Words have power and meaning and by using the correct words, one can further define the sense one is trying to convey. Advocates for HOAs like to call them “Community Associations”, implying a kinder, gentler development. The dictionary defines “community”, in part as, “a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals”. However, many of the unfortunate people who find themselves in one of these mandatory membership compounds often refer to them as war zones, oligopolies, kontrolled kommunes and a number of other less flattering names, implying that all is not harmonious and pleasant. In a real community, people get-together to work out any common issues without having to resort to kangaroo courts, fines and a trip to the court house.
Greg Chumbley joins us On The Commons this week. Greg is a homeowner in Naples, Florida who decided to exercise his right to know what he was paying for and where his HOA dues were going. And like many homeowners found himself researching the Florida statutes to discover what rights he had. To him it made perfectly good sense that if he was being forced to pay for it, he had a right to know what he was paying for. Along the way he ran into the usual, entrenched board members, the silent management company employees and that brick wall we keep hearing about. That didn’t stop Greg. After exhausting all avenues of trying to get the information he was entitled to in Village Walk, his Kontrolled Kommune, he decided to go to court. He is sharing what he learned in the process on his web page http://www.sueyourhoacheaply.us so that others in his “community” of people with who share his attitudes, interests and goals can also find out what they are paying for. Please join us to hear Greg’s story.
Over the years much has been written about kontrolled housing in America. There have been scholarly books, legal books and Law Review articles, regular newspaper and magazine articles, blog posts, websites dedicated to exploring HOAs, personal accounts of life in an HOA, satire, lots and lots of horror stories, There have even been “how to” live in an HOA, articles trying to convince you that “you agreed” to the rules and abuses and if you don’t like it, move. There have even been books and rosy accounts of all the joys of HOA living but never has there ever been a book quite like HOA: Crisis in America.
Quite apart from the fact that the book is the most creative, innovative and fun way to read, watch and hear a book, it is the first time that anyone has ever brought science into the HOA discussion. And there is one more unique thing about HOA: Crisis in America, it is FREE. I am very excited about the book and so greatly honored that Dr. Gary Solomon is launching his book through On The Commons. This book takes the discussion and the research to a whole new level. It gives us all the tools to get beyond the legal twists and turns, the emotional discussion, the misrepresentations of what HOAS are and are not, the fear associated with this form of housing and leaves us having to ask – and answer – the question of whether this is a viable form of housing and whether or not it can be reformed and made into a kinder gentler monster.
Dr. Gary Solomon joins us On The Commons this week to introduce his new book, HOA: Crisis in America. Dr. Solomon is a Psychologist, a retired professor of psychology in Nevada who noticed something a little strange in his new development and when neighbors asked him if he was having problems with the HOA, he put two and two together and started studying the effects of HOAs on humans. What he discovered was quite alarming which led to two papers, The HOA Syndrome and Elder Abuse. He studied the psychology behind giving people unfettered power and described the type of personality that gravitates to these positions. The most exciting part of this book is the science behind the physical affects on the residents in HOAs. The physiological changes to our bodies is explained in very clear, easy to understand language that even our legislators should be able to grasp. Please send it to them and ask them to watch, read and listen to the book. Dr. Solomon’s gift to you can be accessed at http://hoacrisisinamerica.com and http://www.pitythepoorfool.com
The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the Mediterranean South co-operative building in Fort Lee, New Jersey violated an owner’s right to free speech by prohibiting him from distributing campaign literature when he ran for a seat on the board. The co-op had a house rule that prohibited owners from distributing written material, the reason given is to “preserve the residents’ quiet enjoyment of their units and to cut down on paper pollution”. But, as we know, what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander because when the board distributed their diatribes, quiet enjoyment was never a consideration and apparently, unlike all other paper, the board’s missives did not pollute. On a somewhat humorous note, (or is it ironic?), the board included the following sentence in one of their leaflets; “Can you imagine the disaster that would befall upon Med South and all of us if this group of selfish people ever got control of the Med South Board?”
