Sam and Maria Farran

Have you noticed how all sense flies out the window when an involuntary membership homeowners association is involved?  All of a sudden we fear anything that is not part of that uniform look and feel of a kontrolled kommunity.  A different shade of blah can topple an entire neighborhood, an unapproved garden hose, dusty mailboxes, flags, rose bushes and pudgy pooches are all a threat to property values.  An addition that doesn’t quite konform to the existing architectural guidelines will no doubt turn the neighborhood green with envy.
Oh, get real!
Joining us On The Commons this week are  Maria and Sam Farran.  The Farrans  weren’t about to believe all the nonsense they were told.  They did their homework, knew the rules and the laws and decided to fight back.  After years of court room drama, they won their cases and were awarded attorney fees and court costs.  However, there was a snag. You see, in the process,  their HOA ran out of money and went bankrupt.  But there is a happy ending after all. As Maria says; “We used to be a corporation that ran a neighborhood, we are now a neighborhood that runs a corporation”. I won’t ruin it for you so tune in and find out how they got their money and what happened to the association.  You’ll love it.
How did they do it?  Well, look for their new and improved governing documents On The Commons and yes, you may use them as a template if you too want to return common sense and a sense of community to your neighborhood.

Vicki MacHale

“If it hurts, it must be good for you” or so the saying went for years.  Fortunately that myth was debunked when cooler heads prevailed and proved that pain was not a good thing. Along the same thinking, and with no conclusive evidence to support their claims of protecting property values, we watched as more and more restrictions, rules and covenants were added to the already long list of what homeowners could not do in their own homes.  This canard was repeated often enough so many people started to accept it as gospel. Well, it appears the pendulum may be swinging back the other way.  New legislation is prohibiting HOAs from banning such things as clotheslines, solar panels and flags.  These were the iconic red flags that were said to lead to “ghetto living”.

Vicki MacHale joins us On The Commons this week.  Vicki has 22 years experience in property management in California.  She recently wrote an article about the laws stripping HOAs of some of the powers they had.  She very accurately titled her article 

 “The Sky is Falling”.   She writes about the reactions from fellow colleagues and board members to the new laws as they are enacted and assures them that the sky really is not falling. Over the years, she has watched as choice in housing has been eliminated.  No longer do housing consumers get to decide how to live.  Vicki calls this the beige-ing of America. We’ll talk to Vicki and understand  what she means by the beige-ing of America and we’ll learn about some of the laws enacted in California removing powers from HOAs.   We’ll find out if the world really will come to an end or will this trend will lead to building real communities instead of war zones. 



Bill Davis and John Cowherd

If you live in an HOA, and who doesn’t these days?, you are required to pay your share of the common costs in the association.  That is only fair.  And it is also only fair that you be told how your money is being used.  Unfortunately part of the common expenses will sometimes include some pretty hefty costs for litigation.  The association may end up in court, and the members of the association will have to cover those costs.  But none of this is news and in fact attorney fees should be budgeted for.  What appears to be more prevalent these days, is that as part of a settlement agreement, there is a confidentiality clause.  Here is how this tends to work; the HOA Board is sued, ends up settling the case and as part of the settlement they agree to pay a sum of money as long as the homeowner agrees to a gag order.  The owner is not allowed to talk about the terms of the settlement, if they do, they have to repay the money and start all over again.  I have heard of some really nasty conditions. The owner agrees thinking they’ll get that monkey off their backs and be able to get on with the rest of their lives. The problem is that the settlement doesn’t always end the dispute.  But beyond that, the association is using your dues to cover up their misdeeds and you are not allowed to know about it or any of the details.  The money you paid them to fix the roof is now buying your neighbor’s silence.

Bill Davis and John Cowherd join us On the Commons this week. They are both attorneys who represent homeowners against in litigation against their HOAs. Bill, from Texas, has been on the receiving end of the HOA litigation so understands what to os like to be in the crosshairs of an out of control board.  John, a Northern Virginia attorney, switched his practice where he worked in real estate law to representing homeowners.  John also has a blog called Words of Conveyance .  His latest post is on point for this week’s show topic.  We talk about gag orders, why they are used and whether they should be used.


David Kahne


It was all so simple in the beginning. Build new houses in a residential association, give the HOA  the authority to tax the homeowners and the responsibility of providing the services normally provided by the municipal government.  The local municipality still collects the full tax but no longer provides the services.  Is it fair?  Is it right? Probably not but it was simple.

