CBS Local 2 Stands For You with an investigation into valley homeowners' associations. Local vendors say they're engaging in a David v. Goliath match against the HOAs, which are requiring businesses to pay big bucks for transponders to get to customers inside gated communities. Transponders are registered to individual vehicles and programmed to provide gate entry during business hours, without having to make arrangements with customers or wait in the guest line. HOAs we spoke with say the policy is a security measure, but some vendors call it a money grab.
"If you don't have it [a transponder], they harass you. Give you a hard time, make it where you can't do your work," said Lance Fisher, owner of Fisher Plumbing. "It's hard to say how much I've actually lost...thousands of dollars would be easy to say."
Jim Barrett, owner of Inter City Plumbing, says his company is banned from Sun City Shadow Hills because he refuses to purchase transponders, too.
General Air Conditioning and Plumbing has also been turned away at gated communities in the past, but they've since complied with the HOA policies, paying for transponders for their entire fleet and quarterly fees at a price tag of $50,000 over the past several years. General manager Patrick Somers says they will continue to cover the expense, so long as all businesses are treated equally.
"When you look at say UPS--great company--do their trucks pay? And if not, why? And the only thing I can think of is they probably have a bigger legal department than we do," said Somers.
All the local businesses we spoke with were frustrated to see big business service vehicles not being held to the same standard and say the charges could eventually hurt the customers. General Air Conditioning and Plumbing has considered passing these fees on in customer rates, and they're not alone. Kelly Russum, owner of KC's 23 1/2 hour Plumbing says even though his technicians are in the gated communities frequently enough to qualify for transponders, he's gotten lucky and has never been made to purchase them, but the moment that changes, he says the cost would be added to his overall fare for service.
"What is the quarterly fee for? To maintain what? You're not maintaining the equipment. I have it. If I bring it to you broke, you're going to charge me for it," said Russum.Customers may also have reason to be concerned when it comes to emergency situations. Some vendors we spoke with are sent on calls from insurance companies, but if they cannot get into gated facilities because they don't have transponders, they could lose their contracts.
"If it was a 100-degree day out there, and my air conditioning system was down, and I couldn't get them out here to help me out, I'd be very upset," said Patrick Adamson, who lives in PGA West and has used local vendors in the past to maintain work around his home.
No representatives from local HOAs we spoke with would go on camera, but say access programs are in place to:
• Improve traffic safety
• Allow contractors quicker access
• Reduce wear and tear on roads
• Shorten lines at gates
PGA West resident Patrick Adamson does not understand why local businesses are being asked to pay when he already pays his HOA fees. He does, however, recognize the benefits of vendors being held accountable with their own transponders. He has been ticketed before for having guests speed through a facility.
While some officials of local gated communities call the transponder rules a necessary security measure, vendors argue having a transponder gives them less supervision, not more.
"If you have a transponder, and you go in, you can go anywhere you want, so how is it safe? It's not," said Barrett, owner of InterCity Plumbing.
In documents obtained by CBS Local 2 from the city of Indio, a past Sun City Shadow Hills board member says 60% of the failures to stop at signs in the community are from vendors. Increasing traffic enforcement and shortening long gate lines are the stated goals of the vendor access program at Sun City Shadow Hills according to past association newsletters, which also cite most recently what appears to be a revenue of over $84,000 during a ten month period for vendor access control. Local businesses say if you do the math, bigger gated communities are making much more.
The local attorney we spoke with says an argument can be made against homeowners' associations for loss of business, and the best way to pursue legal action would likely be a class action lawsuit. Some of the vendors we spoke with said this is something that would interest them and may be moving forward.
Recently we learned that Glenn Miller, District Director for State Senator Jeff Stone is looking into this issue further. CBS Local 2 will continue to follow along and bring you the latest on air and online.