As I watched homeowners lose more control and sovereignty over their own property, privacy and lives I was convinced that there had to be a breaking point. At some point they would all, not only resist this intrusion but push back and push back hard. They had to! Or did they? As the battle between owner and special interests intensified, bullying and misinformation became the norm giving rise to chaos and being outnumbered and out maneuvered, owners for the most part retreated. A few owners across the country did decide to armor up and fight back. But is it enough and are they fighting the right battles? do they know what they are doing?
John Cowherd joins us On The Commons. John, a Virginia real estate attorney, an advocate for homeowners , a blogger and a frequent guest on the show has been following the various advocacies across the country as they build groups, recruit members, come up with strategies and start lobbying for improved laws protecting the rights of the owners. Are they making any progress? Are they on the right track? Do they know what they are doing? We’ll talk about the state of affairs in America’s millions of association controlled developments and what needs to be done to “empower the people”. It is THEIR homes and THEIR lives that are dangling on the end of strings controlled by puppeteers with a very different agenda.
Reminder: If you haven’t yet, please take the survey.
Words have meanings and the word community generally imparts a sense of belonging. People in a community tend to have something in common. They come from similar backgrounds, are generally in the same socioeconomic group, perhaps share hobbies and interests. They have something that binds them together. In the good old days, before “communities” were designed and force-fed on Americans, the sense of community evolved naturally. Neighbors were friends who helped and looked out for each other. They took in a child who might have inadvertently been locked out, picked up packages for neighbors or retrieved a trash can that was blown down the street by the wind. In this brave new world of controlled living, the sense of community is no longer communal but rather a gathering of people who delight is spying on their neighbors. Now a child who is locked out might get rescued by the police, mail is left out and the association is called to report a stray trash can.
Ileana Johnson joins us On The Commons this week. Ileana is an American by choice and a Romanian by birth. She is a freelance journalist, an author, a speaker and a radio commentator. She also maintains a blog. Ileana and her husband currently live in a Homeowner Association in Virginia where inspections are conducted regularly to ensure that no blade of grass exceeds the allowable length and that all things visible on the property conform to some rather vague standard. Creativity and individuality are highly frowned upon. Ileana tells us about life in her 300 square foot apartment in Communist Romania and draws some parallels between Communist Romania and HOAs, American Style. Sometimes it is hard to find much difference.
As we mourn the deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, who died a day later, we are reminded of the effects a broken heart and stress can have on us. It is reported that Debbie’s last words were, “I want to be with Carrie”. leaving little doubt as to how she must have been feeling. While this is an extreme case, the stress and the heartbreak are every day occurrences for us, especially if HOAs are involved. Imagine having your every move watched and documented, being endlessly harassed and isolated from neighbors and friends, being bombarded with nasty and incessant demand letters and ultimatums and threatened with foreclosure. These scenarios are very real in the every day lives of many of the HOA owners. What are the physical and psychological effects of this lifestyle? Will this unnecessary form of housing make us an extremely unhealthy nation? What will the health care costs be to deal with the aftermath of this self imposed house of horrors?
Dr. Gary Solomon joins me On The Commons. Dr. Solomon has dedicated the last several years of his life to educating the public about the health risks of living in an HOA. He has written one of the most creative and comprehensive e-books called HOA:Crisis in America which he has made available online free to everyone. You can read the book, listen to it or watch video clips. It is book that everyone should read, whether in the hallowed halls of our State and Federal Capitols, academia and especially his colleagues in the medical world. The medical practitioners who have the task of healing and curing their patients need to understand the root cause of the problems their patients are suffering. Every time I talk to Dr. Solomon, I learn something new and I get to know the man a little better. He is definitely a man well worth getting to know. Enjoy a rebroadcast of this very informative show.
They sounded like such great ideas, so what could possibly go wrong? Instead of keeping residential America under the jurisdiction of local municipal governments, the trend was to put them in private enclaves where covenants ruled and where the notion of a contract was above the law. Add a few frills where everyone shares in the expense of amenities and you have heaven on earth. Right? Now expand the utopian lifestyle to the renters by converting apartments into condos and establishing special financing to help them get their foot on the first rung of prosperity and we are on our way.
As I write this, my mother’s words come back to haunt me; “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.”
Professor Evan McKenzie joins us On The Commons this week. Evan was on the first radio show I ever did and I am delighted to have him join us as we mark our 15th anniversary of On The Commons.