Was it then necessary to take what was once an easy to read one or two page “contract” known as the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions and just keep adding more covenants, more restrictions, more conditions and empowering association boards and managers to become more intrusive and more abusive?  When the world was given a mere 10 Commandments that covered everything they needed to lead a good life, why do American homeowners need a tome of do’s and don’ts on how to live in their own homes? Haven’t we gone too far?  

David Kahne joins us On The Commons this week.  David, an attorney in Houston, Texas has represented homeowners in their legal battles with their homeowner associations.  He has been active in trying to get homeowner friendly legislation enacted in Texas.  He has presented in numerous homeowner sponsored conferences.  The most recent conference held in Houston was just a couple of weeks ago.  Participants discussed the issues and talked about possible fixes.  We’ll talk to David and learn about the conference, legislative successes from the last session and we’ll find out what is on the agenda for next year’s session.  One of the greatest benefits of meeting as a group is the benefit of brainstorming.  We will hear about some very interesting ideas and comments that came out of this conference. 


Don DeBat

Don DeBat

There is a rumor that condominiums are carefree living at their best.  No lawns to mow, no snow to shovel (in areas where it snows) no maintenance, all an owner has to do is pick up the phone, call the manager or a friendly board member, report a problem and poof, as if by magic, the problem is taken care of.  Right?  Well, if you believe that I have bridge to sell you.  No one tells you about your responsibilities as an owner or the hours “volunteers” donate to the association. There are other misconceptions associated with condo living, carefree living is the least of them.

Don DeBat joins us On The Commons this week.  Don is a long time reporter, a newspaper columnist who has written hundreds of newspaper columns on condominium and homeowner association living.  He is a Pulitzer Prize nominee for a series he wrote on shoddy home repairs, He has authored a number of books, including co-authoring “Escaping Condo Jail: Navigating the Risks and Surviving the Perils of the “Carefree Community Lifestyle” with Sara Benson.  The multi talented DeBat wrote the press release for the new homeowner satisfaction survey conducted recently by the Coalition for Community Housing Policy in the Public Interest (CHPPI) We talk to Don about his career as a Real Estate reporter, his research for his latest book and we find out how he managed to get his nickname, Batman.  Tune in for a fun interview.  


Ward Lucas


Why do some HOA horror stories grab the headlines, go viral, get written up in news outlets around the world, discussed on radio shows and highlighted on local and national TV shows while others, equally horrible, get ignored?  We never seem to learn as the stories repeat themselves, over and over and over again.  Flag flaps, children play equipment in private backyards that seem to irk some of the less tolerant in the ‘hood, non conforming trashcans, unapproved garden hoses, bird feeders, discrimination, discrimination and more discrimination against anyone who does not conform to some secret acceptable standard.  There are hundreds of these stories every single day yet we only ever hear about a tiny handful of them.  Why?  

Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons this week.  Ward is an award winning print, TV and radio journalist who, over his career have covered stories of war while fighting a war to protect his property in a homeowners association.  His experience and expertise were put to great use when he wrote Neighbors at War, the Creepy case Against your Homeowners Association.  The term ” Neighbors at War” has caught on and is used often in HOA stories.  Ward also maintains a blog by the same name.  All his posts give an estimated reading time.  We’ll find out why.  We’ll also ask him how to capture the attention of the mainstream media and what we, as homeowners with all sorts of different backgrounds, can do to become more effective communicators.  I always have fun talking to Ward so tune in and join in the fun.  Oh, and as an added bonus, we’ll hear all about his latest book, due out soon.


Adam Buck


Community – that wonderful word that conjures up images of people who have interests and ideals in common, people who live in a neighborhood where they become friends and family.  It takes a while to build a community, to build trust and to get to know each other, to learn to overlook the petty and silly stuff and focus on the good things about the “community”.

But in this fast paced, modern world of ours where “community” is manufactured, an outsider is hired to ensure uniformity and compliance and tolerance, acceptance and individuality are frowned upon, the only things owners have in common appear to be the duty to pay whatever they are ordered to pay and to “obey the orders”.  In these artificial “communities”, the descriptive words that more readily come to mind are “war zones”.  When the problems are petty and ridiculous, as they often are, a more sensible approach to dealing with them may be some form of adult supervision.  

