They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I often see cartoons when I read the horror stories and see the abuses that take place in a residential association. Unfortunately what my mind “sees”, my hand can’t seem to draw so others can also take advantage of the “picture” in my mind. I have to use the thousand words to get you to see and feel what I see and feel when these stories come pouring out. So bear with me.
One of the many images that readily comes to the forefront of my mind when thinking of the hundreds of heartbreaking stories is a tsunami One small puff of air in the shape of a pudgy pooch or window blinds that are the wrong shade of white and off we go. The HOA huffs and it puffs and it gathers up strength and speed and then it rolls across the oceans, demolishing everything in its wake. When the oceans unleash their fury and come inland it is called a “disaster”. When an HOA bulldozes a member why don’t we recognize it as a disaster? All of these horrors and abuses are slowly but surely destroying any sense of community and ” belonging” we have.
Sara Benson joins us On The Commons. Sara is a longtime real estate broker in Chicago where condos and co-ops abound. Her hands-on and intimate knowledge of the residential association regime led her to co author a book called “Escaping the Condo Jail – The Keys to navigating Risks and surviving perils of the “Carefree” Community Lifestyle.” The book has been out for a couple of years now and anytime a book, a blog, an article or even a radio show is available to the public, it acts as a lifeline to homeowners drowning in the abuses of their HOAs. We talk to Sara about her book and follow up on some of the feedback she has received. Keep the image of a tsunami rolling across the angry oceans, looking for a place to land as you listen to the show and you will get an idea of how well Escaping Condo Jail is doing.
You follow a case as it winds its way through the court system. It seems so simple, so cut and dried that you wonder why so much time, money and hostility is invested in such a petty argument. Why should it cost hundreds of thousands of hard earned dollars to figure out whether a homeowner in an association can have white roses instead of red ones? Or whether or not a condo owner is allowed to have a small American flag on his or her front porch or if a family can have a swing set in the backyard for their children? Why should these even be an issue? And why would anyone in their right mind care? And finally, after months of discovery, nasty letters, fines, bullying, isolation and abusive language, dividing up the neighborhood, name calling and other nastiness, the opinion from the judges is handed down deciding the case once and for all. This is it, this is the end of this road. The wise men and women of the legal system have spoken and you are left with your mouth hanging open, wondering what on earth just happened.
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline has a law degree although she is no longer a practicing attorney. She has seen the dark side of the legal profession and decided to blow the whistle on what happens “behind the scenes”. In an 800 page book called “The Dark Side: a law treatise on judging – with memoir” she explains it all and gives us clues to look for so we are not caught off guard. In a fascinating interview she walks us through what goes on behind the scenes and how and why some of these off the wall decisions are reached. Caroline has witnessed these irregularities both as a practicing attorney and a litigant caught in this legal “chamber of horrors”. You can reach Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org but you won’t want to miss this interview.
Oh, it’s a brave new world when homeowner associations and condos are allowed, by law, to assess fines for alleged rules infractions and covenant violations. They are also permitted to add junk fees, file a lien and then foreclose to collect those charges which often include hefty attorney fees. In many states associations have been granted priority over mortgages and other liens. What exactly does that mean? And how do associations find all these minor problems? The stories of covenant enforcement highlight the sheer pettiness and nastiness that seems to be quite rampant in association governed neighborhoods.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill is an attorney in Texas who knows firsthand what it is like to be targeted by a homeowner association. He regularly represents other homeowners, often in the battle of their lives against their HOAs. We talk to Bill about super priority liens, find out what they are and what they do. We also talk about something that is on the horizon that would allow associations to watch an owner’s every move and inspect every nook and cranny on private property.We are, of course, talking about drones. As I mentioned, it is a brave new world. Private property? A home? What will American homes and property rights look like in the future.
Over the years I have spoken to so many people who have found themselves on the receiving end of the wrath and fury of their condo or homeowners associations. The fear, anger, frustration and terror are unmistakable in their voices. They feel trapped and don’t understand how “this can happen in America”. They tell me they will never, ever buy another house in an association again if they are fortunate enough to get out of their current situation. It often takes years to finally put an end to their fights.
Jerry Berg joins us On The Commons. Jerry, as some of you may remember, was hospitalized when the president of his condominium beat him up with a crowbar. The president was a former judge who should have known better. When I called Jerry recently I noticed lightness in his voice. Was I imagining it or did he sound happier? Join us for a recap and an update on what he has been up to. He settled his case, refused to sign a gag order so is able to talk about it and to disclose the terms of the agreement. He has advice for others in similar situations. His advice will surprise you.
