Nila Ridings

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Reporters are finally getting bold enough to start reporting the horror stories that keep cropping up in homeowner associations across the country.  Sometimes they even get the facts straight.  The stories are frequently as ridiculous as reporting crying babies to the HOA, to fining owners for having unapproved garden hoses in their yards or having the wrong shade of white blinds in their widows.  These stories will make you scratch your head and wonder if absolutely everyone is so ridiculous and out of touch with reality to believe that these are important issues.  Occasionally the headlines will promise a meatier story, one that we should be aware of that could affect us all.  The many embezzlement stories that result in special assessments that we read about would fall into that category.  But if you really want to know what is happening “behind the HOA closed doors”, where do you go?

Nila Ridings joins us On The Commons.  Nila is an HOA homeowner in Kansas where life is nowhere near as rosy as she expected it to be when she bought her house.  She has since done her homework, been active in the legislative arena, lobbied to get homeowner rights codified in Kansas and has shared her knowledge and insights with owners caught in the crosshairs of their associations.  She is a frequent blogger on Ward Lucas’ Neighbors at war.   And if one wants to find the unreported stories, one asks Nila.  I did just that.  We all hear the silly stories, the “too many rose bushes”, the costly ones about driveways having to be torn out because they are 2 inches wider than the approved plans, but which stories does she hear too often for comfort?  Which stories tug at her heartstrings the most?  Her number one story is not one the media reports on often but should.  

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John Cowherd and Jeremy Moss

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Newton discovered that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Is that what we today call “unintended consequences”?  How often do we head down one path towards a goal without thinking through the end results?  Could we avoid many of the pitfalls we are dealing with if we stopped long enough to think things through?  

One of those unhappy and unpredicted results may well be the sheer number of zombie foreclosures being reported nationwide.  The unfortunate circumstances the homeowners find themselves in and the rather significant negative effect those vacant houses have on their immediate surroundings is an area of concern.   And since most of the housing in many parts of the country is in mandatory membership residential associations, these zombie foreclosures also impact associations through lost assessments.  

John Cowherd and Jeremy Moss join us On The Commons.  Both are attorneys in Virginia and both specialize in HOA and condo association law.  They also both have blogs where they discuss zombie foreclosures.  Jeremy’s blog is called The Moss Report  and  you can access John’s blog at Words of Conveyance   John, changed his practice and now represents homeowners in HOAs.  Jeremy, an attorney with Mercer-Trigiani, represents associations. I am grateful to both gentlemen for coming in to the studio and sharing their thoughts. We’ll talk about zombie foreclosures, explain what they are and talk about why we have so many of them now.  We’ll also discuss different ideas on how to deal with them. There is a lot to learn by listening to this interview.

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Gary Solomon

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A picture is worth a thousand words, or so we have heard.  As I watch the primaries unfold for the US presidential candidates and seeing the backlash against both political parties, the picture that comes to my mind is “The Awakening”.  The Awakening is an enormous sculpture, that is now housed at the National Harbor in Maryland, of a giant waking up after a long sleep.  When you look at the candidates in both parties what is of particular interest is that the front runners are not the party favorites.  Senator Sanders has amassed millions of dollars in contributions, a handful of dollars at a time which suggests a huge base.  Donald Trump is self-funded and therefor not beholden to any of the special interests that have traditionally manipulated the direction this country has taken.  Mr. Trump is, by far, the biggest vote getter.  Both of these candidates have enormous grass roots support.  Not party support but people support.  It seems a showdown may be on the horizon.  Will this dissatisfaction with the status quo manifest itself in the homeowner  association arena?  Are Americans fed up and are they really ready to do something about it?  I say, power to the people!