Adam Buck joins us On The Commons this week.  Adam is an attorney in Scottsdale, Arizona who has started a new company called Homeowner Legal Services.  Adam says he has represented both homeowners and associations in disputes that have gone to court.  His new company is a membership based dispute resolution venue.  The association signs on and agrees in the event of a conflict, to mandatory, binding arbitration.  This membership extends to the members.  Everyone agrees to appear before a retired judge and abide by his or her decision.  We talk to Adam about the details of how this would work.  We also discuss time lines.  For some of the pettier and sillier “disputes” where “common sense” might suffice for a reasonable resolution, this may well be one answer.  

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of On The Commons.

Opinion:  It is my belief that much of what goes on in associations is petty and stupid.  However, there are some very serious problems in associations that need to go beyond “common sense” solutions and set legal precedent for how to protect the rights and property of the owners.  In these instances binding arbitration should never be used.  Shu.


Shelly Marshall


The simplest things in life can end up being the most complicated  Add a healthy dose of stress to the mix and the most basic things quickly become overwhelming.  Sadly if you live in a mandatory membership residential association, making everything more difficult and ridiculous seems to be part of their reason for being.

Shelly Marshall joins me On The Commons this week.  Shelly is a dynamic owner and advocate, a keynote speaker and an author.  Her first HOA book is called HOA Warrior.  She has followed that with HOA Warrior II, her second book.  Her book is full of great advice for both homeowners and board members, incredible stories,  interesting facts and lots of forms to help the homeowners by pass the absurd run around, designed to frustrate and further inflame the situation.  Requesting association documents a homeowner is entitled to often denied and sometimes gets down to the wrong wording, the wrong form and the wrong color of ink. We talk to Shelly about what is happening, discuss some of the emails she receives from her readers and talk about legislation designed to regulate HOAs.  You’ll want to hear the show and you’ll want to read her latest book, HOA Warrior II.  Visit her website for more information of how and where you can get her book.



Nila Ridings

Millions of dollars unaccounted for, a neighborhood divided, lawsuits, shoddy repairs on some units, shunned members, bully boards, depreciating property values, lies, finger pointing and a thoroughly unpleasant place to live.  It must be a) a Bentley Little novel, b) a horror movie, c) an isolated incident or d) one of many dysfunctional homeowner associations across the country?  

If you guessed d, give yourself a pat on the back.  The stories, the details, the incidents just keep repeating themselves over and over again from the Atlantic to the Pacific and all points in between. Is it something in the water or do they clone incompetent people and put them in charge of YOUR home and your most valuable asset?  

Nila Ridings joins us On The Commons this week.  Nila has been right in the middle of a fight to save her home, her sanity and her health.  She is a frequent guest blogger and writes extensively on these issues.  She often hears from other homeowners who are having problems and looking for help.  Not surprisingly, finding someone to explain the problems and offer help is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Today Nila tells us, from her personal experience, what it is like being trapped in the crosshairs of an HOA that simply won’t let go.  She also tells us how some of our best intentions can cause those we love some serious headaches.  And she shares  some valuable advice.  


Deborah Goonan


Over the last several decades, residential America has undergone a radical transformation.  Gone is the concept and practice of the owners enjoying sovereignty over their own homes.  No longer is the local municipal government the closest layer of government.  Although no one has actually signed away any constitutionally protected rights, the very structure of association housing has placed obstacles in the full use and enjoyment of those rights.  All these changes occurred without the consent of the governed.  

It was time to change that!  Association Evaluation, LLC decided to ask the very people stuck in these developments to share their thoughts, concerns and their experiences.  In a survey available online for about a month, over 300 people responded.  And how did homeowners respond to those questions?  The results of that survey have been tabulated and are available, in their entirety, no editing and no summaries, and are available for your inspection on the Coalition for Consumer Housing Policy in the Public Interest web page.

Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons this week.  Deborah, is a prolific blogger and commentator about all things to do with homeowner associations, condominiums and co-operatives.  In addition to being a contributing writer for blogs and several online venues, she has her own blog called Independent American Communities.  Deborah was one of the people who worked behind the scenes on this survey right from the very beginning.  She explains why they asked the questions and talks about the responses they got.  Apparently not everything is as rosy and carefree in residential America as we have been led to believe.  There are some serious issues and some very serious problems.  One of the big problems is the lack of choices for housing consumers.  There are few surprises in the results.  The comments are consistent with what we have been hearing from the real people who have to live in the forced mandatory membership developments. 


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