Back from Iraq, Frisco soldier finds home sold by HOA

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on May 14, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Updated Monday, May 17 at 9:02 PM

FRISCO — A soldier returned home from combat to find his Frisco home, which was owned free and clear, sold off by his homeowners' association.

While there is a law to protect service members from financial disaster while they're off fighting a war, it is frequently broken.

On dangerous missions in Iraq, Capt. Michael Clauer of Frisco was responsible for the lives of 130 soldiers. He had a lot on his mind.

"You can't worry about what's going on at home," he said. "It's enough stress there the way it is."

His wife, Mae Clauer, was under stress, too. She was alone and taking care of her family in a $300,000 home her parents had given her as a gift.

"When Michael went to Iraq, I went into a very bad depression," she said.

The mail piled up unopened and Mrs. Clauer missed $800 in payments to her HOA. Then she missed the letters saying the association planned to foreclose.

"I ignored a lot of our bills," she said.

Even after the HOA foreclosed and sold the home at auction, Mrs. Clauer didn't open the letters that said she had six months to get the home back, and that time lapsed, too.

By the time Capt. Clauer returned from the war, someone else owned their home after paying just $3,500.

Who got that money? "I have no idea," Mrs. Clauer said. "I don't know. I don't know who got the money."

State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) is critical of the power of HOAs to foreclose on homes in the neighborhood. He hopes to pass legislation next year to curb that power.

"Well, it is a business," he said. "Unfortunately, not what we would want to see in terms of a neighborhood."

Under Texas law, there's no way for the Clauers to get their home back. But the Clauers have one last chance under federal law.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protects members of the military from many financial problems that creep up while they're away fighting for their country. But it's a law experts say is routinely broken.

"SCRA complaints are definitely one of the top issues that we see," said Lt. Janelle Kuroda, a Navy lawyer and expert on the SCRA law that effects all branches of the military.

There are at least 100 recent pending cases where a service member's rights may have been violated under the SCRA.

"Their number one focus needs to be on the mission, and if their focus is elsewhere at home with ongoing court proceedings, with family issues, or mortgage issues or other issues, then it's going to take away from their readiness and their ability to put everything they have towards the mission," Kuroda said.

The Clauers say it's well known in the neighborhood that Michael is in the Army Reserve.

Select Management, the company that manages the HOA, said it was not aware of Clauer's military status. The Clauers are suing the HOA for violating the SCRA.

But on an even simpler level, their lawyer wonders what happened to the concept of being neighborly.

"The least that would be done is a neighbor would come knock on your door or pick up the phone and call you, ask you if everything is okay," said Barber Hale, Clauer's attorney. "It's not like the bank is taking the house; these are your neighbors."

The Clauers' HOA says homeowners are free to call them, but they do not call or visit homeowners when there's a problem. They're only required to send certified letter.

Service member or not, the Clauers say a neighbor deserves more than that.

"If somebody told me that this could happen I wouldn't believe it," Capt. Clauer said. "I would say, 'That's just ridiculous. You can't do that.'"

E-mail: dschechter@wfaa.com

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