FRISCO — Unlike the other American flags flying in Capt. Michael Clauer's Frisco neighborhood, the one he flies actually fluttered over Iraq during his recent combat mission.
Inside his home this Memorial Day, Clauer read some of the thousands of online comments about his personal battle with the Heritage Lakes Homeowners Association. Clauer has one word for how he feels:
Last year, Capt. Clauer went on active duty for training and then combat in Iraq. In his absence, his wife May became depressed, stopped opening mail, and missed paying her bills.
She fell $800 behind in their homeowners' association dues.
"I was so sad," she said.
When the warning letters sent via certified mail by the HOA came back unclaimed, it foreclosed on the Clauers' home and sold it at auction.
After that, May Clauer failed to sign for the certified letters saying she had six months to get the home back, under the law.
The $300,000 property — which the Clauers owned free and clear — sold for $3,500 in back dues and real estate fees.
"Selling a house for less than two percent — a little over one percent of what its value is — it seems harsh," Capt. Clauer said.
But the attention the Clauers are getting is not just from the public on the Internet. Lawmakers — both state and federal — have offered help, and so has the Texas National Guard. It is now providing legal advice in the Clauers' lawsuit to keep their home.
A judge has permitted the Clauers to stay in their house while their litigation is pending. But under state law, the Clauers have no legal recourse.
There may be hope, however, under a federal law called the Service Members Civil Relief Act that protects against some financial hardships that occur while on duty.
The Guard says it will also use Clauers' predicament to warn others.
"Now that we know something like this is feasible, that certainly will be added to any briefing the soldiers are getting," Sgt. Moncada said. "So that people pay attention and say, 'If this could happen to this captain, it could happen to me.'"
Capt. Clauer hopes his troubles will serve as a cautionary tale for more than his fellow Guard members. He wants the Texas legislature to curb the foreclosure powers of HOAs.
"In the very least that could come out of this is getting this changed, so this doesn't happen to another family," he said.
Any change could be something simple, Clauer said. In addition to requiring certified mail, he said the State could require that an HOA board member make personal contact with any family behind on their dues. That, he says, would bring compassion to the process.
And it could keep problems like his from ever happening in the first place.
The Clauers have set up a fund to help them pay for defending their property. Contributions can be sent to:
Clauer Legal Defense Fund
c/o Plains Capital Bank
1629 Hebron Parkway West
Carrollton, TX 75010