When I look at the very sorry state of housing in the US, I often wonder how we got to where we are. However, I don’t have to think too hard about it because the fingerprints of dysfunction are everywhere. In the country that describes itself as the freest, the biggest, the richest and the best, how can something as simple and basic as the right to homeownership be fraught with so many pitfalls? How can America’s homeowners be subject to such unfettered powers by special interests?
Julio Robaina joins us On The Commons. Julio, a former State Representative in Florida vowed to do everything in his power to protect the rights of owners in Florida’s many condominiums. He headed up a task force, traveled the state and listened to the stories of complete and utter abuses by management companies, board members and industry attorneys. What he heard changed him profoundly. During his term in office he championed legislation that ensured some rights were protected but like all laws, they were changed. As the current co-owner of a management company, he is still working on getting the existing laws enforced. Protecting owners from fraud, embezzlement and ensuring fair elections in condominiums. We talk about all of this and also discuss the bigger picture of communal living with commingled assets, liabilities, responsibilities in a world apparently shrouded in secrecy.
Having a little corner of the world all to yourself is a dream for many. A place to call yours, to fill with the people and the things you love, to put your own personal stamp on it. But over the years the rights to that little corner of the world, or that piece of property that you own, have eroded and continue to erode. That needs to stop.
Tom DeWeese joins us On The Commons. Tom is the founder and president of the Virginia based American Policy Center. He is a passionate advocate for property rights, a prolific writer and speaker. Looking at the state of property ownership today and seeing all the policies that have stripped owners of their rights he sees opportunities for change. He wrote an article titled Five Actions Ben Carson Must Take to Control HUD’s Tyranny We talk to Tom about some of the problems and how he believes the problems can and must be corrected. We also wander off topic – just a little – and learn so much more about the possibilities that would be realized in a freer environment while fully protecting our property rights.
The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the Mediterranean South co-operative building in Fort Lee, New Jersey violated an owner’s right to free speech by prohibiting him from distributing campaign literature when he ran for a seat on the board. The co-op had a house rule that prohibited owners from distributing written material, the reason given is to “preserve the residents’ quiet enjoyment of their units and to cut down on paper pollution”. But, as we know, what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander because when the board distributed their diatribes, quiet enjoyment was never a consideration and apparently, unlike all other paper, the board’s missives did not pollute. On a somewhat humorous note, (or is it ironic?), the board included the following sentence in one of their leaflets; “Can you imagine the disaster that would befall upon Med South and all of us if this group of selfish people ever got control of the Med South Board?”
Robert Dublirer joins us On The Commons. Rob is a former New York Prosecutor, so well versed in the law and quite comfortable in a court of law so after years of having his rights trampled on and being lied to, he decided to put his knowledge and skills to work. He sued the Mediterranean South co-op to protect his right to communicate with his neighbors. The rules and regulations adopted by the board include some of the most restrictive gag orders on what the owners are allowed to talk about and discuss. Join us as Rob fills us in on all his battles from the time he moved in and was not given a handicapped parking space to ending up, not only protecting his rights, but also arguing for the rights of his fellow New Jersey HOA denizens.
Once upon a time people bought a house, painted the front door a color of their choice, found a door knocker they loved and house numbers that looked just right, planted their favorite flowers, shrubs and bushes, stood back, admired their work then went in and shut the world out of their private space. But then came homeowner associations with their tomes of covenants, rules, regulations, permits, approval forms, nosy neighbors, nasty neighbors, fines for having unapproved garden hoses in their front yards, cracked flowerpots on their front steps, dusty mailboxes and window shades that are the wrong shade of white. And suddenly there was nothing left of the owners choice. Even the joy and pride of homeownership was gone only to be replaced with fear, acrimony, hate and discontent. Have HOAs improved housing or are they destroying a once sacred way of life?
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney and frequent guest, expanded his practice to include representing homeowners in the fight of their lives with their residential associations. In most states it is that time of year when legislators gather to propose legislation, often sponsoring bills to strip homeowners of more of their rights and to empower HOAs to exert ever more control over the owners. We talk about that and we also brainstorm about the need for HOAs. Are they truly needed and what real purpose do they serve? We wonder if there are cheaper, better and more efficient ways of delivering any services that might be perceived as benefits to homeowners in residential neighborhoods. Maybe it is time to start thinking outside the box and investigating ways of improving and simplifying life at home.
The one-place individuals should have the most control of their lives and their actions, is at home. That is, provided they are not infringing on anyone else’s property. After all, who knows more about an individual’s wants, needs and tastes than that person? Yet, what should be the simplest concept and the most sacrosanct area of private life has become the most fraught with peril, bogged down with rules and regulations and top heavy with “enforcers” whose sole purpose in life seems to be to ensure blind obedience and compliance with arbitrary rules.
Sara Benson joins us On The Commons. Sara is a real estate broker in Chicago, Illinois and co-author of the book, Escaping Condo Jail: The keys to navigating risks and surviving perils of the carefree community lifestyle. We talk about the risks and perils of association controlled living, the expectations housing consumers have and what they are told, and, more importantly, not told, about the “dream house” they are buying. We also talk about the importance of making their voices heard by not allowing others to speak for them. Do you ever wonder why there are so many rules and regulations protected by laws? In part it is because there are groups of “special interests” who claim to speak for you. Don’t let them get away with it. Let your voice be heard.
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.