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.
This interview was recorded and broadcast earlier.
Byron Hanke is largely credited with being the grandfather of what we often refer to as “homeowner associations”. But this concept of homeownership includes condominiums, co-ooperatives as well as fee simple single family homes. As I started looking at the bigger picture of HOAs, I wondered about the origins of the concept. I called Byron Hanke several times and talked to him on the phone. He never agreed to be interviewed but was generous with his time when it came to talking one on one. In October of 1999 I got a call from Lincoln Cummins, one of the three founders of CAI and its second President, inviting me to a summit to be held at at Anne and Byron’s house in a place called “Scientists Cliffs” in Maryland. Scientists Cliffs served as a model for HOAs.
Lincoln Cummings joins us On The Commons this week. Linc has been involved from the very beginning so has a unique perspective. He takes us on a trip down memory lane to the very early days of association housing, introduces us to the people involved and talks a little about the thoughts and plans they had. We’ll find out whether or not their ideas materialized as imagined or whether some things went astray. We’ll also ask Linc, hindsight being 20/20, if he could go back to the very beginning, would he do anything differently. . . .
On The Commons celebrates 16 years of bringing you news and views of condo and homeowners associations. This is the first show of our 17th year on the air. Thanks to everyone for making this possible.
Sometimes it appears that the the powers of the world are stacked against the individual. No matter what the situation, the individual often finds him or herself standing alone, facing seemingly insurmountable odds. How did we ever get to this point? That sense of having lost control is growing across all areas of life. It has even invaded our most cherished private sanctum, our home. But I believe that the power and the will of the people is not quite ready to be relegated to the annals of history. Every so often there is a glimmer of hope and a sign that all is not yet lost. And that little spark you see in the dark comes from the Virginia Supreme Court.
John Cowherd joins us On The Commons. John is an attorney in Northern Virginia and one of a handful of attorneys nationwide who will represent homeowners in their battles with their homeowner and condo associations. John also has a blog called Words of Conveyance so he is always on the lookout for news and stories of interest to share with his readers and our radio audience. Today we will talk about The Day the Universe Changed as a result of a Virginia Supreme Court decision issued on June 16. In his blog, John quotes Steve Emmert, a VA appellate law blogger, who claims this decision represents a “nuclear explosion”. That can only be good for homeowners. Join us as John walks us through the case and explains what the Parrish v. Federal National Mortgage Association is all about and explains how this case may help homeowners facing foreclosure and eviction.
I have been scratching my head, trying to understand the thinking behind homeowner and condo associations. It was a big mystery 36 years ago when I first encountered these confounding things. It is still a huge mystery. Condo associations are a different breed of animal but I still fail to understand the need for all the gibberish that seems to be part and parcel of this ancient and once simple and uncomplicated housing concept. After almost 30 years of studying residential associations and trying to understand them, I am still scratching my head. What would happen if we removed that 4th layer of government and taxing power? Would the world collapse? Perhaps local municipal governments would have to become better stewards of public funds instead of thinking money grows on trees? Now that would be a tragedy, wouldn’t it? Or would we become a nation of red doors, cars on blocks and toilets adorning front yards? Does anyone really believe that? We are told that this form of governance brings us “democracy, up close and personal”. Still trying to understand that one. All the pretty speak surrounding this type of homeownership assures housing consumers they will have far greater influence over the way their communities work. I say hogwash!
Tom LePage joins us On The Commons this week. Tom is a property manager north of the border, in Ontario, Canada. With over 30 years of experience in the field of property management he branched out into consulting and says he has a passion for well managed condominiums. Tom has been following all the nonsense that goes on here, south of his border and is, no doubt, scratching his head as well. He is the founder of Condo-Ology and maintains a blog that can be accessed from his web page. Property managers here, there and everywhere are a dime a dozen but one thing that makes Tom different is his firm belief in TRANSPARENCY. That word is one of the first words you will find on his website. Join us for a fun interview as we compare and contrast typical association issues, talk about potential “fixes”, discuss some that have been tried in the US and start to explore more ideas. Tom has a lot of ideas that deserve to be heard so listen to part one now as I hope he will be back sometime soon with more of his ideas.
Increasingly in America homeowners are treated like incompetent idiots who are incapable of managing their own lives and their homes. Members of the HOA industry have gone as far as to equate the owners as “children who do not know what is good for them”. Naturally they are more than happy to make all our important decisions for us- and leave us with the bill! To add insult to injury, the false advertising and misinformation that, under most other circumstances, would be punishable by law, is swept under the rug and ignored. Unit owners in homeowner and condo associations are often ridiculed, harassed and penalized for demanding transparency or even questioning the actions of the association. Their duty is to not ask why but to pay up and shut up.
Well, times they are a changing. Slowly but surely more and more talented people have had enough and are starting to move mountains, one stone at a time!
John Sellers joins us On The Commons this week. John has worked in the banking industry for years and knows just where to look for any irregularities. So when things just didn’t smell quite right, he put his talents to work and started digging. What he discovered is quite incredible. Not only are the people who are supposed to be protecting your rights turning a blind eye to all the shenanigans going on behind closed doors, but they are also using YOUR tax dollars to cover up some missing funds in HOA banks. John continued digging and was told to “get a hobby”. Fortunately for us, he took that advice to heart, expanded his search criteria and started a blog called ArizonaHOA where he intends to not only share information but to also gather information from other homeowners. He estimates there have been 3,000 court cases involving HOAs in Arizona. Chances are those did not happen because associations were doing such a wonderful job, as proponents of HOAs would have you believe. Tune in, it is an eye opening interview.