Dr. Gary Solomon joins us On The Commons.  Dr. Solomon is a retired college professor who took an interest in how the stress of living in HOAs affects homeowners, the very people who are supposed to benefit from homeownership.  He has authored several papers, including HOA SyndromeElder Abuse in HOAsChild Abuse by Proxy and his brilliant and creative book, HOA Crisis in America which is a must read, watch and listen to book.  He explains how HOAs are a sick concept.  Many of the board members have psychological problems, problems that affect them. They, in turn, take it out on their neighbors.  The stress of living in the cross hairs of a mentally unsound board member triggers stress related diseases.  It is a fascinating idea and a scary thought when we consider not only the ill health of many homeowners but also the cost of medical care.  Perhaps it is time for preventive medicine instead of what we have.  Dr. Solomon is willing to consult with homeowners and their attorneys in lawsuits against their HOAs.  He is also ready and willing to assist medical doctors understand how their patients who live in HOAs may be living under constant stress.  Is an Awakening headed to the homeowners in mass produced HOAs nationwide?  Will homeowners reject the special interests and start really taking control of their own lives?

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The Awakening, a statue in the DC area of a giant waking up after a long sleep.  It is now at the National Harbor in Maryland.

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Frank Short

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I have never much liked the idea of mandatory membership homeowner associations.  The concept of  binding private real property to a hodgepodge of real estate owned by a third party, maintained and controlled by a motley crew of individuals with no expertise in the art of management has always seemed counterintuitive to me.  That the model is not working is no real surprise.  What galls me the most though is the idea that a handful of owners and hired managers are allowed to fine the owners. This is a power that is often used as a bully tool and abused.  The fines can lead to the loss of a home and their financial security.  
Frank Short joins us On The Commons.  Frank, an attorney and a popular repeat guest of the show, discusses fines in HOAs and Condominiums.  He explains why we have fines and who benefits from the fines.  Over the years there have been a number of court cases about fines.  He discuses those cases, explains what the courts considered and tells  us how they ruled.  He also explains the constitutional connections.  This is an excellent show from the archives.  For those being fined by their HOAs for whatever reason, this show is a must for the owner and their attorneys.  
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Shelly Marshall

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While we were not looking, special interests have taken control of our homes.  Gone are the days when ownership meant enjoying dominion over one’s domain. Those days have been replaced by a new order where every Tom, Dick and Harry has a financial stake in what once was considered sacred territory.  Who are these special interests who have high jacked our once simple and more or less peaceful way of life?  A very short list would include governments, developers, environmental commissions, banks and lending institutions, HOA industry, and the list goes on.  And what do they have to gain by it?  MONEY and POWER!  Cutting off the money supply and the power is the only way to restore healthy families and communities in America. 

Shelly Marshall joins us On The Commons.  Shelly must have been born with a sense of making the world a better place.  She says as  young lady she wanted to save the world with love and ended up sticking daisies in the barrels of police guns.  That spirit of “saving the world” is still very much a part of who Shelly is.  She is a published author, an advocate and the founder of many web sites dedicated to helping people solve their problems. Her latest endeavor is a web site under construction called HOA Lawyer.   This website is designed to provide information and links for homeowners to get started on their own research.  It is also building a listing of attorneys across the country who will represent homeowners who are fighting to protect their property rights. If you know an attorney who  represents owners, please submit their names (with their permission) to the web site.  Let us help Shelly stick daisies all over the country and turn our neighborhoods into fields of daisies.  

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Julio Robaina

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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.  Condo Receiver  is a treasure trove of stories and a must see for anyone who wants to understand just how bad things can get in residential America. And while the stories are about Florida, these stories are replicated nationwide.  And the Energizer Bunny is still fighting!

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Bill Davis

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The earliest deed restricted communities were exclusionary and were honest enough to admit the reason of their existence.  It wasn’t until we got to the mass production of these neighborhoods that we see the entire HOA house of cards was built on a foundation of deceit.  It started as a way of allowing local municipal governments to collect “free” tax money while the homeowners ended up paying twice for the same services.  At one point Declarations started off by saying, “The purpose of this association is to protect property values”.  Unable to substantiate that claim, I don’t think they include that statement any more.  But the “purpose for HOAs” was out there.  And once you start off by telling a lie, more and more lies will have to be told to cover up for the first one.  And of course, every lie will need some form of enforcement mechanism. 

Dismantling this house of cards before the entire system collapses and millions of people are hurt financially and emotionally is a tough job. It is, however,  something that will need to be done.

