We are told that homeowner associations are here to stay. I am not convinced that is the case. However, until we come to terms with the fact that what we are dealing with is a flawed concept, one that goes against everything we hold dear, we will stubbornly insist on trying to make them work. The fact that after a half century of fiddling with the legal structure, proposing bills to either try to make them more owner friendly or empower them even more, all we seem to accomplish is to create an even bigger headache for ourselves at a much greater expense.
Frank Short joins us On the Commons for his annual St. Patrick’s Day round up of Virginia homeowner and condo association bills. There were loads of them this year. Some were proposed legislative fixes inspired by, or requested by angry or wronged owners and introduced by helpful legislators while many others seek to increase the powers of the associations. Whether any of the owner friendly bills would actually fix many of the major problems that plague these mandatory membership residential associations is doubtful. We’ll talk about the bills, what they would, or could have done. But at the end of the day, we never really address the need for so many laws to prop up a really bad idea instead of asking whether there is any value in the HOA concept for the owners. Maybe one day we’ll actually get there.
How do you define “civilization”? I understand it to describe people who are educated, cultured, have manners and are socially and morally advanced. The dictionary defines it as “an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached.” Some words that are used to define the opposite of civilization are decline, destruction, ignorance, rudeness, barbarism, primitiveness. What do you think best describes life in a residential association? And how, in a country that presents itself as the most civilized, the richest, the best and the freest can we force people to live in controlled housing developments where, in many cases, those in power are rude, barbaric, abusive, dictatorial and completely wild? And finally, how do homeowners deal with some of these atrocities?
John Paskert joins us On The Commons. John is a retired military psychological Operations officer. The tactics he learned while an active duty officer helped him even out the playing field somewhat in his homeowners association. Rather than allowing the ruder and more ignorant denizens in his neighborhood to frustrate and demoralize him, he remained civilized, did his homework, and fought back in very clever and subtle ways. He shares some of the lessons he learned operating in this new arena and also tells us some of his stories. I think the big lesson here is that there is more than one way to fight back. However, trying to become a truly civilized society, where respect and cooperation are the norm, should be our ultimate goal.
Sometimes we just have to take a really bad idea and make it that much worse, don’t we? We start off with a scheme to provide municipalities with a means of collecting free tax dollars – THAT was the 1st bad idea in this chain of horrors we have created. The second bad idea was allowing them to mandate involuntary membership HOAs. To keep the owners under control, and as a favor to the special interests, state legislators sponsored bills giving associations greater powers. The bills kept coming so something that should be simple has become so unbelievably complicated. Add to that well intentioned, but largely ignorant, homeowners who have made it their business to dream up more “laws” further stripping owners of rights and you have a monumental mess. Will we ever learn to “Keep it Simple”? As the song says, “The answer is blowing in the wind!”
John Cowherd joins us On The Commons. John, a Virginia attorney and a frequent guest on the show represents homeowners in condominiums and homeowner associations as part of his practice. He is also a blogger. In his Blog , Words of Conveyance, he talks about cases and highlights news in the world of real estate. Notwithstanding a growing family and a growing practice John manages to keep his finger on the pulse of what is going on in the land of controlled living. We talk about the changes in residential neighborhoods brought about by all these “bad ideas” that have been piling up. We brainstorm about some of the issues and problems facing Americans, whether they own or lease in residential associations, they are all subject to the same intrusive and petty rules and disasters. With all the bad ideas needlessly complicating every day life, there is, as you can imagine, a lot to talk about. Tune in.
Over the years industry lobbyists have convinced state legislators, and in some cases US legislators that they represent the homeowners living in residential associations, be they condominiums or homeowner associations. Gradually over the years they have managed to get legislation enacted stripping owners of rights and property and thus empowering associations. When contacted by their constituents the legislators have explained that the homeowners themselves requested the new laws. Of course that is not true. They have even gone on to say that it is the homeowners fault for their problems because they bought into an association governed development. Hopefully times they are a changing. With their ability to network, connect online and compare notes, homeowners are getting much more savvy. And they are getting active.
Fatemeh Mojtabai joins us On The Commons. Fatemeh, a condo owner in Massachusetts, encountered the perils of condo living first hand a few years ago. She searched online and discovered that contrary to what we are often told, her story was not “an isolated incident”. Further, she didn’t do anything to deserve the problems she faced and yes, it happens all the time. She met others with issues and problems in their own neighborhoods, started talking and connecting with other home and condo owners across the country and together they have started a new organization called HAARRT in order to empower homeowners and build a network of groups working together. We talk to Fatemeh about HAART, about the need to get legislation enacted to provide the framework to protect the sanctity of home and property rights and to assert control over what is rightfully ours. Tune in and find out how you can be a part of this movement and why you might want to.
An often cited benefit for residential associations used to be that they allowed the members greater control over their immediate surroundings. The other bonus they were promised was that collectively they would gain political clout. At least that was the sales pitch, along with the ever present promise of enhanced property values. It all sounded wonderful and in a perverse sense sounded sort of logical. But as we have learned over the years not everything works the way it is supposed to. In fact in the case of residential associations, the opposite is true. Not only don’t the members have control over their immediate surroundings but have lost sovereignty over their own private spaces. The existence of an HOA or Condo association is infinitely more intrusive and tyrannical than a neighborhood where the residents are on their own and allegedly have no control.
