Last year, tragedy struck when Collin Clabaugh’s mother died in a hospital. Then within two weeks, Clabaugh’s father took his own life as well.
In the aftermath Clabaugh, a teenager living in California at the time, had little choice but to move into his grandparents’ home in Prescott, Arizona — though he recently told ABC 15 the move also helped him with the grieving process.
But now, the 15-year-old is facing even more hardship: His grandparents’ homeowners association wants to kick him out.
“I just don’t think it’s right, what they’re doing,” Clabaugh told ABC 15. “And I think that they should be a little more compassionate.”
The issue stems from the fact that Clabaugh’s grandparents have lived for the past four years in a 55+ community known as the Gardens at Willow Creek. Such communities have grown in popularity as more and more Americans reach retirement age, and they’re typically geared toward couples where at least one member is 55 years old or more.
In the Gardens at Willow Creek’s case, a statement — first obtained by local media and later provided to Inman — explains that anyone under 19 is explicitly prohibited from living in the community. And that means Clabaugh’s presence is against the rules.
Clabaugh’s arrival last year has consequently prompted months of conflict between his family and the homeowners association (HOA). In a letter written last month to an attorney representing Clabaugh’s family, a lawyer for the community states that Clabaugh has to be out of the Gardens at Willow Creek by the end of June 2020.
The letter also says that the HOA board is “sympathetic” to the family’s situation, as are some members of the community. However, other residents are not sympathetic and “have indicated to the board that they expect the age restrictions to be enforced and that they may take action” to make sure they are, the letter adds.
“The board must balance the interests of all parties involved, not just the Passmores,” the letter states, referring to Clabaugh’s grandparents, “but all of the other residents who purchased property in an age restricted community expecting the age restrictions to be followed.”
Through its lawyer, the Gardens at Willow Creek provided Inman with an updated statement this week noting that the community’s board of directors is deeply saddened” by the situation.
“The Gardens at Willow Creek legal counsel and legal counsel for the Passmores have been in contact, and the board is working with the Passmores to resolve this matter,” the statement added.
Representatives for Clabaugh’s family did not immediately respond to Inman’s request for comment. However, the letter from December alludes to past correspondences between the two sides, and denies an extension of the June 2020 deadline for Clabaugh to move out.
The letter also hints at an apparent past disagreement over Clabaugh’s use of common space in the community and ultimately concludes that he needs to be accompanied by one of his grandparents when visiting areas such as the clubhouse and pool.
The situation has not gone over well with the family.
Clabaugh’s grandmother Melodie Passmore told ABC 15 that “it’s amazing how one rule is more important than one person’s life.” Passmore also reportedly said that the situation wasn’t planned, but that the teenager had no where else to go.
“I cry every day,” Passmore added to AZFamily. “I try not to cry in front of him because I want him to be happy.”
The conflict illustrates the complexities that can arise in communities that use restrictive deeds and strict homeowners association rules. Such practices have a long and ignoble history as tools for maintaining racial segregation, but Clabaugh’s case shows how the evolving HOA landscape can produce unexpected conflicts as well.
Clashes like the one between Clabaugh’s family and the Gardens at Willow Creek are also likely to become more common; research from 2014 found that HOAs “have proliferated during the past two decades,” and the U.S. Census reports that by 2030 everyone in the Baby Boomer generation will be at least 65 years old. In other words, more and more Americans are poised to be living in age-restricted communities where their younger family members are not welcome.
In the case of Clabaugh and his grandparents, the Gardens at Willow Creek shows no sign of backing down. Both the community’s statement and its letter indicate that age-restrictions are permissible by law, and add that the homeowners association is required to enforce its own rules.
“All of the board members understand that these are difficult circumstances,” the letter adds. “However, the entire reason for the community’s existence as an age restricted community is to allow for deed restrictions that restrict children from residing in the community.”
Clabaugh, however, has said that he wants to be there because, “I know I have two people who love me,” according to AZFamily.
Meanwhile, Passmore told ABC 15 that the family plans to talk to a real estate agent about potentially moving.
Update: This story was updated after publication with an additional statement from the Gardens at Willow Creek.
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