The road to justice and equality in HOAs is fraught with huge roadblocks for the homeowner. Just finding someone who can explain what is going on or how to deal with the threat and demand letters that keep pouring in can be daunting enough, but fInding an attorney knowledgeable in HOA law who is willing to represent a homeowner is almost impossible in some parts of the country and very difficult in other areas.
The Mis’s are thriving in America’s almost 330,000 mandatory membership homeowner associations – MISinformation, MISstatments, MISunderstandings, MIScalculations and MIStakes. Housing consumers are often misinformed about what they are getting themselves into when they buy a unit in an HOA. The information provided by all the professionals along the line is misstated and often miscalculated leading to some less than welcome surprises down the road. Mistakes are made and somehow the homeowner always ends up paying.
What can a homeowner, caught in the crosshairs of an out of control association, do? WHat shouldn’t they do?
Bill Davis is On The Commons with us this week. Bill is an attorney in Texas who found himself in the unenviable position of having to go to court to protect his property rights. He learned all about HOA law and now represents homeowners against their HOAs. We’ll find out what is going on in associations and talk about some things people need to watch out for and things homeowners should never agree to.
Have you heard the one about homeowner associations being democracy “up close and personal”? The story goes that members are expected to participate in meetings, voice their opinions and to be part of the “community” which includes being financially responsible for common expenses. So it only stands to reason that one should be entitled to an explanation of any increases. But what happens when a member asks a simple question about a dues increase?
On this show we will start at that point – a very small dues increase and when an explanation was asked for the name calling, finger pointing and suppressing information started. When a simple answer to a simple question is not forthcoming and creates such acrimony, something is wrong. So when a situation doesn’t pass the smell test it is prudent to dig a little deeper especially when your most valuable asset, your home, is at stake.
But that is easier said then done.
On the Commons with us this week we are joined by Janice Fontell. Janice is an accountant by trade and she bought into the notion of “carefree living” that her condo promised. She paid her dues and minded her own business. Join us as we follow her incredible journey into homeownership, her awakening and subsequent education into what HOA living really is all about. But that is only the beginning because she found herself learning all about the law and her way around court where she ultimately prevailed – in part 1. You will want to hear this part of her story. There is another case pending and we hope to catch up with Janice later on.
The first time I spoke to Lincoln Cummings, one of the founders of the Community Associations Institute, I asked him; “Why homeowner associations”? I was surprised when he said because young professionals often left family and friends behind to pursue careers out of state where they found themselves alone and without the support they had at home. He thought HOAs would provide a sense of community for an otherwise largely transient society. There is nothing sinister about what he wanted however the “instant community” that was intended to provide that safety net came loaded with unintended consequences.
Far from what we typically think of when we think of communities, over the years HOAs have morphed into what can best be described as war zones where pettiness, fear and adversity rule. You need go no further than Auburn, California for an example of what I mean. Not far from Lake of the Pines Homeowner Association is Beale Air Force Base where our young military families live. They are far from home, away from their families and in need of that safety net Lincoln talked about. One man found a way to support them, one man helped them furnish their homes and when the US government refused to do the job they were elected to do and closed the commissaries instead of passing a budget, these young families were left without food. Again, one man helped feed them.
On the Commons this week we are joined by Dennis Kocher. Dennis is a Vietnam era vet who understands the hardships often endured by young military families. Dennis found a need – and filled it. For over the last decade, he used his passion and skills for furniture building to furnish the homes of these young military families on base, making their lives just a little more comfortable and their immediate surroundings a little more beautiful. As Robert Baden-Powel said; “The most worth-while thing is to try to put happiness into the lives of others.” I think Dennis would agree with that. However, as we all know, no good deed goes unpunished and now Dennis finds himself in the cross hairs of some of the people in power in his HOA. Please join us, we’ll talk to Dennis, find out why trying to bring a little joy and happiness into the lives of the young folks in his community would cause such heart burn in his HOA.
“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 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.
Joining us On The Commons this week is Jill Schweitzer. 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 kontrolled 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.
There is a rumor that HOAs protect property values and that 99.9% of all homeowners in HOAs are thrilled with their living conditions. Really, that is the story. I have to wonder how the many horror stories that grab the headlines on a daily basis escape the pollsters who seem to only find people who are willing to regurgitate the party line. Remove the veneer covering these tall tales and expose the underlying stories of what happens in these seemingly placid developments you will notice that the picture is as far from pretty as one can get.
The story we hear about one of the apparently idyllic associations has all the makings of a Bentley Little novel. We meet the pleasant couple who is well known, liked and trusted in the neighborhood. As good neighbors Mr.Garcia agrees to serve on the board of directors but soon discovers financial discrepancies, self dealing, mismanagement, abuse of power as can only happen in HOAs.
