Hammocks homeowners revolt over massive HOA fee hikes. They’re pushing to recall board.

Article Courtesy of  The Miami Herald

By Linda Robertson

Published May 18, 2022


The Hammocks, a sprawling planned community that once epitomized the allure of West Kendall as a peaceful, affordable place worth the enervating commute, is in rebellion.

Its association, made up of 6,600 homeowners, is the largest in Florida. And its angry members complain the Hammocks’ 25,000 residents are being tyrannized by a junta of six despots — their board of directors.

Homeowners are contesting the results of a chaotic election that was interrupted by a fake bomb threat. They’re collecting signatures on a recall petition. Outraged by monthly maintenance fee increases of 300 to 400 percent imposed by an HOA board they say has gone rogue, they’ve formed an organization called Justice for the Hammocks.

They need 51 percent of the community to vote in favor of ousting the current regime and replacing it with a temporary board. The pledge is to halt the astronomical fee hikes, audit the books and hold a new election.

Residents fear there is nothing left in the Hammocks Community Association bank account. They don’t know what it’s been spent on because the directors haven’t held a public board meeting since Jan. 24, 2018.

Even more galling, they believe a lot of money is being used to pay the legal fees of Marglli Gallego, the ex-board president and treasurer who was arrested last year on charges of stealing $108,000 from the HOA. Miami-Dade police said she used an association credit card for personal purchases and used association money to pay a private detective firm to perform surveillance on “various people in the Hammocks who were out to get her,” the warrant said. It also said she ordered Hammocks security guards to “harass” rival association members and file lawsuits against neighbors she felt were “targeting her unjustly.”

“We’re paying her defense lawyers and she’s been charged with stealing our money,” said Don Kearns, a 28-year resident, former board president and a leader of the Justice for the Hammocks group. “It’s absurd.”

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said her Economic Crimes Unit is committed to investigating “individuals who would use HOA funds as their own personal wallet.”

“The activities which have led to the arrest of Marglli Gallego for allegedly abusing her position as president of the Hammocks Community Association are not only unneighborly, they are crimes,” she said when Gallego was booked for grand theft and an organized scheme to defraud.

Gallego, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial, has also filed lawsuits against police officers for false arrest.

Gallego was replaced last April by one of her allies, Monica Ghilardi, who then won the Jan. 3 election that is the subject of a fraud investigation by the state. Three of Gallego’s other allies were reelected. The same core group, called the Gallego Mafia by critics, has been in office since 2015. Kearns and 27-year resident Idalmen “Chicky” Ardisson say some residents suspect Gallego is running the place from exile in the Heron subdivision where she lives.

“The community is feeling disillusioned and defeated,” Ardisson said. “Our goal is to kick this board out. Power went to their heads and they’ve been ignoring the bylaws and running the show any way they want. We’re taking the Hammocks back and returning power to the people.”

Marglli Gallego, the treasurer and president of the Hammocks Community Association, pictured in a video for the organization.


The new fee structure was adopted at an unannounced Jan. 28 meeting with no debate. No questions were allowed. No one had received a copy of the proposed annual budget beforehand, as was customary.

The monthly fee to the master association was raised from $42.67 to $170, starting March 1. Depending on what subdivision residents live in, their fees went up from $103 to $390 per month, as Ardisson’s did. Fees pay for maintenance of landscaping, swimming pools, common areas and clubhouses.

“People can’t afford to suddenly pay three to four times what they were previously paying,” Ardisson said. “This is a hard-working, middle class community. We have people on fixed incomes. We have young families struggling to pay for groceries. I talked to an 83-year-old lady who receives $800 a month in social security who is now being charged a $300 monthly HOA fee and doesn’t know how to make ends meet.”


Jesmany Jomarron, the lawyer representing the Justice group in its effort to overturn the election and suspend the fee increases, said he is getting panicked calls from homeowners who have fallen behind in their payments.

“They are receiving very nasty letters from the Hammocks demanding payment or they will slap a lien on their house and put it in foreclosure,” he said.

The board is not budging. No one has offered to step down. No one has issued explanations or responded to questions from homeowners or the Herald. Any communication goes through their lawyer, Napoleon Hilton, who said the directors are being unfairly vilified for performing a difficult job as volunteers.

Given inflated costs and the fact that the association’s low fees hadn’t been raised in seven years, “it was well past time to catch up,” he said. The directors are being made scapegoats for raising an unsustainable, bargain rate of $42.67. The election was clean and fair, Hilton said. They deny accusations that they are acting unethically or illegally.