Bill Davis joins us On The Commons.  Bill, an attorney in Texas, switched his practice to representing homeowners and consumers.  And having made that switch, he has been very busy ever since.  I love listening to his stories about some of his cases.  I am not sure if the “interesting” cases just naturally gravitate towards him or if Bill has a natural talent for zeroing in on the absurdities of HOAs, board members and the attorneys and managers who spend their time propping them up.  I always enjoy talking to Bill and listening to his theories and his stories and this interview is no exception.  

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Frank Short

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Right from the very beginning there were problems in mandatory membership Homeowner Associations.  No matter how creative the spin or how big the lies about the illusive benefits of HOA living, the sad truth is, the problems were always there.  Every effort to “fix” them resulted in bigger problems and even more headaches. They, in turn, led to bigger and more unconscionable abuses by the HOAs against their own homeowners. Every subsequent “fix” simply exacerbated the problems.  And contrary to what the advocates of controlled living would have us believe, none of the horror stories are “isolated incidents”. Every state grapples with the same problems every year and every year new laws are proposed, argued over, some enacted, many of the good ones passed over and a year later we are all back trying to “fix” the same problems, yet again. 

After four decades of this charade, you’d think we’d learn, wouldn’t you?

Frank Short joins us On The Commons.  Frank is an attorney with an Irish wit, a strong sense of right and wrong and a very keen understanding of the HOA laws and the inherent issues.  He has been around long enough to have a rich supply of HOA stories.  Frank joins us for our annual St. Patrick’s Day round-up of HOA bills that have been introduced in Virginia.  We look at the bills, talk about what they will do and whether or not they will help homeowners.  We also talk about some very good proposed legislation in Illinois.  And to keep it interesting and fun, Frank regales us with actual tales from the HOA trenches.

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Jim Lane

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If you ever wonder why we are having so many problems in residential America, all you have to do is follow the bouncing ball.  The trail will lead you to a number of issues that almost every mandatory membership development in every state faces.  When you look at what is happening and then go back to what these associations were supposed to be,  and think about all the platitudes spread around the country like manure in flowerbeds, the stink will be unavoidable.  The flowers that are growing are not for the benefit of the owners but are being plucked by the special interests.

Jim Lane joins us On The Commons.  Jim is a homeowner and activist in North Carolina where he has spent time trying to educate homeowners and has lobbied to have homeowner friendly legislation enacted in NC.  His group is called Coalition for Homeowner Protection and Reform of Homeowner Association Laws  We talk to Jim about some of the issues and the problems and the current laws in NC.  One of Jim’s main concerns is that there really is nowhere for homeowners to turn for help when they find themselves in the crosshairs of the association.  He points out that although the legislature has enacted laws allowing the homeowners some access to books and records, the state has not provided an enforcement mechanism other than costly litigation.  We also discuss what needs to be done and why the HOA system, as it is currently configured, is NOT working FOR the homeowners.  

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Chuck Welsh

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Now that mass produced homeowner associations have become the norm rather than an anomaly, we tend to just shrug our shoulders and accept them as a necessary evil.  But why do we have them in the first place?  And why, as time goes on, do we lose more rights in our own homes than we had even a decade ago? Why do HOAs come with a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions?  Why not a Bill of Rights instead?  Or better yet, why not go back to the free form of ownership where the owner is the “king (or queen) of the castle?  Proponents of HOAs gasp and claim we’d end up with utter chaos.  But by stripping away basic, fundamental rights are we even thinking of how this increasingly restrictive form of ownership will affect future generations?  Or are we only concerned about increasing the tax coffers of local municipalities and feeding the insatiable HOA industry beast?

Chuck Welsh joins us On The Commons.  Chuck is a former developer with a lot of experience on the formation of associations.  He has some insights on what goes into turning several acres of raw land into a development where people will live and raise families.  We’ll talk to Chuck and try to get into a developer’s mind to understand what he sees when he looks at several acres of nothing but dirt, stones, trees and shrubs.  What is he thinking and what is he hoping to build?  Chuck was not involved with some of the more massive developments that are larger than some cities but more with the smaller ones.  The ones on a more human scale.  But why inflict a homeowners association on future owners?  Chuck believes that the clean water act of the late 70’s gave birth to retention ponds seen all over the place and their maintenance is ultimately responsible for HOA mandates across the country.  We also talk about property values and the future of homeownership.

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News and Views About Homeowner Associations