Ed and Barbara Bohannon packed the rest of their belongings at their Haven at New Riverside home Friday, ending an 18-month struggle to stay in the greater Bluffton age-restricted community that began when their two grandchildren came to live with them after their widowed and abusive father lost custody.
The children, ages 12 and 15, are a violation of the community's rules, which state no one under the age of 19 can live there for more than 90 days, and 80 percent of community residents must be 55 or older. The board of directors -- appointed by Pulte Homes, the community's developer -- had granted the family two six-month extensions in order to sell their home, but would not allow the children to live there permanently. The community is located in the New Riverside section of greater Bluffton.
After battling the decision for months, Ed Bohannon said the family decided to leave when he learned they would be getting a final letter forcing them to leave.
A letter from August 24, 2010, signed by an agent for the Haven at New Riverside Community Association, lists the section of the Declaration of Convenants, Conditions and Restrictions that states the age restriction and the sanctions that could result from breaking those rule. Sanctions include a fine of $15 a day for each day the violation continues, although the board never imposed it.
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"The association recognizes the difficult circumstances which have contributed to this continuing violation and it has deferred imposing sanctions for months in order to give you a reasonable opportunity to end the violation," the letter reads. "Nevertheless, the association has an obligation to enforce the CC&Rs, which exist for the mutual benefit of all owners."
For the Bohannons, it is the latest in a series of tragic events.
Ed and Barbara, who are in their late 60s, moved to the Haven in November 2007. They lost their home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to Hurricane Katrina. They lived in Texas for a time but decided to move closer to family on the East Coast after their daughter died of breast cancer that February. She left behind a husband and two children, who lived in Charlotte.
Ed said the couple were sold on the home at the Haven because of a low down payment and the neighborhood's amenities.
"We figured since we were both over 55, we'd never have a situation where we'd have children living with us," he said.
That changed when they discovered their son-in-law had become verbally and physically abusive in late 2008, Ed Bohannon said.
After dealing with the courts and with the Department of Social Services in both North and South Carolina, the Bohannons took custody of the children in an arbitration. Their grandchildren moved in with them in the Haven and enrolled in local schools.
Ed Bohannon said he notified the Haven's board that the children had moved in through a neighbor who serves on a homeowners committee. The children do not play outside or walk the dogs and most people would not even know they were living there, he said.
Several months later, in August 2009, the family received the first of many letters stating the community's age restriction convenants.
What followed were months of meetings with the board, which gave the Bohannons leeway to sell the home or move the children out. It would not allow the children to stay permanently.
Ed said he has had the home listed for sale since the couple received the first letter, but has only gotten one offer, which he said was $100,000 below the asking price. The Bohannons declined to accept it.
Haven Lifestyles director Mandy Morgan declined to comment on the issue, saying it was a legal matter.
A property manager who declined to identify himself also said the community and its board of directors had no comment. He also declined to discuss how the community polices violations of age restrictions.
No one at the Pulte corporate South Carolina division office could be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.
'A REAL SHAME'
Age-restricted communities such as the Haven are governed by a federal law -- the Housing for Older Persons Act -- which exempts the residents from age discrimination regulations.
However, 80 percent of residents must be 55 years of age or older to qualify for the exemption, a statistic that is verified through surveys and affidavits.
Pulte corporate communications manager Eric Younan wrote in an e-mail that the rules in smaller communities are generally enforced by the residents themselves.
That's what happened with the Bohannons: Ed said the vast majority of his neighbors have been supportive, but that there are several residents who police violations and report them to the board.
The Bohannon's neighbor, Joe Albert, estimated that 95 percent of the Haven's residents want the Bohannons to stay, especially given the circumstances. He said the children have remained behind the scenes.
"It's the talk of the community right now," he said.
But a small number have forced the board into action on the issue, Albert said. The board's stance is a "real shame," he said.
"I'd advise people looking to buy in an age-restricted community to look at the restrictions, because it might cause you some trouble with grandchildren," he said. "I have three grandchildren and I think about that once in awhile -- that if something like this were to happen I'd have to sell my house."
In a letter to his neighbors as the family moved out, Ed Bohannon shared the family's history and revealed the family would have to declare bankruptcy. They will rent a home in the Pinecrest neighborhood and hope to rent their Haven home to offset the cost, he said.
"Thanks for ruining our lives!" he wrote to the neighbors who filed the complaint about the children.
Bohannon said he has received 78 e-mails from neighbors sympathizing with his plight.
He said he only received one negative e-mail, sent anonymously. While the e-mail supported the grace period given the Bohannons, it said the children could not live there indefinitely. It also questioned whether the Bohannons had concealed the situation from the board and why he had rejected an offer for their home.
"We are deeply sorry for your problems, but we moved here SPECIFICALLY to be away from all children," it read.