With all the bad press HOAs have been enjoying lately, it must be time for yet another industry sponsored survey, proving once again that ALL the fraud, abuses, and just plain stupidity we keep hearing about are nothing more than “isolated incidents”, simply anecdotal and really mean nothing. You see, “the survey says; homeowners are overwhelmingly satisfied with their HOAs”. Funny how the survey says the same thing time and again and yet the stories and the need for more and more enabling legislation to fix the problems continue to grow. Something smells a little fishy here.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah is a prolific blogger, commentator on many online venues including social media. She is a researcher who manages to pack a great deal in her day. Unlike many advocates who, once they escape the horror of their residential associations simply disappear, Deborah stuck with it to understand the issues and the problems. Her blog is called Independent American Communities . You will find a lot of these ” isolated incidents” discussed there. We talk to Deborah about the surveys conducted by CAI and get a wider understanding of surveys in general. Assuming the data is accurate, we also talk about the stats that are completely ignored by the surveys and what that really means. Sometimes there is a lot more information in what is not said than in what is actually disclosed.
Symptoms are warning signs indicative of a problem. These warning signs should be investigated. Sweeping them under the rug and hoping they’ll go away is irresponsible. Far too often that is the treatment of choice in the Homeowner association arena. All the horror stories are symptomatic of deeper problems, and conditions that allow or even encourage the abuses to continue, unabated. They are the results of flawed reasoning. The very people who should be concerned that their brand is defective and harmful to the owners are the very same people who flippantly dismiss every signal that all is not well. Rather than preventing the horrors, the HOA industry blames and belittles the owners. Their arsenal is made up of the same stupid excuses and explanations. They glibly refer to the hundreds and hundreds of stories as “isolated incidents”. They have no credibility, they deserve no respect.
Judy Thomas joins us On The Commons. Judy is an award winning journalist with the Kansas City Star who just wrote and published an amazing series of articles about many of the stories going on in associations across the country. The main story, HOAs from hell: Homes associations torment residents they’re supposed to support just touches on some of the many problems homeowners face on a daily basis. The page also has links to other stories and video clips of some of the stories Judy ran across. In an HOA no one is spared. The color of window dressings is more important than a child’s safety and her life. The color of a swing set takes on a life of its own and ends up costing the family a huge sum of money. In one condo, an approved emotional pet was banned, causing the owner enough distress that he committed suicide. Even a 91 year old great grandmother is not safe in one of these associations. The elderly lady in this story is being charged $15 for every “letter” the HOA sends her notifying her that her garage door is no longer considered trim. Aren’t Americans allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labor without being hounded and harassed by the neighborhood thugs? These stories are real, they are not isolated incidents. The same stories are repeated time and again all over the place. You just can’t make these stories up.
If you have a story to share with Judy please send it to HOA@kcstar.com
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, we were limited on where and how we got our information. The papers, radio and TV news reports decided what we should and could know. But, times they are a changing! Technology has opened up so many doors for all of us. Blogging, self publishing books, social media, podcasting, the internet, movies and yes, the traditional outlets that are still with us. All of it is terrific, it gives us access to so much more information.
Greg Dorchak joins us On The Commons. Greg is a movie maker from Austin, Texas. He has taken advantage of all the arts that allow him to get his point across. He is a self published author, a cartoonist as well as a movie maker. His passion is making people laugh so he uses comedy to deliver his message. We first met Greg a couple of years ago when he was working on “The Code Enforcer” which is all about, yup, you guessed it – HOAs. “The Code Enforcer” is on the back burner until he can get the funding to finish his movie. And yes, it is funny. There is nothing quite like taking the Mickey out of people who take themselves too seriously, is there? There is a ton of material in associations. However, in the meantime he is finishing the last bits and pieces on his current movie, a romantic comedy called Kopy Kings that takes place in a copy store. We’ll talk to Greg, find out what it takes to make a movie and how to get the inspiration to satisfy our creative yearnings.
