Dream Home Lost Over $120 Bill

Last year was a bad one for the Radcliffs.

"My pain was so horrific," says Tom Radcliff. "My shoulders, my knees."

First his arthritis kicked up, then, as CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports, his wife Anita forgot about the homeowners dues.

"They were in the back of my mind," she says.

And then they lost their dream home. They were given three days notice to get off the property.

The $300,000 house they'd built in northern California was auctioned off to recover the dues they'd owed the Copper Cove Homeowners Association for almost a year. The debt? $120.

"I agree with you, it's only $120," says Copper Cove attorney Deon Stein.
"Why isn't the owner paying that? All of his neighbors are paying that to fund the operations."

There are a quarter-million homeowners associations in America. With dues that pay for everything from road maintenance to lakeside clubhouses, and they're powerful. A Florida couple may lose their home over a forbidden flagpole. And now, the Radcliffs.

"All my life savings is in this house," says Tom Radcliff.

One thing the Radcliffs don't understand is why the homeowner's association just didn't come by and tell them they had a problem. The association office is just two minutes down the road, but nobody said a word.

Legally the association didn't have to, and foreclosure is a proven tool. So the debt was turned over to a collection agency. And though the Radcliffs say they had a verbal agreement to pay off the delinquent annual dues, their house went on the auction block.

"It did not occur to me that they would foreclose," says Anita Radcliff. "I just thought people don't do things like that."

The Radcliff's case has prompted several proposed laws in California to prevent homeowners associations from doing it so quickly for such small amounts in the future.

"In many instances, seniors are targeted," says Marjorie Murray, of the Congress of California Seniors. "Seniors are seen as the golden goose sitting on the golden egg - valuable California real estate."

Copper Cove's attorney says the Radcliff's wound is self-inflicted.

"I certainly would not say they are victims, and if they are victims, they are victims of their own making," says Stein.

The Radcliff's $300,000 house went for just $70,000 to a speculator. They get most of the selling price after their debt is settled and get to stay put for now. And they're mad.

"If this were the Old West trying to get my property, there'd be a bunch of dead people out there on the ground," says Tom Radcliff.

But it's the New West, and the Radcliff's have a hired gun attorney who is suing, arguing the other side was just to quick on the trigger.