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A couple fed nearby ducks. Now, their HOA is threatening to foreclose.

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correction

An earlier version of this article misidentified what the HOA lawsuit was requesting. The court filing asked that Kathleen and George Rowe stop feeding ducks, that the HOA be compensated for attorney costs, and that the organization be able to foreclose on the couple's property. It did not seek up to $250,000 in damages from the Rowes. The article has been corrected.

A Texas couple has put their house up for sale after their homeowners’ association sued and threatened to foreclose on their home.

Their offense, according to the suit: feeding the ducks that roam their subdivision outside Houston.

Kathleen Rowe, 65, and her husband George moved into the home across from a waterway in Cypress, Tex., about a decade ago, soon after their only child died. She found feeding the ducks therapeutic and has continued ever since, according to their attorney, Richard Weaver.

In June, the Lakeland Community Homeowners Association decided it had had enough of the Rowes feeding the waterfowl despite what it said were repeated warnings not to. The association filed suit against the couple in Harris County Civil Court, asking a judge for a “permanent mandatory injunction requiring Defendants to cease from feeding any wildlife” in the neighborhood.

In a community of million-dollar homes, a fight over a $500 mailbox ends in court

Feeding the ducks “runs afoul of the general plan and scheme of Subdivision” and has caused “imminent harm and irreparable injury to the Plaintiff,” the lawsuit reads. The lawsuit asks the court for permission for the HOA to foreclose on the property if the Rowes continue to feed the ducks.

An attorney for the homeowners’ association did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.

Weaver said this litigation stands out among the others he’s defended against.

“I’m a board-certified real estate attorney, and this lawsuit is truly the silliest lawsuit I’ve ever seen in my practice,” Weaver said. “This attorney has essentially claimed that feeding ducks is either noxious or offensive — I think that’s an incredible statement.”

Weaver said ducks are common in the neighborhood and are even visible on Google Maps street view in front of the Rowe’s home. Kathleen decided to start feeding the ducks because many of them were raised in pet stores and purchased by families for events such as Easter, then released into the wild, according to Weaver.

“They’ve never had a mother,” Kathleen told the Houston Chronicle. “I feel like I’m just stepping in.”

Pet ducks released into the wild often struggle to survive and can harm native species, the Oregonian reported. Feeding ducks can cause nutritional problems for the waterfowl and lead them to lose their natural fear of humans, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

The lawsuit accuses the Rowes of violating four HOA rules, including one prohibiting “any noxious or offensive activity” that could disturb other residents, and another barring any activity that may “materially disturb or destroy” wildlife in the community.

Weaver said he will “put the HOA’s feet to the fire” and force it to prove that the Rowes are violating the rules by feeding the ducks.

“I understand that maybe some people in the neighborhood want these ducks not to be in their community, but just from a human being perspective, we have worse things going on in the world,” Weaver said.

Weaver said it is common for homeowners’ associations to file suits that threaten foreclosure, and he has seen families lose their homes over fines as low as $3,000. Usually, though, those lawsuits involve allegations of building in violation of deed restrictions or painting a house the wrong color, not feeding wildlife, Weaver said.

“They have used a common threat against an uncommon situation,” he said.

Several squabbles between residents and homeowners’ associations attempting to enforce strict aesthetic standards have gained high profiles in recent years.

In 2017, a Maryland man won a seven-year court fight against his HOA over a requirement that every house in his community install a $500 monogrammed mailbox.

Later that year, after an HOA in Colorado ordered a resident to clear decorations from his yard, the man instead installed a sign criticizing the HOA.

In a community of million-dollar homes, a fight over a $500 mailbox ends in court

Weaver said he is confident that the Rowes will prevail. He filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but he said that the threat of foreclosure “frightened” Kathleen Rowe, and that she decided to proactively put the home up for sale just in case.

“What she decided to do was beat the HOA to the punch by hurrying up and selling her home before anything bad could happen to her,” Weaver said.

Weaver said he believes the couple would like to stay in the home if they win in court.

“I think she would like to continue to live there and take care of these ducks,” he said.

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