Robert Dublirer joins us On The Commons. Rob is a former New York Prosecutor, so well versed in the law and quite comfortable in a court of law so after years of having his rights trampled on and being lied to, he decided to put his knowledge and skills to work. He sued the Mediterranean South co-op to protect his right to communicate with his neighbors. The rules and regulations adopted by the board include some of the most restrictive gag orders on what the owners are allowed to talk about and discuss. Join us as Rob fills us in on all his battles from the time he moved in and was not given a handicapped parking space to ending up, not only protecting his rights, but also arguing for the rights of his fellow New Jersey HOA denizens.
Before the internet, homeowners who found themselves in the crosshairs of their homeowners association were usually left scratching their heads, wondering what had hit them. There was nowhere for them to turn, no one who had their best interests at heart to explain the issues and help them sort things out. Because they were embarrassed, they were reluctant to talk about their problems, believing they had committed a terrible misdeed, or better yet, they had “broken the law”. With heads hung low, they would quietly sell their homes and move as far away as possible, hoping friends, family and neighbors never caught wind of their problems. Of course this all worked to benefit HOAs who often got away with murder.
But, times they are a changing! Homeowners are talking, the media is listening and writing their stories, more or less accurately but most importantly homeowners now know they are not alone. However one of the best things to happen is the number of homeowner advocates who have have taken on the responsibility to reach out to their peers, explain what the issues are, assure them they are not alone and point them in the direction to get much needed help. While this movement is still in its infancy, it is making a difference.
Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons this week. Ward is an award winning investigative journalist and TV reporter. Having experienced the horrors of HOAs firsthand he decided to put his professional skills to work and investigate the state of affairs in America’s kontrolled developments. What he learned was enough to make his blood boil and to fill a book. That’s exactly what he did. His book is called “Neighbors at War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association”. But when the stories kept coming, he felt it only right to continue getting them out there so he has a blog http://neighborsatwar.com. Join us, we will talk about his blog, find out how many unique hits he gets and the number of emails he gets from homeowners who just don’t quite know what hit them and where to go from there. Next time anyone tries to convince you that all the problems in HOAs are “isolated incidents”, remember this show and know that isolated, they really aren’t.
Have you ever wondered why we have so many horror stories in condominiums and homeowner associations? How do we get from the concept of living in a community with neighbors, to penalizing them for having the temerity to annoy us? And if someone is bold enough to displease us in anyway, what on earth does one do? Talk to the offending sot and explain why he or she is being so boorish and insensitive? But wait, in a kontrolled kommunity there is a better way. The computer to the rescue!
Turnaround is fair play, so this week we find out what it is like to be a condominium manager.
Dave Russell joins us On The Commons this week. Dave is a resident owner and an onsite manager in a fairly large condominium complex in Arizona. The advantage of not having to deal with rush hour traffic, road rage and traffic jams is offset by the fact that he never really leaves work. But Dave is a cheerful chap who seems to take it all in stride. Having the patience of Job and a sense of humor certainly help but what is particularly impressive is the way he handles some of the whacky people and the completely nutty issues he has to deal with. Join us as we hear about some of the problems he has been asked to handle, they’ll make you smile, laugh and applaud that the problems are solved all without resorting to fines and attorneys and ultimately maintaining a sense of community in the Arizona desert. And when you listen to Dave’s entertaining stories, bear in mind that some of these “neighbors” can end up on the board which might explain why we have so many horror stories.
An attorney representing an HOA once advised a board that the fees being charged to just some of the homeowners was in violation of the Declaration. He explained it by saying; “…. you are on less than concrete legal foundation. Most homeowners don’t avail themselves of their rights but should you be challenged you can make a decision based on the economics of the litigation”. In other words, if no one questions any of the board or management decisions or challenges certain policies, the HOA is home free. The one thing in the above quote that I agree with is that most homeowners never challenge anything and passively obey all the rules. However, for the few homeowners who simply won’t just accept what they are told, especially when things just don’t seem to add up, there may be a pot of gold at the end of the end of their rainbow.
Robert Stern joins us On The Commons this week. Robert is a successful businessman who owns several houses on both sides of the country – all in homeowner associations. He is a financial executive, a CPA by trade and he knows his numbers. He is also no stranger to being on boards and understanding how associations work. True to form, when he bought his house in Henderson, Nevada, he ran for, and was elected to, the board of directors. But being in the leadership did nothing to protect him from being involved in a couple of lawsuits.
