The Value of Professional Intermediaries: Don’t Turn HOA Issues into Safety Issues

By Gavin Wenzel, Attorney at Miller Harrison LLC

Homeowners association (HOA) disputes or enforcement should not require personal, face-to-face, confrontation with members. A recent tragedy in Florida underscores the risk of confrontations in the HOA context. It is alleged that on December 3, 2022, 75-year-old Hugh Hootman shot and killed his HOA president and her husband, Ginger and Henry Wallace, who were both in their 80s. 

What could possibly lead to such a tragic and violent event in a community? Apparently, a dispute over leaving the door to the community laundry room open. Hootman stated that several days before the shooting, the HOA president’s husband had confronted Mrs. Hootman at the Hootmans’ condo because the door to the community laundry room had been left open. Mr. Hootman believed that Mr. Wallace had “cussed and yelled” at Mrs. Hootman which “made her very upset.” Days later when Mr. Hootman and Mr. Wallace were at the community mailbox, Hootman demanded that Mr. Wallace apologize to his wife “for cussing and yelling at her. Hugh Hootman stated Henry Wallace ignored him and attempted to push past Hugh Hootman to walk away. Hugh Hootman stated, ‘I lost my temper.’” After which, Hootman pulled out a handgun, chambered a round, and shot Mr. Wallace in front of Mr. Wallace’s condo. When Mrs. Wallace came out of the condo, Mr. Hootman shot her also. This was such an extreme and unexpected result for what appears to be such a trivial dispute.

Although not in the HOA context, a local tragedy has also been back in the news lately which also exemplifies a tragic and avoidable confrontation. In 2019, a local real estate agent and landlord, David Stokoe, was shot and killed “over a rent dispute.” The renter and accomplices then hid Mr. Stokoe’s body and cleaned up the crime scene. This tragedy is back in the news because Mr. Stokoe’s killer has just been sentenced. Again, this was an extreme and unexpected result from the relatively common experience of a landlord/tenant rent dispute. 

The Wallace killings in Florida and the Stokoe killing in Utah share a common trait – both tragedies were avoidable by utilizing third-party professionals. Neither of those scenario’s should have ended in death and the fact that they did is not the fault of the victims in those cases. However, the use of a property manager and a process server, rather than personal confrontation, would likely have avoided these tragedies. In the Utah incident, an eviction notice could have been professionally served on the tenants for as little as $35. In the Florida case, the Hootmans could have received a letter from a property manager regarding the laundry room, educating and warning them of the need to keep the door to the laundry room closed. Such a letter would not have identified the Wallaces and would have avoided the first confrontation at the Hootmans’ condo. By avoiding that first face-to-face confrontation, the subsequent fatal confrontation would have been avoided also. Because a third-party does not have a personal stake in community disputes, they often have an enhanced ability to treat their job/actions dispassionately. Decreasing the emotion in HOA communications and disputes can diminish the likelihood of disputes escalating to unproductive and unsafe levels.

Utilizing the services of a property management company that specializes in HOA management, or even an HOA attorney where necessary, can allow HOA board members to maintain more neighborly relationships in their community and shifts the bearer of bad news to a third-party professional. If a person must draw the ire of one or more members of the HOA, utilizing third-party professionals often minimizes and deflects such ire to the third-party rather than placing the board or a member of the board in the cross hairs – literally and figuratively. 

 Volunteer service in an HOA should not involve increased risk of safety for board members or even require such board members to personally be the regular bearer of bad news. The face of community enforcement issues can be a third-party professional. HOA board members should stay safe and stay neighborly.  



[2] Probably Cause Affidavit at page 4.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.


[9] Id.

[10] Id.