WATCH: Fearful elderly couple forced to sell home after running ‘afowl’ of HOA rules

Published Jul 19, 2022


Texas, US - An elderly couple has put their house up for sale after their homeowners' association sued and threatened to foreclose on their home because they were feeding ducks.

Kathleen Rowe, 65, and her husband, George, moved into their subdivision across from a waterway in Cypress, Texas, about a decade ago, soon after their only child died. She found feeding the ducks therapeutic and has continued ever since, says their attorney Richard Weaver.

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In June, the Lakeland Community Homeowners Association had enough of the Rowes feeding the waterfowl, despite what it said were repeated warnings not to. The association filed suit against the couple in Harris County Civil Court, asking a judge for a “permanent mandatory injunction requiring the Defendants to cease from feeding any wildlife” in the neighbourhood.

Feeding the ducks “runs afoul of the general plan and scheme of Subdivision” and has caused “imminent harm and irreparable injury to the Plaintiff,” the lawsuit reads. The lawsuit asks the court for permission for the HOA to foreclose on the property if the Rowes continue to feed the ducks.

An attorney for the homeowners' association did not respond to requests for comment.

Weaver says this litigation stands out among the others he's defended against.

“I'm a board-certified real estate attorney, and this lawsuit is truly the silliest lawsuit I've ever seen in my practice. This attorney has essentially claimed that feeding ducks is either noxious or offensive – I think that's an incredible statement.”

Weaver says ducks are common in the neighbourhood and are even visible on Google Maps street view in front of the Rowes' home. Kathleen Rowe decided to start feeding the ducks because many of them were raised in pet stores and purchased by families for events such as Easter, then released into the wild.

“They've never had a mother,” Kathleen Rowe told the Houston Chronicle. “I feel like I'm just stepping in."

Pet ducks released into the wild often struggle to survive and can harm native species, the Oregonian reported. Feeding ducks can cause nutritional problems for the waterfowl and lead them to lose their natural fear of humans, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

The lawsuit accuses the Rowes of violating four HOA rules, including one prohibiting “any noxious or offensive activity” that could disturb other residents, and another barring any activity that may “materially disturb or destroy” wildlife in the community.

Weaver says he will “put the HOA's feet to the fire” and force it to prove that the Rowes are violating the rules by feeding the ducks.

“I understand that maybe some people in the neighbourhood want these ducks not to be in their community, but just from a human being perspective, we have worse things going on in the world,” Weaver says.

He adds that it is common for homeowners' associations to file suits that threaten foreclosure, and says he has seen families lose their homes over fines as low as $3 000. Usually, though, those lawsuits involve allegations of building in violation of deed restrictions or painting a house the wrong colour, not feeding wildlife.

“They have used a common threat against an uncommon situation.”

Several squabbles between residents and homeowners' associations attempting to enforce strict aesthetic standards have gained high profiles in recent years.

In 2017, a Maryland man won a seven-year court fight against his HOA over a requirement that every house in his community install a $500 monogrammed mailbox.

Later that year, after an HOA in Colorado ordered a resident to clear decorations from his yard, the man instead installed a sign criticising the HOA.

Weaver says he is confident that the Rowes will prevail. He filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but says the threat of foreclosure "frightened" Kathleen Rowe, prompting her to proactively put the home up for sale just in case.

“What she decided to do was beat the HOA to the punch by hurrying up and selling her home before anything bad could happen to her,” Weaver says, noting, however, that he believes the couple would like to stay in the home if they win in court.

“I think she would like to continue to live there and take care of these ducks.”