steiner Ranch Moms & Tots Group as well as the Steiner Parents of Teens Facebook pages to raise awareness about issues she thinks need addressing in the community.
On May 28 Yukich shared photos of park benches, picnic tables, trash cans, etc. that need fixing or maintenance. She posted, “The new dog park got all new modern (and safe) picnic tables, trash cans, and benches. Our kiddos are left with worn out, dangerous park essentials. I want our current amenities to be updated and properly maintained.”
On May 29 Yukich posted, “Let’s halt the $2 million of new construction our HOA board starting this summer.”
She shared a link to a new petition she started. The petition partly reads:
The board and its president has allowed our current amenities to be utterly neglected and in many cases a danger to our children. The board has taken a loan for $2million to build more amenities that many of us do not want. It is their claim that we can pay the loan back within 6 years without raising our dues but they are not talking about what it would cost to maintain these new amenities so expect your dues to go up. There is no possible way to do this other than to raise dues. More stuff = more expenses. If they can’t take care of our current amenities, how much worse will those get and how bad will the new amenities look in a few years.
As of June 14, the petition was signed by 127 people.
On June 13, Yukich shared an email from SRMA listing many updates and accomplishments. She posted: “The management company and board are FINALLY ATTEMPTING to do their job (fyi we paid management fee of $426,047 in 2020). So what in the world have they been doing since 2018 when they were brought on?
Why does it take flooding board and management’s inboxes with our concerns to get something we already paid for and they promised accomplished?”
Emails from SRMA
That latest email from SRMA on June 13 was entitled “General Maintenance, Repairs & Landscape Update from your SRMA Board”.
For over a month, the SRMA has shared detailed email messages with residents including one on May 11 entitled “Message From SRMA BOD President: 2022 Annual Meeting, Election & Overall Accomplishments and Ongoing Projects Update”.
One shared on June 7 was entitled “Incorrect information being shared & defamatory statements made about the SRMA HOA, Board, and GrandManors”. Here is a portion of that email:
It has come to the SRMA Board of Directors’ attention that few homeowners have posted incorrect information on how the SRMA Board of Directors operates and also made false financial allegations that are “Defamatory” in nature about the SRMA HOA, Board of Directors, and GrandManors on various social media platforms. It’s unfortunate that few homeowners are taking the above approach instead of reviewing the information available on the Ciranet Resident Portal and/or reaching out to the Board of Directors and/or participating at board meetings and asking for the pertinent information.
The SRMA Board of Directors has consulted with the HOA attorneys and counselors at law on these false allegations (financial). Steps will be taken to address “Defamatory” posts made on various social media platforms.
At least three cease-and-desist letters have been delivered to residents in Steiner, according to sources. These are cautionary letters sent to alleged wrongdoers describing the alleged misconduct and demanding that the alleged misconduct be stopped. SRMA board president Naren Chilukuri did not get back with Four Points News by deadline to confirm how many letters have gone out and why.
As mentioned, resident Yukich received one of the cease-and-desist letters.
In Yukich’s opinion, “the cease and desist backfired on the board. The residents are appalled that they would go after residents and they would use HOA funds to do it.”
Response to legal action
A response to the cease-and-desist letters was shared on June 9 and posted on the Facebook page Moms & Tots from a resident who is an attorney. The entire letter is posted after this article. Here is a snippet:
We are speaking out as their fellow neighbors, subject to the same governing body of Steiner Ranch. The letters are a shocking affront to constitutionally protected speech. You describe a potential chilling effect on the Association’s free exchange of ideas and participation therein, but you fail to see that your blatantly expressed intent to sue these private citizens of Steiner Ranch for discussing matters germane to the very Association and Board they fund with their dues is intensely Orwellian and an egregious use of the Association’s power and resources (both of which are given only by the very citizens you have attacked). As a firm we felt the need to respond immediately. It is a bleak future indeed where the Board and Association can level threats at its community aimed at silencing dissent and open discussion without someone speaking up.
Virtual town hall
The SRMA town hall was held on June 8 and had about 37 participants, which is a tiny fraction of the community of some 3,600 homes. Participants included residents, SRMA board members, staff of the community management company GrandManors, and at least one lawyer Brady Ortego from the firm hired by the HOA.
Four Points News asked for a link to the town hall on June 8 and 13 but by the morning of June 21, a link still had not been shared.
Key takeaways from town hall
SRMA president Naren Chilukuri shared via email to Four Points News “the key takeaways captured by SRMA Board” from the town hall.
- SRMA board of directors provided insights on overarching role & decision-making process of the board. Majority board (4 /7) is required to make decisions (one director or officer cannot make decisions). Input is gathered through various methods (surveys, homeowner forum, emails, 1x1s, consultants, experts, and market research) in decision making process. NDA is not required to join the board. Board is however governed by code of conduct.
- All HOA related key documentation is posted on Steiner Ranch HOA website in Ciranet Resident portal. It has comprehensive information including (but not limited to) Budgets, Financials, Audits, Agendas, Meeting Minutes, Board Directors & GrandManor staff information.
