Wednesday, March 28, 2007

PLEASE FENCE ME IN!

Homeowners Association Refuses to Allow Family to Install Fence to Protect their Son with Autism.

Mark and I installed $7,000 worth of fence in our yard in Ohio to keep our three girls safe. The town gave us grief. We whispered "disabled child, safety issue, lawsuit" and we got our permit. Our association gave us INSTANT approval. Of course, we agreed to install a beautiful pool style fence in a bronze color that blended into the trees/grass and woods. We did not install a stockade. But if this family NEEDS a stockade to protect their son, they should be able to have one. They don't need any more agita in their lives. Just approve the fence!

Cyber Raspberries to this pathetic homeowners association.

CLAYTON - Hunter Guyader, 2, shows signs of autism, and he is a climber. He broke out of his crib when he was 11 months old. He almost fell from an upstairs window while scaling a couch.
Michele and Rene Guyader hoped to build a 6-foot fence to keep their fast-growing boy from falling into a sewage drain hole at the back of their steeply sloping lot. The homeowners association of their Clayton subdivision turned them down.

Although a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in February says that about 1 in 150 children born in the nation have autism or a related disorder, getting accommodations for such children can still be a struggle in private neighborhoods.
A privacy fence that tall "just creates a wall," said Rob Bailey of the architectural review committee. The Guyaders appealed the decision based on their son's special needs.

"It's not, 'Gee, I want a 6-foot fence because I don't like my neighbors,'" said Michele Guyader. "I like my neighbors, but I also like my son, and I want to see him safe."

North Carolina is one of only six states the federal government has certified for incorporating Americans With Disabilities Act accessibility guidelines in building codes. But such rules are geared toward public or commercial buildings or dwellings such as hotels, dormitories and nursing homes. They specify widths for wheelchair-accessible toilet stalls, heights for water fountains or the minimum percentage of units in apartment complexes that should be accessible. Backyard fences, though, aren't mentioned.

"ADA regulations only apply to public facilities," Theresa Cathey, president of TLC Management of Raleigh, told the Guyaders in an e-mail message after they appealed. A few days later, the Guyaders received a letter denying their initial request.

Telling a family with an autistic child they can't put up a fence is akin to telling someone in a wheelchair he can't have a ramp up to his front door, said lawyer Greg McGrew of Apex.
McGrew fought his Dogwood Ridge homeowners association in 2001 for permission to build a 5-foot-tall fence.

"My son at the time was an escape artist," McGrew said. "Turn your back, and he'd be gone."
Jacob, then 5, had already been diagnosed with autism. Even though autism is not a physical disorder, McGrew said, parents must often take physical measures to keep children with the disability safe, such as having an alarm system on their doors. Jacob had clambered over a 4-foot-tall fence at a previous home. McGrew and his wife were so desperate to put up a taller fence at their new residence, they went ahead and installed one without permission because the homeowners association was dragging its feet. The homeowners association in turn threatened to sue.

"By all means, let's go," McGrew said. With help from Carolina Legal Assistance, a nonprofit agency that represents clients with mental disability, McGrew eventually got the association to back down. Four of five association board members resigned after the tiff, McGrew said. McGrew later became homeowners association president and president of the Carolina Legal Assistance board of directors.

Bailey, the architectural review committee member in the Guyaders' neighborhood, said he was not fully aware of the son's condition until contacted by a reporter. He would consider a 4-foot-tall fence, topped with a see-through lattice.

The Guyaders aren't sure yet that will work. They argue an exception to the covenant is warranted because they didn't know of their son's condition before moving into Cobblestone subdivision about a year ago.
Early signs of autism

Hunter had been developmentally on track his first 12 months. But after the Guyaders' second child, Annabelle, was born, he started to regress. He won't get in to see a neurologist for an official diagnosis until May. But Hunter already shows signs of being on the spectrum for autism.
The 2-year old has regular meltdowns in the grocery store. To get him to nap, Michele Guyader must drive him around Clayton in the car for 20 to 30 minutes each afternoon.
On this day, after Hunter wakes up from a midday slumber, his mother scoops him up and carries him to the fridge.
"Mmmmmmmmm," Hunter says, hugging her neck then holding out his hands.
"You want milk?" she asks.
Hunter grabs the sippy cup. "Awaayway wawah," he says.
"Really?" Guyader says as if the babble makes perfect sense.

While most children at 18 months know about 40 words and are able to string together two- to three-word sentences, Hunter's vocabulary is limited to hand gestures for "more" and "please." He points his index fingers together, for instance, to say he wants more food.
Half the time, he seems deaf, Guyader says.

