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RA Won’t Revisit RELAC Issue in January

by Karen Goff January 16, 2014 at 10:45 am 5 Comments

Lake Anne

The Reston Association Board of Directors is not likely to discuss amending the rules of its RELAC air conditioning system this month as it needs more time to discuss potential changes and their place under federal fair housing laws, board members said.

Last month, the board introduced an amendment to the Reston covenants declaring that a person who is asking for an exemption from using the aging air conditioning system must show a doctor’s order advising of the “handicap,” information about the handicap (such as medical records), and that order must be updated annually. That rule tightens up the current exemption, in which a medical reason is good for as long as the homeowner lives in the house.

That idea was not received well by many RELAC users, who attended the December RA meeting expressing privacy concerns and taking issue with being designated handicapped. That terminology is put in place because fair housing laws state that accommodations must be made for someone with a handicap, said RA attorney Ken Chadwick.

RELAC (Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning Corporation)  has been the cooling system for about 300 Lake Anne-area homes since the mid-1960s. The system is powered by recirculated lake water from Lake Anne. Touted as state-of-the-art when it was built, nearly 50 years later it is oft-criticized by users for being inefficient and mold-producing.

Eve Thompson, the RA Lake Anne/Tall Oaks Director, says she has recommended to the board that a medical professional be able to certify why the homeowner needs to opt-out, but that more invasive requirements be nixed.

“Let a doctor certify why someone is requesting a change,” she said. “But that should be without additional medical information and I have recommended they not have to recertify.”

Thompson also is wary of another item in the amendment — that residents must  provide a written statement from a HVAC technician familiar with RELAC saying the system is working and that inadequacies come from the water system and not the equipment .

“I’m suggesting we don’t want to be in the mindset of requiring members to have their systems evaluated by RELAC,” she said. “There are no certified RELAC specialists. We should get that item out of the amendment altogether. It is too slippery a slope. RELAC has a vested interest in keeping everyone on the system; a homeowner has the opposite interest. We have no way to objectively measure whether the system is working.”

To that end, the time may be right to discuss RELAC’s big-picture future, Thompson added. RELAC’s use is bound by the RA covenants, and a covenant is very hard to change. But if after 45 years the system isn’t working as performed, it is time to talk.

RA president Ken Knueven pointed out in a recent post on Reston Now that Lake Anne residents voted to keep the system in a 2005 referendum.

Thompson says RELAC’s future is a separate issue and not related to the current medical exemption debate.

“We should at least be facilitating a discussion about RELAC’s sustainability,” she said.

  • mlbjunkee

    Thank you Eve! Let’s please re-open discussions on the future of RELAC. By the way, the proposed amendment would have RELAC determining if their system was functioning properly? Can you say “conflict-of-interest”?

  • Adam Petersen

    The discussion needs to be re opened. 2005 was a long time ago. There has been a good amount of turnover in residents since then and I believe people have begun to change their minds. Now RELAC is given more power, only they can determine if their system works properly, and they need annual detailed doctors notes that they get to pick through and decide if it is a sufficient enough reason to get off their system. That doesn’t pass the smell test. The fact that as a customer we have zero choice but to purchase their extremely expensive and inadequate service really bothers me. To top it off my wife and baby get to live in an extremely hot house on those hot Spring and Fall days cause RELAC isn’t running. If I knew what I know now I would not have bought a house on RELAC. What I did know then was already a deterrent but the house was priced very well. Being on RELAC negatively impacts your potential home sale or ability to rent it. I have had a few neighbors selling their house and have had potential buyers ask questions about RELAC and they were obviously turned off by it. All things need to be considered moving forward and not just sticking to what the RA docs said 50 years ago.

  • Lisa

    My family subjected to RELAC for many years before we moved to another area of Reston. We paid over $2000K a season for a sub-par system, which went down frequently. Our third floor was unbearable and forget having company over in the summer. The house temp was usually 80 degrees even though the AC ran 24/7. We spent significant money on a new furnace and ceiling fans, which did not do much to improve the situation. I can not believe in this day and age that residents are STILL being held “hostage” and forced to use an out dated system. Come on RA stand up for these residents and allow them to make their own choices.

    • Casual Observer

      Your family paid over two million dollars a season?

  • Dennis McDermitt

    First off, with respect to the exemption procedure, thanks to Eve Thompson for the responsive, streamlined, and unambiguous revision she provided at Monday’s Board Planning Committee meeting. The previous version put forward in December really was atrocious–it imposed a ridiculous annual re-certification requirement, gave privately owned RELAC veto power over the opinion of a doctor, created the fantasy “RELAC certified professional” designation, and extended RA’s powers well beyond what is allowed by the covenant. For a revision that was supposed to clarify the exemption’s relationship to Fair Housing laws, it was a massive overreach that had a distinctly “anti-member” vibe (and I can’t believe that an attorney ever reviewed it). There are still some tweaks to be made, but I hope the board will be sensible and preserve the substance of Eve’s revisions.
    Now, about that covenant. Many people are under the impression that the covenants require Lake Anne residents to use RELAC. This is not true! Here is the covenant requirement from the Reston Deed:
    “In any residential cluster in which central air-conditioning service is available to the Lot line, no individual air-conditioning units of any type shall be permitted.”
    So, the ONLY thing the covenant does is give RA the power to prevent a member from installing an individual air conditioning unit. RA cannot make you use RELAC, prevent you from disconnecting RELAC within your home, or (because RELAC equipment inside the home is the property of the homeowner) tell you what to do with interior RELAC components.
    So when there is a discussion of a referendum to revoke the covenant–which is explicitly allowed by the Reston deed–keep in mind that this is not a referendum to “kill RELAC.” All it means is that people in 343 units around Lake Anne will have the same right as the other 55,000 or so residents of Reston–the right to buy modern, efficient air conditioning. And yes, the Design Review standards for noise and appearance will still apply.
    Why is that so bad?

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