Things go from bad to worse, where the issues get personal, very personal.
Join us On The Commons where we meet up with Carney Tews Garcia. Carney and her husband, who was a board member, have since moved out of their unit in the Colony at Seagate condominium – They had to.
Their story has all the twists and horrors you can imagine. We’ll talk to Carney, we’ll hear about all the incidents that led to a board member being jailed for harassing the homeowners, to almost being run over and to several units burning down.
Have you noticed how often the phrase, “it protects property values” is used to justify the most ridiculous behavior in homeowner associations? It is a one size fits all excuse or explanation for the bizarre, ludicrous, absurd, wacky and outrageous shenanigans by so called kommunity leaders. Over the years we have heard it all – unapproved garden hoses, too many rose bushes, a driveway that is three inches wider than approved, a pudgy pooch or a rogue bird feeder. The list is endless.
It will come as no surprise to you then that at The Tides Condominium at Sweetwater in Florida fully grown adults sat around one day and came up with “flowerpot rules”. When it comes to property values, you see, nothing is too insignificant for these selfless altruists who give so freely of their time and expertise to determine what you can put in your flowerpot. Kompliance with konformity in kondos is of utmost concern as you might have guessed, and violators are sought and penalized lest they devalue property.
Joining us On The Commons is Larry Murphree. Larry lives in Jacksonville, Florida where, by the largess of the kondo leaders, he is allowed to have a flowerpot but the tiny flag tucked in with his flowers is verboten. His flagrant disregard of the rules got him a letter from the kondo kommandos notifying him that there is an “unauthorized object” in his flowerpot. When Larry refused to remove the flag, passionately believing in his 1st Amendment rights as well as his right to have it there, he was fined $100 a day for protecting his rights. Florida law allows fines up to $1000 (bless their hearts) but through some very creative accounting, the kondo threatened to foreclose on Larry’s unit to collect $8000 they alleged he owed. Please join us to learn the details of this absurd situation, find out what the most recent law suit filed by the kondo sought and what the local realtors have to say about why buyers are not beating a path to this particular project’s gate. Also, check out Larry’s website at http://letmeflytheflag.com
There is a saying that you can’t go back home again. But what if you never left home? What if “home” consisted of a large family compound that has been handed down over the centuries, where several generations still live, gather to celebrate holidays and family special days and events, support each other and play together? It is an enviable way of life that is fast disappearing in the name of progress.
We will be visiting just such a place today. A family community in Southern Virginia called Hoehns Lake View Farms that has been owned by the same family for centuries, preserved and lovingly tended by those who live there now and by their ancestors before them. But not all is well in this idyllic corner of Virginia. While encroachment and property ownership disputes may well be a civil matter more properly enforced by the judicial system, local governments have a duty and a responsibility to uphold the laws and protect the citizens. When the local zoning department ignores letters of notification that the construction project they have been asked to approve includes property that is not owned by the developer and the police department refuses to protect citizens from trespass even when the property has been properly posted and the lawful owners have done everything to comply with the letter of the law. These responsibilities fall squarely in the purview of local governments.
And when citizens call the police to file a complaint about harassment, vandalism, cruelty to animals, killing family pets, bullying and endangerment to people, the appropriate response is to dispatch an officer or two to protect the innocent. But maybe the police are too busy arresting homeowners to prevent them from attending HOA meetings to show up when people are in real danger.
Joining us On The Commons this week is Sylvia Wright. Sylvia is a descendent of the Hoehns family. She grew up on the family farm, is actively protecting the land she inherited and loves and is happy that her children and grandchildren are also living on the land and growing up the way she and her ancestors did. But life is not as peaceful as it was when she was young. Please join us as we learn how life has changed in her peaceful, quiet, beautiful part of an otherwise crazy world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch , or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.”
Do you suppose Ralph was thinking about homeowner associations and the many petty municipal governments around with ridiculous rules, ordinances and abusive enforcement mechanisms when he wrote that? His message seems to have fallen on deaf ears because these entities continue to make life miserable for their members and constituents.
Fortunately there are more individuals who are doing some amazing things to make the world a better place, not for just one person but for hundreds of people, despite their local governments.
Joining us On The Commons this week is Jason Helvenston. Jason and his wife, Jennifer, wanted to grow their own food but edible plants tend to require sun and the sun happened to be in their front yard so that’s when they planted their herbs and vegetables. However, the city council of Orlando, Florida thought grass would look normal and so they did what petty governments do so well, they issued an ultimatum, “plant grass or else… we will fine you $500 a day!”. The Helverstons believe in protecting their right to plant whatever they want on their own property so they fought back and they WON! You’ll have to listen to their story to realize that their garden is only the first step to opening our eyes and how they are making so many people “breathe easier.”