She and her husband must watch him closely when he plays in the front yard, pushing his Fisher Price lawnmower or loading rocks into a toy truck. He'll eat the rocks, his mother said. And he doesn't hear them calling his name, telling him not to run into the street.
That's why the Guyaders won't take him to parks without fences, and why they hope to find a safe enclosed space for him to play in their backyard.

Staff writer Peggy Lim can be reached at 836-5799 or plim@newsobserver.com.

11 comments:

Holly Kennedy said...

Clearly this Homeowners Association needs a new board of directors; people with brains AND hearts who have the ability to empathize with human beings facing serious issues such as this one! A child's safety far outweighs every other argument they could offer up.

Kim Stagliano said...

Scary, stuff. If the child were blind they wouldn't, uh, bat an eye....

Hello, Holly!

Lisa said...

How could the architectural review committee not know the reason for the request was to protect an autistic child. Jared leads his father and brother across the street to school every morning and afternoon, but we still can't be sure that he won't bolt into the street. Gggrrrr...makes me mad.

goodfencesmakegoodneighbors said...

It's a fairly typical case - family gets frustrated with the board and goes ahead and puts up the fence anyway and then fights the fight and on it goes. The family didn't have formal permission and that really pisses off homeowners associations. Give some people the power to tell you what color you can paint your shutters and it goes to their heads! I'm sure none of them expected this media attention.

Demon Hunter said...

If I paid for the land and the house, a fence will go up and anything else I want. That's why I live in the country. This entire situation is ridiculous. Too many restrictions in this country; it's just gonna get worse. Soon, we won't be able to burp in public!

Kim Stagliano said...

Demon, these suburban subdivisions are little fiefdoms. The rules can by nutz. This family didn't deserve this grief - and families who don't understand that having a child who bolts is NOT the sign of a bad parent need to spend time in an autism household. Can YOU hunt them down? :)

Allison said...

Oh my God! Could people get any more ignorant and selfish?? Because you don't want your precious view tainted you won't allow needed safety measures to protect a 2 year old???? My ASD son just learned to get out a door that most adults haven't been able to figure out when they are here. I had to put extra alarms everywhere and everytime I go to do my laundry I jump out of my skin because I forgot to shut it off. I am dying to be able to buy a house with an attached back yard JUST SO I CAN FENCE IT IN!! If anyone were to give me greif about it I would drop my son off at their house for an hour. They'd be DYING to sign the approval. Sometimes this country is ass backwards! Sorry, obviously this one hit a nerve!

Michelle O'Neil said...

Mom mom is in NC. She e-mailed me this yesterday. It's ridiculous.

I also felt the need to e-mail the reporter to point out the error in stating that autism isn't a physical disorder.


Excuse me?

Tell that to my daughter's gut, and her skin, and her brain.

Anonymous said...

As a resident of this NC community, and involved in that particular architectural committee at the time, I'd say you should get your facts straight about the Apex NC issue. McGrew never told the committee his child had autism when he submitted his request. He was COMPLETELY aware of the ALREADY EXISTING architectural covenants when he bought the home, and could have chosen similar homes in neighborhoods without such covenants. He didn't ask for a waiver of any kind, which would have been obviously granted, but instead, when questioned about building a fence outside of the existing code, immediately used the "I'm a lawyer and I'll sue" defense.
His acted like a bully and his personal threats of lawsuits against the board members were the reasons they resigned, even though they granted his exception. HOA boards are volunteers and homeowners and don't deserve to be treated like kings or criminals. An HOA exists to keep a neighborhood from becoming a slum. Don't like it? Don't buy a home with one - or work with them. He decided his rights superseded anyone else's (including his neighbors) and, had he taken the time to work with the board, instead of against it, no one would have been against him. Not only did he violate the height restriction, but he built his fence in such a way as to cause his neighbors harm to their property. So, a reasonable fellow with a sob story? Please, get your facts straight before you malign the volunteer homeowners who are trying to keep the value of their homes and their neighborhood. No wonder he became president of the HOA. No one else was willing to take the job - because of personal liability. To this day, the HOA cannot find enough volunteers to fill the seats if they know about this situation.

Michele Guyader said...

Hi Kim,

This is Michele Guyader - the one with the "wonderful" HOA. I wanted to let you know that our HOA does not have a board yet. We are still a growing community being managed by the investment company. The actual person from the investment company who is fighting me has a grandchild with Autism.

We are still fighting for our fence and have filed a complaint with HUD. They are now sorting it out. It is now the end of August. Weve been going through this for months. We did put up a fence. We decided to go with a 5' and were demanded to take it down. Thats when we got an attorney and the HUD complaint went through.

I just wanted to update you. You took the time to blog my story - the least I can do is keep you upated.

Oh - and according to my neighbors - I have the nicest fence in the nieghboorhood. Ive even had a neighbor hire the same fence company and put in the 4' version of what I have.

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