The story goes something like this, condominiums and homeowner associations provide the owners with carefree living and enhanced property values. Well, that’s the story, but the truth bears absolutely no resemblance to the sales pitch. While the carefree bit refers to not having to mow your lawn, the hours and heartache that go with providing oversight, at least trying to, and protecting your rights are never mentioned. The stress takes a toll on your health, and the financial cost of being a condo owner is inconceivable.
Raelene Schifano joins us On The Commons. Rae, a lifelong resident of Washington State decided to buy a condo believing her property will be well cared for when she and her husband traveled. It didn’t take the condo long to start levying fines against her and her husband for some of the most outrageous and insane reasons. Being a business owner with plenty of guts and gumption, Rae refused to be intimidated and fought back. She got involved at the grass roots level in her association and then started working in the legislative arena educating law makers on what happens when they allow power hungry and money grabbing HOA boards, managers and industry members unfettered access to the lives and bank accounts of unsuspecting owners. Listen to Rae’s story, then contact the legislators in your state and DEMAND that fines by condos and HOAs be BANNED.
Keeping up with all the changes in America’s residential developments can be quite daunting. Over the years the idea of homeownership seems to have evolved from being true ownership, with all the inherent rights and privileges afforded to the owner to being something more akin to that of a junior partner in some business endeavor. The concept of rights and privileges are getting somewhat confusing to Americans and there appears to be an acceptance that a home must be subject to the whims and fantasies of others. I find that terrifying.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Like many homeowners in mandatory membership homeowner associations, Debbie ran into problems so she did a little research to try to figure out what was happening. Fortunately for all of us she is still digging and discovering new twists, scams and stories and is sharing what she discovers on her blog Independent American Communities. Her collection of daily posts, articles, comments and information is impressive and invaluable. We talk to Deborah about the issues that plague developments from poorly designed infrastructure to inadequate parking and the complete lack of supervision from the building phase to every day living and how this complicated alliance of different interests in what should be a simple form of homeownership affects the owners and their pocket books. If we learn anything it is that things aren’t always what they seem to be so do a little digging and ask questions.
What a concept! Build homeowner associations to give municipal governments a sneaky underhanded way of collecting what amounts to free tax money. This sleight of hand is also known as double taxation. It works very nicely for local governments – not so well for the homeowners involved. Developers increase density thus increasing profit margins. Housing consumers are told that this scheme will protect property values and allow them to enjoy greater control over their immediate surroundings. To add insult to injury, real governments have adopted a hands off approach, claiming it is a civic matter. State legislators have enacted legislation empowering associations while special interest groups reap the benefits.
While the carnage continues, those in a position to prevent these atrocities have front row seats to the modern day Gladiator Games.
Julio Robaina joins us On The Commons. Julio is a former Florida State Representative who, during his term, toured the State with a task force talking to home and condo owners. The stories he heard from the owners convinced him that something had to be done to stop horrors. He introduced legislation that would provide oversight through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but subsequent legislative tinkering and bureaucratic red tape has all but rendered the program useless. Not one to give up, Julio, who I nicknamed “The Energizer Bunny” years ago, went straight from the State House into property management where he is still working with the homeowners to put a stop to fraud and embezzlement and to ensure fair elections. He and his partner have a web page detailing all the problems and the issues, naming names and streaming news clips. And while the stories are about Florida, these stories are replicated nationwide. And the Energizer Bunny is still fighting!
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 has written 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
Regular listeners often hear me refer to American housing as being made of cardboard and scotch tape. It is not just housing that is no longer built to last, everything else tends to fall apart and need to be repaired or replaced much too soon and far too often. While people agree with me, the explanation I get is that it is cheaper to make junk than it is to build things that will be around, functional and in one piece for awhile. But how cost effective is it? Are we destined to continually play “catch up” juggling our budgets to patch and prop things up?
John Sellers joins us On The Commons. John has a degree in aeronautical engineering and a background in finance. When he moved to Arizona he ran into the flawed concept of residential associations. Taking a step back and looking at the really big picture he identified some of the problems and came up with a few ideas on how to avoid building the “junk” in the first place, especially when it comes to infrastructure. John, along with his colleagues, founded the Yavapai Regional Capital . We’ll talk to John, get some of the details, find out how we can build infrastructure that might have a chance of lasting, how to finance it and whether there is a place for modern technology in the future of the world we live in. This was one of the most fascinating and eye opening interviews I have had. You won’t want to miss it.
