9 Investigates

‘Our money’s going in the toilet’: Amenities destroyed after homeowners file lawsuit over high fees

SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. — A group of Sumter County homeowners turned to 9 Investigates for help after the owner of their 55+ community destroyed amenities that have been the center of an ongoing court fight.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray first visited the Wildwood Country Resorts two years ago after homeowners filed a class-action lawsuit over how much they were paying per month for amenities.

READ: Class action lawsuit targets developer of 55+ community

Now, she’s learned the community owner is facing a second lawsuit from even more residents, and he’s filed for bankruptcy.

Tennis courts, shuffleboard courts, two swimming pools and a hot tub were all destroyed there within the last few weeks. In addition, homeowners at the community said their clubhouses were locked up and one was leased out to a church.

READ: ‘They put me through hell’: Homeowner battles HOA, gets thousands in settlement

“He’s taken away our last amenities we have. The clubhouse is locked up, the pools are demolished,” homeowner Jacques Skutt said.

In the parking lot of what used to be one of two centers available to them, we met dozens of homeowners involved in two separate lawsuits against the community owner.

“We pay $379 a month right now for absolutely nothing,” Skutt said.

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Homeowners worry if they stop paying, the owner Jonathan Woods would foreclose on them. Court records show that has happened before.

That’s the crux of a class-action suit claiming residents were charged artificially high monthly maintenance fees. When we first reported on the suit in 2019, the owner told us he agreed a judge should rule on whether his profit margin of up to 10% was fair. Before that issue could be settled in court, he filed for bankruptcy.

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Most everyone who lives in the community is on a fixed income. Dozens of those homeowners banded together to file a second lawsuit, seeking a judge’s ruling to protect what was promised to them under the community’s declarations. The amenities were destroyed, though, before they could get an emergency injunction filing on a judge’s docket.

“Our money’s going in the toilet,” homeowner Bill Campbell said.

A drive around the community shows crumbling streets, several for-sale signs, and court records show some don’t even have their trash picked up regularly anymore. Still, the vast majority cannot afford to go anywhere else, even if everything they bought into is gone.

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“We just can’t afford that. We’re not deep pockets, we’re not in The Villages,” homeowner Karen Upton said.

Court records show the owner even tried to open a new clubhouse inside a residential home in the community, but code enforcement stepped in.

An attorney for Woods told 9 Investigates by email that the existing pools were a “life-threatening safety hazard,” and that by restructuring the company through bankruptcy they hope to provide newer and safer facilities.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.