But Robert is a busy and energetic man who has written several books. He chronicles his journey through HOAs in his latest book, “HOA WARS; What Happens in Vegas Can Happen Anywhere”. In this book he talks about the people he met along the way including the activists who chose to speak up and try to right a wrong or two. He explains how he found and why he returned $1.2 Million to his fellow homeowners. He also talks about yet another law suit his association filed against him. The book has all the makings of a hollywood movie and who knows, maybe one day his story will come to a screen near you. But until that happens, check out his web page at http://hoawars.tateauthor.com where you can read all about him and order his book. Be sure to tune in and listen to him tell his story, explain what to look for and how, if you avail yourself of your rights, you too may find a pot of gold hidden in the musty records of your HOA.
We all have dreams and aspirations of what we want to be when we grow up. Most of us will change our minds many times over and then end up doing something completely different. A few lucky people KNOW what they want to do and actually realize their dreams. This week we will be following one such dreamer, a little girl who always wanted to be a farmer, to grow food, raise animals and feed her community. Growing up she imagined planting rows and rows of different vegetables and harvesting beautiful tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, melons, strawberries, raising bees and harvesting honey, collecting big baskets of eggs, big ones, little ones in a rainbow of colors; brown ones and white ones and lavender ones. She planned on teaching the kids all about farming and the miracle of growing good, healthy food. She aspired to be a productive and vital part of her community and she always intended to be a great steward of the land she loves.
The little dreamer grew up and bought a small family farm where she happily planted her crops, raised her animals, harvested honey and happily did all the things farm chores that she always she planned on doing. But all was not as rosy as she had hoped for. The heavy hand and abuses of a local environmental council reared its ugly head right from the very beginning and, in concert with the local municipal government, started making life and the once happy dream of farming a living nightmare.
Martha Boneta joins us On The Commons this week. Martha is the little girl who grew up to be a farmer. Along with the joy of growing farm fresh fruit and vegetables, producing eggs and honey and herbs and sharing her love of the land with her animals and all who visit, Martha has had to fight to protect her right to farm her land. Despite the fact that Virginia is a “right to farm” state, local county supervisors have joined forces with the council members on a local Land Trust to try to shut her down. After several law suits and tireless lobbying at the State level, Martha got, what has become known as the Martha Boneta Bill, passed into law. But that was just the beginning. Martha recently inspired her fellow Virginians to rally in RIchmond to put an end to what can only be described as harassment and abuse of power by an environmental council. Join us to learn about some of the most outrageous behavior of this group and the humiliation, embarrassment and horror Martha and her family have endured.
If you hear something often enough, does it make it true?
Over the years we have been told repeatedly that HOAs protect property values. The question then has to be, just how do HOAs protect property values and for whom? Ask any HOA industry professional and they will tell you that HOAs prevent people from painting their front door an unapproved color. Is a green door preferable to a red one? Is a black door more valuable? If every single door for miles around is the exact same color, will life be better? Will the house be worth more because it is a carbon copy of every single other house? Whatever happened to the notion that one’s home is one’s castle? Can an HOA tell Queen Elizabeth what color she can paint her gate, insist she get ACC approval for her gate and gatehouses? Whatever happened to the notion that the true value of property is in its use? Is your “castle” any less valuable to YOU than Buckingham Palace is to the British Royal Family?
Why does the mere suggestion of a different colored front door instill fear and horror in the hearts of homeowners? To control a neighbor’s use and enjoyment of their property, Americans appear to be willing to give up freedoms that property owners have traditionally enjoyed. Along with giving up sovereignty over one’s own property, HOA denizens are prepared to risk it all. Not only does that kontrolled house cost them more on an ongoing basis but their keepers can fine and foreclose to collect that fine simply because they don’t like you. Is that protecting property values?
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill is an attorney in Texas who switched his practice to representing homeowners in HOAs. In addition to having represented clients who have been targeted by their HOAs, Bill has written extensively about them in many forums. He has seen the not so good, the very bad and the horribly ugly sides of associations. We talk about the inherent conflict of corporate interests and individual property values especially in condominiums. We also discuss the phenomenon of blind obedience in these associations. People are terrified of them but seem afraid not be in one. Join us.