- Significant investments in our community were made (both near term project and long-term capital investments) by Board with help of GrandManors staff (since transitioned from self-managed to GrandManors mid 2018). >$400,000 operational cost savings (since transition to GrandManors) is being invested back in the community every year. HOA dues were not raised since 2017 through 2021. Dues went up in 2022 due to increased costs and services.
- Homeowners expressed inability to attend monthly board meetings due to various constraints. Homeowners felt that townhall was effective with active dialogue. Frequent town halls at a cadence may be planned by the board after deliberation.
- Ongoing Email & FB communication is appreciated by homeowners and HOA staff / board will continue to provide info at a cadence. Board urged Homeowners to rely on information from HOA communication sources (Email, Ciranet, HOA Facebook) instead of Social Media (non-HOA).
- Tactical maintenance concerns (eg: repairs to amenities including park benches, pool areas, street signs etc) were acknowledged by GrandManor staff & Board. General maintenance items are being executed by inhouse maintenance team and on complex maintenance items, 3rd party service providers are being leveraged contingent on material availability.
- Board and GrandManors teams are committed to increased tactical & proactive maintenance in the coming weeks and improved response time to homeowner questions / queries.
Resident Yukich shared via email key takeaways from her perspective after the town hall.
“I was trying to find a place to replay the town hall, but I haven’t been successful. It’s really par for the course because they don’t know how or don’t want to communicate appropriately,” Yukich said.
Overall, the town hall’s purpose was for damage control plain and simple.
1. They were very focused on the defamation piece and why the cease and desist letters were sent out. I don’t want to say much more than that because I received one. Kyle Ferguson’s firm sent a very stern letter telling them they were out of line. Not on residents’ behalf. They are residents
2. They were making excuses and saying (paraphrasing) they missed some things and they will do better. My response: missed some things?? Missed a lot and creating total neglect and chaos. It’s going to cost a fortune to now fix things that should’ve been maintained cost effectively for the last four years. I want to know what they do in that management office all day. Once I’m on the board, first order of business: I will be in that office so I can get those answers. I’m hoping to bring some temporary fixes with my property management background until we can determine the type of management we want moving forward whether that be in-house staff, a new management company or a hybrid. According to the audit (I can get you a copy), the management fee is $426,000 There are no subcategories or copies of contracts to see what that entails (what that buys us).
3.They don’t have acceptable answers for how much it’s going to cost to maintain the new amenities they plan on building. Their answer was that it’s part of the annual audit. Those only provide costs for existing amenities. I asked what the budget is for the new build and they claimed they had reports. I asked where those lived so we could take a look at those. Dead silence.
4. And finally, they had blamed the residents for not participating in the community by coming to board meetings. If the management office isn’t responding, then please contact the board and they should be able to get back to you within 24-48 hours. In response, I posted the following on all the community Facebook pages:
At the board’s town hall meeting last week, the board complained that we aren’t participating enough and coming to meetings, etc. and to please email them directly if your needs aren’t getting met and they should be able to respond within 24-48 hours. I need you to gather your all of photos and complaints down to a screw missing on a sign and send GM and our board president. One email for EACH complaint so that they can make sure to respond to the specific repair and keep you updated on each of your concerns.
Here are emails to send your complaints/concerns to: GM (management company): email@example.com and Naren (our board president) firstname.lastname@example.org
Steiner residents living in the SRMA footprint had until June 20 to vote or can in-person at the June 21 annual meeting. The HOA counsel/attorney will oversee and moderate the end-to-end process, according to an SRMA email.
Letter to the firm representing SRMA HOA from an attorney resident
Unedited response from Naren Chilukuri, SRMA board president, on Saturday, June 18, five days after being asked how many cease and desist letters were sent to Steiner Ranch residents and why:
sorry we missed Lynette to get back to you in time. 3 home owners received C&D letters for spreading false financial allegations that SRMA HOA, Board Member, & GrandManors are getting kickbacks which is a crime.
we appreciate you publishing facts (& correction to letter to editor) from SRMA Board. it’s truly unfortunate that few homeowners are spreading false information across many aspects of HOA (board management, board directors, decision process, finances, maintenance etc). this is not only going to impact our Steiner Ranch community brand and reputation in larger Austin but also discourage good members wanting to run for the board for fear of being smeared with false information. this is not healthy Lynette for our community. your are a homeowner and owner of highly valued four points publication. we truly hope you understand the challenges SRMA board is facing with smear campaign and hope that you do the right thing for our community wrt news publications about SRMA HOA.
board directors and officers who are unpaid volunteers work very hard to continually improve our community. directors spend atleast 5 to 7 hour avg per month while officers President, Vice President (Chris, I, etc) spend avg 7 to 15 hours per month on HOA related matters.
SRMA board vision, research, accomplishments and ongoing projects since 2018 (transition from self to managed) that are being executed in collaboration with GrandManors are listed HERE