Evan is a political science professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, he teaches law at the John Marshall School of Law, he is the author of Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government and Beyond Privatopia: Rethinking Residential Private Government. He maintains a blog at The Privatopia Papers where he discusses and follows the news and trends on associations. He is just back from a conference in Israel on private communities where he presented a paper titled: “Rethinking Residential Private Government in the United States: Recent Trends in practices and Policy”. Join us as Evan shares some of the problems and issues other countries are facing with their experiences in private communities, and how at least one country, Spain, deals with the “apathy” problem.
I hate using the word community when talking about HOAs. “Community” infers a sense of belonging, of having similar goals and interests and a way of communicating together to further those interests. In an HOA the ties that bind everyone go much deeper than simply sharing the same goals. Like it or not, the private fortunes of the entire neighborhood are at risk. It is incumbent on everyone in the neighborhood to know exactly how much is in the collective kitty and where the money is kept. I can’t imagine a single governing document that would deny a homeowner the right to inspect the books and records. Nor can I imagine any governing document prohibiting the members of the association from “communicating” with other members of the so called “community”. Unfortunately the unimaginable is all too common place.
Mark dos Santos joins us On The Commons. Mark owns several homes in different associations in different states. For the most part there are no major problems that he is aware of. So based on his experiences with the problem free HOAs he probably would never have stepped back to take a look at the big picture. But that one problem was an eye opener.
He started doing a little digging and didn’t particularly like what he discovered. Firsr of all, the lack of transparency made his job so much tougher. He got to thinking about it and dug a little deeper. He started looking online and discovered he wasn’t alone. He started a blog called South Carolina Homeowner’s Forum to share his findings and “communicate” with others in South Carolina. Mark has a better chance of building a true “community” with his blog than his HOA does.
As life gets more and more complex and complicated, I believe we need to keep the most basic and fundamental core of our lives as simple and clutter free as possible. And nothing can be more basic than our need to shelter, i.e. our homes and by extension, our neighborhoods. Unfortunately local municipal governments and special interests have highjacked the sanctity of our homes, destroyed our communities and burdened us with yet more governance, more regulations and increased the risks associated with our homes. Instead of unwinding and re-energizing at the end of the day, many of America’s homeowners come home to fight to keep what they have. However, in order to be able to do that, they need to know what to look for, how to fight and what to do.
John Sellers joins us On The Commons. John, a retired banker, lives and owns several HOA burdened properties in Arizona. With his background in finance, he decided to “follow the money” and the trail led him to discover a whole host of irregularities. Problems that most of the rest of us non financial types would not recognize as potential problems and would therefore completely overlook them. Fortunately John saw the red flags everywhere so he decided to stir things up, just a wee bit. He started a blog where he talks about the issues and has the attention of the state legislators who recognize some of the issues and are willing to work with him as well as other Arizona residents interested in implementing protections for the owners. It is no surprise that one of the biggest issues and problems in residential associations is money related. And while finding out the financial health of an association may seem like an insurmountable, it needn’t be. Tune in for a fascinating interview.
Whenever I think of paradise, images of Hawaii come to mind. Miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches, a never ending expanse of a deep blue ocean with gently rolling waves, lapping on the sand. So peaceful, so serene, so relaxing. It must be paradise. Even the thought of condominiums and homeowner associations are not enough to mar the image of paradise. After all, how could people living in such an idyllic place, waste time on such stupid, irrational and immature petty squabbles that are so common in residential associations of all kinds? Not only have my dreams been shattered but just when I thought I had heard it all, someone has to come along and prove me wrong.
Mary McAndrew joins us On The Commons. Mary lives in Hawaii right on the water, watching the gentle waves lap on the shore and listening to the special music they make as the wash over the sands. But she is apparently far from the paradise I envisioned. She is a mother and a handicapped widow. Mary bought a dilapidated condo, right on the water that needed some major TLC. So she rolled up her sleeves and started transforming her unit into her dream home. We talk to Mary about all the usual bumps in the road, the surprises behind the walls, the problems with the association, living next door to a board member (yes, you know how that goes), the threats, the fines and the lawsuits. So far it is all par for the course, right? So where does the moonshine come in? You’ll have to tune in to find out. That was a new one on me.
What is life like in your residential association? Please take the survey and let us know.
Do you have an HOA story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you.