It is said that “a chain is as strong as its weakest link”. We all know what a chain looks like, therefore it is easy to visualize and understand. Replace the chain with something that is abstract, like a right or ownership, you know what they are and can describe what they mean but you can’t visualize them. Then apply the concept of a weak link and imagine how it would erode the rights you have. Except now the link isn’t a single item but rather a whole host of things merrily chipping away at your rights and property.
Tom Deweese joins us On The Commons. Tom is the founder and president of the Virginia based American Policy Center, a speaker, a passionate advocate for property rights and an author. Tom has written several books, his newest book, Sustainable: The War on Free Enterprise, Private Property and Individuals. In a clear and easy to understand way, he explains how, we have lost rights and freedoms over the years. In order to put things in context I ask Tom why property rights matter If you thought it is so you can paint your from door any color you choose, that’s the least of it. Click on the link for a free, downloadable pamphlet, tune in to the show and hear Tom discuss some the issues, read the book and decide to do your bit to salvage what is left of your and your children’s rights.
That the system is rigged in favor of the corporation in residential associations is irrefutable. Housing consumers are required to sign a “take it or leave it” contract when they buy a house, without knowing or understanding what they are getting into. Then, when things head south, as they are wont to do, the homeowners are described, by the HOA industry as horrible, irresponsible people for failing to abide by the provisions in the supposed contract that they allegedly agreed to. Even attorneys are left scratching their heads trying to decipher the mountain of legalese designed to strip homeowners of rights and property.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney is one of a handful of attorneys across the country who represents homeowners in HOAs. Unlike the “experts in HOA law” who typically represent associations and have an inherent conflict of interest when it comes to working for the owner, Bill has no ties to the industry nor does he owe allegiance to the corporations that govern these developments. We talk to Bill about one of the most heinous powers associations have been given by misguided legislators, the power to FINE their neighbors seemingly for no other reason other than they happen to be in a bad mood. More than one court has found fines to be an unconstitutional delegation of a police power, however the very people who benefit the most from this practice have convinced legislators that it is constitutionally permissible to “sign away your rights”. Yes, it goes back to that contract I was talking about. Listen to some of the tools homeowners may have when it comes to fighting the abuses of the unfair practice of arbitrarily punishing a neighbor.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” When confronted with anything that “sounds too good to be true”, don’t take it at face value, instead do a little digging to get the details. One of these golden gems in the land of residential associations is Alternate Dispute Resolution, or ADR. Proponents would have us believe arbitration and mediation are cheaper, quicker and better than going to court. It sounds too good to be true so I did a little digging, and several years ago wrote a paper on my findings which is on my web site. You can read it here. But there is so much more.
As time goes on and more and more people fall in the trap of giving up their right to go to court, some pretty unsavory details have come to light. Mediation is used pretty extensively in neighborhood association wars which usually include a confidentiality clause, in other words, a gag order. I have always opposed this.
Robin Lent joins us On The Commons. Robin, a Texas homeowner got tangled up in a battle with her association 10 years ago, went to a court ordered mediation and after an exhausting session, when she was ready to drop, signed an agreement that included a confidentiality clause. The terms of the settlement are sealed so we will NOT be discussing them BUT for the details of the mediation process, and the fall out of the gag order, you will have to tune in. It was a huge eye opener for me and I learned so much from this show. So, you think you want to go to arbitration? Please tune in.
How do you fix something that is so horribly broken, something that was built on a foundation of lies and misinformation and something that is so anti owner? You can’t. For the past several decades homeowners, legislators, academics, health professionals and yes, even the homeowners themselves, have suggested ways weeks and mini fixes, all they have accomplished is made the whole process more burdensome and complicated. Maybe it is time to take a step back, analyze the issues and the reasons for the conflicts and tackle the real reasons for the feuds instead of just trying to make them more palatable.
Scott Wircenske joins us On The Commons. Scott, a homeowner in Kansas asked the board of directors of Parkhill Manor HOA a rather embarrassing question: “where is our money?” . Homeowners who are members of any residential association are responsible for the financial health of the association as well as the condition of the common assets (liabilities?). The owners have a right to know what is going on and the board has a fiduciary duty to keep the owners informed. Scott’s board chose, instead, to withhold that information. For the past 8 years Scott has been involved in litigation, trying to work with the board as well as attempting to get legislation enacted to prevent the abuses. Scott shares his story with us and warns us of the pitfalls that he encountered.
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 email@example.com but you won’t want to miss this interview.