LUTZ — The feud started three years ago at a neighborhood pool in a community north of Tampa. Children wanted to swim but were denied access.
Minors had to be supervised, they were told.
But this summer, the office of Attorney General Pam Bondi plunged in to help, filing a discrimination lawsuit against the Stonebrier Homeowner’s Association and alleging "overly-restrictive pool rules" for families with children.
The office that regularly handles large scale fraud busts and opioid crackdowns filed the complaint on behalf of Ivy Sevigny, 44, who moved into a $322,800 home in Stonebrier with her fiance in February 2014.
Between the two, they had five kids, including a couple of teenagers, and a baby on the way.
Sevigny qualified to be represented by Bondi’s office because she first turned to the Florida Commission on Human Relations, which found reasonable cause to believe a discriminatory housing practice occurred.
"One of the beautiful things we loved about the community was the pool," Sevigny told the Tampa Bay Times.
Children have been permitted in the pool when supervised, she said. But there are occasions, she said, when a young teen might want to go to the pool and a parent is unavailable.
Stonebrier, a gated community in Lutz of about 500 homes, is not an "over-55" community, which is a statutorily protected designation.
A website for the homeowners association says residents have "exclusive access to a 14-acre amenity complex which includes a fitness center, resort-style pool with waterslide and toddler play area, sports field, basketball court, and children’s playground complete with rock climbing wall."
When Sevigny and her father bought the home, the community’s pool policy stated that "no children under the age of 18 were allowed in the pool area without adult supervision," the complaint acknowledges. The pool had no lifeguard.
For the first year the family lived there, the policy was effectively disregarded, the complaint states, and children "were able to use the pool on a regular basis and could access the pool without adult supervision."
Sevigny said that lots of kids would play at the pool unsupervised, and that her family would let them go when they were nine to 10.
"Obviously we weren’t letting the baby go," she said. "They were good swimmers."
In April 2015, in an effort to discourage trespassing by nonresidents, the homeowner’s association notified residents that children under 16 had to be accompanied by a homeowner.
The next month, Sevigny dropped off four children at the pool. When she got home, one called and said a couple told them they were not allowed. Sevigny went back to speak with the couple, then returned home.
Her phone rang again. The couple had called law enforcement.
Officers told Sevigny that if the homeowners association had rules against children being at the pool they had to follow the rules, according to the complaint.
Later that May, the association’s board of directors informed residents that a photo ID proving Stonebrier residency and a homeowner amenity card would be required for access.
Teens between 16 and 18 could access the pool with one guest.
Stonebrier hired a pool monitor to enforce the rules.
In June 2016, Sevigny requested ID cards for the children. Stonebrier responded, saying that a photo ID with proof of residency, such as a driver’s license, was needed.
When a son turned 16 in July 2016, he was still not able to access the pool because he did not have a driver’s license.
"Although her son was 16 years old at the time, he did not have a driver’s license or any other photo ID showing his local residence," Bondi press secretary Kylie Mason said in an email.
"The association was unwilling to accept a statement from Ms. Sevigny stating that her son was a resident within the association so that her son could obtain an association-issued ID and use the pool," Mason stated.
State-issued IDs are not limited to drivers in Florida. Children 5 or older can get Florida identification cards from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for a fee.
Sevigny hired an attorney in June 2016, but the pool rules were not changed. She filed charges of discrimination with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and U.S. Department of Housing.
The commission’s finding in Sevigny’s favor allowed her to file a lawsuit and be represented by either a private attorney or Bondi’s office. Sevigny chose Bondi’s office.
In May of this year, the homeowners association board changed its rules to allow parents to sign an affidavit vouching for a child’s residency and age if 16 or older.
On July 19, the state filed a civil suit against the homeowner’s association, seeking a declaratory judgment that its actions violated Florida’s Fair Housing Act, injunctive relief and unspecified compensatory damages.
The association’s actions were "implemented with callous and reckless disregard for Ms. Sevigny’s statutorily protected rights and the rights of others," the complaint stated.
Scott Jackman, an attorney contracted by Stonebrier’s insurance company to handle the suit, declined to comment on it, citing that it is ongoing litigation. Ted Galloway, the homeowner’s association’s president, also declined to comment.
This isn’t the first such legal action against operators of a shared private pool. In 2012, a California court ruled against management of an apartment complex for not allowing children under 18 to swim unsupervised.
Lawsuits based on age discrimination for kids are not uncommon, said Paul Boudreaux, professor of law at Stetson University who has written about the topic.
The U.S. Fair Housing Act prevents discrimination on the basis of familial status, Boudreaux explained, meaning that families with children under 18 cannot be discriminated against in regards to housing.
"So rules that just apply to children are problematic," he said.
Contact Bre Bradham at firstname.lastname@example.org.