As regular as clockwork, the Community Associations Institute, CAI, comes out with an annual survey, that, incredibly, year after year confirms their assertion that homeowners in condos, HOAs and co-ops are overwhelmingly happy with their lot in life. Now, I don’t doubt that many homeowners are pleased and think they got a great deal but I have always questioned CAI’s numbers. We know there are major issues and problems that grab the headlines, yet these problems fail to make a dent in these annual surveys. When owners become homeless through no fault of their own, are they likely to be tickled pink with the association? So many things do not add up. So, what is really going on in the homes of American homeowners? Are they really as happy and thrilled as we are led to believe they are? Are the problems just “isolated incidents” and not worth worrying about? To find out how homeowners really feel about their HOA housing, the Coalition for Community Housing Policy in the Public Interest (CHPPI) a not for profit, independent organization without a vested interest in HOAs, decided to ask them.
Sara Benson and Deborah Goonan join us On The Commons. Sara is a real estate broker in Chicago and the co author of the book “Escaping Condo Jail: The keys to navigating risks and surviving perils of the “carefree” community lifestyle”. Deborah is a very active blogger and a seemingly tireless researcher on all the latest news and events taking place in association controlled housing. Her blog is called Independent American Communities. We talk to Sara and Deborah about the survey and the reason for having another one. We talk about the need to find out what really is going on. We are following up on the responses from the last survey CHPPI took. Based on the responses it seemed prudent to dig in a little deeper and find out just how much homeowners really know and understand about the association they live in and are financially responsible for. It is fascinating to start putting the pieces of the puzzle together and to perhaps find the missing pieces. Tune in and please take the survey, send it to your friends and relatives who live in associations and please ask them to also reply to the survey.
Misinformation is all over the place, especially when it comes to HOAs and the loss of individual and property rights and freedoms. Somehow a hand full of industry special interests have been able to convince legislators, judges and real people that millions of Americans have knowingly and willingly given up Constitutional rights and protections. Try as I might, I simply can’t understand, or accept, that seemingly intelligent people would believe such outrageously false statements without question.
When faced with so much misinform and so many outright lies, it then is incumbent on us to set the record straight. But how? It is all about getting the message out. The message and the messengers have to be factual, unemotional and credible. Long rants, crying uncontrollably and obfuscating the facts with gibberish will get us exactly where we are. Nowhere. Maybe it is time to rethink our strategy and our messengers.
Andy Ostrowski joins us On The Commons. Andy is a former attorney who has been working on court reform in Pennsylvania. He ran unsuccessfully for Public office in an effort to right the many wrongs he has seen. Along the way he stumbled into a quagmire of property rights horrors and abuses in condos and HOAs in his neck of the words in Central Pennsylvania. He added those issues to the long list of injustices he was determined to fight. He has been working on getting his Law License reinstated and in the meantime he started hosting his own radio show where he included a number of property rights advocates and activists. The show is currently on hiatus but he hopes to bring it back soon. We talk to Andy about the problems and the challenges of setting the record straight on so many of the issues. We also discuss the need for credibility when getting that message out. Credibility? Tune in to find out.
In memory ofJill Schweitzer, a valiant warrior in the property rights battle for transparency and honest. Jill lost her life on October 25, 2016. Here is a show from July 2014
“If it hurts, it must be good for you”. Remember that one? Fortunately we got smart and realized that if it hurt it really was not good for us. Along the same lines of thinking is the other oft repeated canard which is that homeowner associations protect property values. “If your HOA makes you miserable and physically ill, is abusive, is grossly mismanaged, is secretive, etc. etc. etc., it is OK because it protects your property values.” This makes about as much sense as “if it hurts, it’s good for you.” Despite the fact that the “protected property values” claim is totally unsubstantiated, we hear it over and over again.
Maybe it is time to get smart and to stop being so gullible. Next time you are told HOAs protect property values, insist on tangible proof. Preventing a neighbor from painting their front door red is not acceptable and it really doesn’t prove anything.
Jill Schweitzer joins us On The Commons. Jill is a Real Estate Broker in Scottsdale, Arizona where there are a lot of mandatory membership HOAs and condominiums. She is concerned about all the problems in these controlled properties and has taken it upon herself to try to understand what is going on. She actually put pen to paper and did the math. She tracked and analyzed property values in 10 condo projects in Scottsdale over a period of 10 years. Her findings are on her website hoasavers.com It might come as no surprise that contrary to protecting property values, HOAs can actually devalue property. Tune in, we’ll talk to Jill about a myriad of problems that seem to be part and parcel of HOAs, find out why she decided to look into HOAs and what she is planning on doing to protect her clients’ property.