“Home” – the word conjures up many images. To some it is a spacious mansion, filled with friends and family, and to others it is a cozy peaceful little nook where the owners are safe and warm. Some of these abodes are in the country, surrounded by fields, streams and mountains while others are in cities. Some high up in the sky with amazing views and others closer to terra firma. Regardless of size, where or what the image of home is to everyone, the one thing they all have in common is that “home” is where the residents can shut the rest of the world out and to be safe. But how well does the image of a safe haven square with the reality of a mandatory membership homeowners association? With all the hype of HOAs protecting values and in a lot of cases, providing extra security, is home still a safe haven? Is the “corporation” really concerned with ensuring everyone’s safety and well being?
Katie Souders joins us On The Commons for the first half of the show. Katie owns a Townhouse in a small development of only 37 units in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Access to her unit is from a city street with bars and restaurants and the inevitable inebriated customers who pour out of these joints only to take a break on Katie’s steps. And when one of these soused souls decided to pull her out of her own home, she had no doubt that it was time to take steps to protect herself, which she did by installing a small gate. This kept the drunks out of her house but offended the aesthetic sensitivities of the two entrenched board members. They apparently are not concerned with her safety so are fining her $100 a week for being cheeky enough to protect herself.
Andy Ostrowski joins us for the second half of the show. Andy, as you will remember, is a congressional candidate from Pennsylvania, who is passionate about individual constitutional rights. He has become aware of the outrageous problems his constituents face if they live in an HOA. He is also committed to providing protections at the Federal level when he finds himself with an office with his name on the door in Washington DC. I asked Andy how Federal legislation could help protect 20% of the citizens on America who, like it or not, find themselves at the mercy of the bullies in an HOA.
You’ll want to tune in. Katie manages to pack a whole lot about the many problems she and her neighbors face on a daily basis. We’ll hear about some totally ridiculous fines that are being assessed to her and her neighbors. There should be no question in anyone’s mind that this is a tool to fleece American homeowners. Andy provides some very valid reasons why things are really broke in residential America and why it may be time for the Federal government to stop pandering to the special interests and to start protecting the homeowners.
Do all good intentions pave the road to hell?
The earliest covenant controlled neighborhoods were exclusionary in nature. Those covenants were struck down by the courts as being unconstitutional and eventually the Federal Government enacted legislation making them illegal. But unfortunately that is not the end of the story. Apparently the concept, too good to relegate to the past, was resurrected to ostensibly provide aesthetically pleasing meandering curvilinear streetscapes, complete with dead ends and cul-de-sacs. But the quid pro quo for redesigning the burgeoning suburbs was to establish homeowner associations to maintain the infrastructure and provide the services that were, and always had been, the responsibility of local municipal governments. And predictably, all those free tax dollars were too good to risk losing, so local governments across the country started mandating associations. In the ensuing decades, a simple home, built to shelter, protect and nurture a family, has become the business of everyone else. Far from being safe and secure, many of the owners live in fear, to the detriment of their health, their wealth and their happiness.
The resulting horror stories are everywhere but help in understanding and dealing with the problems are nowhere to be found. “It’s a civil matter, go to court”, “Oh, but you agreed”, “It’s a contract and you are in violation of your end of it”. It is a bit like finding oneself in the Twilight Zone. Is there any hope of turning residential America around and bringing it back to a more normal community of real people living together in harmony and friendship rather than a place of dread and fear?
Andy Ostrowski joins us On The Commons this week. Andy is a civil rights attorney with a history of fighting for those who can’t always fight for themselves. He is also someone who passionately believes in protecting constitutionally guaranteed rights. Fortunately for the residents in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District, Andy is running for Congress. Homeowners in his district have found a sympathetic ear for their plight and know that he will carry their concerns to the hallowed halls of the US Capitol in Washington DC. What he has learned about residential America led him to write a paper titled; Homeowner Associations: The perfect Storm of Corporate Cronyism and Legislative and Judicial Abuse of Constitutional Rights” You can read his thoughts on the subject on https://www.facebook.com/ostrowskiforcongress and you can learn more about him on his website http://andyostrowski.com and be sure to tune in to On The Commons to hear him, in his own words, talk about where he has been and where he plans on going. And if you live in the 11th Congressional District in Pennsylvania, do us all a favor and go to the polls and vote for Andy. American homeowners need a voice in Congress but only you can get him there.