But where is the money going?

“Whenever we ask for information on expenditures we get no answers,” said homeowner Todd Botner, who has tried to sort out the financial picture. “Rules on transparency and accountability seem to mean nothing. Various meetings required by our bylaws have been held sporadically, if at all.”

One thing Justice for the Hammocks has confirmed is that the budget has mushroomed to $10 million.

Voters at the Hammocks, a large single-family home community in Kendall, wait in line on Jan. 3, 2022, to vote for board members of the Hammocks Community Association. Hammocks residents have filed 15 complaints with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation in 2022 over the governance of the community.


“We believe the Hammocks is broke and barely getting by month to month,” Kearns said. “When I left office seven years ago we had $4.2 million in the association account. I know what it costs to run the Hammocks and we did it under budget for $4 million per year. Costs are up but not 300 to 400 percent.”

Jomarron said he has seen HOA paperwork listing vague expenses of $400,000 to $500,000 for “professional services, legal services, security services — but we don’t know who these firms are,” he said. “There’s a million reasons why something is wrong here.”

As for maintenance, the Hammocks has been in decline for several years, residents say.

“Used to be the Hammocks was the most pristine community of its type in South Florida,” said Kearns, who is on the proposed recall board that would replace the current one. “The lakes were maintained, the trees were manicured, the pathways were neat, the pools, fences and common areas were in good shape. Today, it looks shabby.”

Said Ardisson, also on the recall board: “The only justification for a $10 million budget would be to repair major damage from a major storm. The only hurricane that has hit us hard is Hurricane Marglli.”

Since residents began lodging complaints about the election and the new fees, there’s been a rash of code violation fines, delivered with no chance to appeal.

“Out of the blue, your roof needs to be pressure-cleaned, your gate needs to be painted, your driveway needs to be resurfaced, your grass is too long,” Ardisson said, recounting what her neighbors have reported. “It’s a vengeful, spiteful way for the board to demonstrate its cont

It’s not the first time the Hammocks has been in turmoil. Longtimers like Ardisson and Kearns remember when a board member embezzled $1.2 million and absconded to Colombia with her daughter, never to be found. In 2016, Miami-Dade police arrested two former HOA employees for stealing $148,000. The employees used the money to shop at supermarkets, toy stores and a popular underwear store in Hialeah.

“It’s a large community with a lot of fee money flowing through it and that’s attractive to certain people,” Kearns said. “The Hammocks has learned a lesson this time. The board was counting on our apathy. So pay attention. It’s your money and your house.”

A flyer announcing a recent Justice for the Hammocks rally at the Kendall Ice Arena to recall the HOA board of directors.


Another faction of homeowners, called the Hammocks Preservation Society, wants a court-appointed receiver to take over management of the Hammocks. But the Justice group is opposed to that strategy.

“Receivership is the last-resort, nuclear option,” Kearns said. “We want to liberate the Hammocks and return control to the people who live here, not hand it to an outsider.”

The Justice group is sticking with its three-pronged attack, and wants to set an example for other communities with dysfunctional HOAs.

Jomarron filed for an injunction in Miami-Dade circuit court to reverse the fee increase.

Ardisson filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Professional and Business Regulation about irregularities during the Jan. 3 election when voting was limited to a two-hour span at the main clubhouse. Hundreds of voters were left standing in line when time ran out, after voting was interrupted by an alleged phoned-in bomb threat that police determined never happened and a loud protest by voters. There was also an unusual number of absentee ballots.

PIC 3 A flyer announcing a recent Justice for the Hammocks rally at the Kendall Ice Arena to recall the HOA board of directors. Idalmen "Chicky" Ardisson

“It was a debacle,” Kearns said.

The HOA has tried to dismiss the complaint and been rejected by the arbitrator on the case. Ardisson made a request to review the election records on Jan. 26. The HOA has missed April and May deadlines to make the records available, Jomarron said, in another example “of their capacity for deceit.”

Hammocks homeowners have high hopes for the recall petition. Volunteers have been holding rallies at the Kendall Ice Arena and knocking on thousands of doors.

Ardisson said Hammocks security guards have trailed them in their cars, and told them to stop soliciting.

“They know we’re not selling anything,” she said. “It’s another form of harassment.”

They’ve already collected 2,500 signatures and are confident they’ll be able to collect and certify enough to install a new board of directors. If so, they will have won a revolution.

“One positive thing that has happened is we all know our neighbors now,” Ardisson said. “But I’ll never live in an HOA again.”