In the very early days you could count the number of private communities with restrictive covenants on the fingers of one hand. In those days housing consumers had to search a home in a restricted development because that is what they wanted. But that was then. Once local municipalities realized they could greatly increase the size of their fiefdoms, increase their tax base without having to provide the services those taxes were designed to pay for, and developers were able to increase density, building more units on less land, the landscape in residential America changed dramatically. The age of cookie cutter and mini units was born. Then they multiplied like rabbits. Everywhere you go and everywhere you look you see the same designs, the same plants, the same colors, the same everything. On the surface they look boring but take a closer look and you will soon realize that the outer shell is a facade. The real story of housing American style, takes place behind those beige, bland, plastic walls.
Rodney Gray joins us On The Commons. Rodney went into acting before enrolling in college where he majored in film. But it wasn’t until he went to visit his mother in Texas that he was introduced to the concept of Homeowner Associations and witnessed the abuses that are part and parcel of everyday life in HOAs. He was informed that the real government could not get involved in protecting the homeowners in his mother’s development because that was a “civil matter”. But when he was threatened by a real police officer at a homeowner meeting the lines between what was a civil matter and what the real government could do became quite blurred. And that’s when his passion for making films and his strong sense of moral justice came together. Going a little beyond what one sees on the surface of HOAs, Rodney put on his investigative reporter’s hat, rounded up some friends and spent several years traveling around interviewing people and filming in HOAs. The result is his documentary, The HOAX The HOAX is making the rounds of film festivals and exposing the underside of Privatopia, as Prof. Evan McKenzie calls them. We’ll talk to Rodney and find out what it took to make the documentary and how the viewers have been reacting to it.
I am beginning to think that any lie will do. As long as no one looks too closely, as long as the lie sounds plausible, as long as it is delivered with a straight face, it is good to go. You really do not have to go too much farther than the lies that are told when selling HOAs. Just think of the ones that are routinely used to make surrendering sovereignty of our homes sound like such an honor and you will understand what I mean. A few buzzwords that need no explanation readily come to mind; “carefree living”, “protecting property values” and “democracy up close and personal”.
Such a deal! You give up the right to decide what to plant in your front yard in return for having a say in what happens in the community.
So how does that work?
Marjorie Murray joins us On The Commons. Marjorie is the founder and president of the Center for California Homeowner Association Law. Over the years she and the Center for California Law have tirelessly tracked legislation and have worked with like minded groups and legislators to ensure that homeowner friendly laws are enacted. They have educated law makers about the hidden dangers and pitfalls of proposed bills that would benefit the HOA industry to the detriment of the owners and have fought valiantly to defeat them when they have come up. One such bill that reared its ugly head in California this year was AB1799 The bill was introduced and explained as a cost saving measure for associations. On the surface it may sound like a great idea BUT WAIT A MINUTE, what would it really do? And just how well would this new law, had it passed, square with the “Democracy up close and personal” benefit to HOA living we are promised? Marjorie explains in detail what this bill would have done and gives some solid tips on how to find, and fight, these bills when they are introduced in a State Capitol near you. You know they are coming to your neck of the woods. She also gives some good advice on how to expose the, um, shall we we say, untruths in the claims? You’ll want to tune in and never underestimate the importance of letting your legislators hear from you.
We can all make a mistake but when we intentionally seek to mislead, it is called a lie. Habitual liars have no credibility and without credibility they really have nothing. Who is going to believe them? But when it comes to sales, intentionally misleading the public should, and at one point did, have consequences. At least when it comes to property, which is always an emotional decision. A false statement about the property can sway a decision one way or the other. It is imperative that consumers are given all the TRUE facts and allowed to make an educated decision as to whether to proceed with the purchase or not.
And what happens when the ads are misleading?
Martha Boneta joins us On The Commons. Martha, many of you know, realized her childhood dream of becoming a farmer when she and her family bought Liberty Farms in Paris, Virginia. At the time of the sale the farm was dilapidated and in desperate need of a lot of tender loving care. A patriot and someone who loves the land and Virginia and tirelessly posts photos of her beloved Commonwealth on her Facebook page, the physical condition of the farm was less important than the purported historic significance of the farm. The emotional hook for Martha was the allegation that Stonewall Jackson bivouacked on the land that was now part of the farm. For someone who loves her country as much as she does, no other farm anywhere was as precious as Liberty Farm. So she bought it, cleaned it up, fixed it up and turned it into a little corner of heaven on earth. At least when it comes to the condition of the farm. But heaven was still a long, long way away. Join us as we catch up with Martha and life on Liberty Farm.