Jonathan Dessaules joins us On The Commons. Jon is an attorney in Phoenix, Arizona. As part of his practice he represents homeowners against their associations. He is one of a handful of attorneys nationwide who will only represent the owners and not straddle the fence hopping over to the HOA side when they feel like it. Currently his is in a class of his own in Arizona. He also has a blog where he discusses HOA issues and gives general guidance. It’s a great page to check out for quick guidance on some of the more common issues facing homeowners. We talk to Jon about all the usual HOA issues common to all American homeowners but we also talk about a long and protracted case that he recently won. His clients own a unit in an upscale condominium where the fees are in excess of $1,000/month. The condo shut the key card down, impeding access to the private unit and banned the use of the amenities until the owners forfeited a right they had. So much for having greater control of your immediate surroundings in a residential association.
If people knew what they were getting into, would they still buy in an HOA? I was convinced that they wouldn’t, but I was wrong. Thirty years ago, when I first became aware of HOAs and started to understand what we were dealing with, HOA mandates were already in place in Fairfax County and probably across the country as well. However, there were still pockets of older neighborhoods, so some choices still existed. Now, even most of those older neighborhoods have been razed to the ground only to be replaced by some new faddish fantasy that will no doubt sound positively utopian but in practice be unworkable.
Shelly Marshall and Michael Marshall, PhD join me On the Commons. Shelly is an HOA Warrior. She is a prolific writer of self-help books including a book on HOAs, what to look for and how to understand what you are getting into. Dr. Marshall, Shelly’s brother, is a Psychology Professor and practitioner. This dynamic duo have combined forces to answer the question; “Why can’t people hear us?”. Shelly warned Mike about the risks involved in buying a condo and told him to keep looking but that didn’t stop him. For a while everything went well until one day when his utopian dream came crashing down. So why didn’t he listen? Why don’t people learn from other people’s stories? Mike and Shelly, along with Deborah Goonan, are working on a case study, doing some research with the intent of publishing a paper answering this question. In an easy to understand and simple way, Mike explains the psychology behind human nature. He and Shelly fill in with facts, stories and typical situations that take place every single day. This is a very exciting piece of research and a fascinating interview. For all those people who believe that “HOAs are here to stay,” are you listening?
The founders realized that in order to establish a government among men they would have to obtain the consent of the governed. In other words, in order to govern a group of people one needs their permission. So where and how did we go off the straight and narrow when it comes to getting the “consent of the governed” in the millions of residential associations in the US? What I find bewildering is that while the “governed” in HOAs and condos far outnumber the “governors”, they do not face much resistance.
Julio Robaina joins us On The Commons. Julio, a former state of Florida Representative spent time traveling around the state, holding hearings trying to understand the extent of the problems and the reason for the discontent in Floridas HOAs and condominiums. He listened to the owners’ stories and their ideas and suggestions of how to “fix” the problems. Once educated on the issues and armed with information, he drafted his bills designed to protect the rights of the homeowners residential associations. He now co-owns a management company so he is still very much involved. We talk to Julio about what he learned and whether the laws and protections put in place by him several years ago are still enforced now.
Have you noticed how sometimes the best of intentions can have disastrous consequences? A perfect example is trying to provide affordable housing to the masses, give local municipalities free tax dollars while double taxing the homeowners (who think they just bought something affordable) to pay for essential services. T o achieve all that, we commingle private property and common property and the cherry on the top of this scheme is putting Larry, Curly and Moe in charge. If that is not a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is. We have tried to make this work for decades but have failed miserably. The real tragedy is that we not only refuse to learn from our mistakes but we keep building on them without improving them.
Tyler Berding joins us On The Commons. Tyler is a founding partner of Berding and Weil, a California law firm that represents Condominiums and Homeowner Associations. He has been following all things related to Common Interest developments for the past several decades and speaks on the topic in various forums, including Community Associations Institute, (CAI) and the California based Executive Council of Homeowners, (ECHO). He also participates in writing legislation designed to regulate both commercial and residential CIDs. Tyler has long been writing about the failures of the business model, primarily of condominiums. To prove his point, Pinnacle Condominium Association in San Rafael, California has just approved a $145,000 special assessment for each of the 36 owners in order to make the much needed repairs to the common elements. We talk about the obvious problems with the business model and the problems that can and do rear their ugly heads. We also talk about our penchant for providing affordable housing to everyone. The question really is, just how affordable is “affordable housing”? Is housing built out of cardboard and scotch tape affordable in the long run? Can well built housing that will still be standing in 20 years or longer, be affordable? Or is to time to pull the plug on the “American Dream” of homeownership?
This show is dedicated to Donie Vanitzian 1950-2017 who was found dead on December 28, 2017. For 16 years Donie wrote a weekly column for the LA Times answering questions for homeowners who were caught in a web with their homeowner associations. In addition to her column, she wrote several books on HOAs. She was a great friend to homeowners who had nowhere else to turn and will be greatly missed.
Over the years we have watched the people in positions of power in residential America come up with some of the dumbest rules and policies governing private property. If they couldn’t have such potentially tragic consequences, annual awards for the dumbest of them might make for a great comedy show. However, judging by the headlines, they don’t need any encouragement. Probably one of the most insane to hit the news lately is the mind bogglingly stupid rule from Auburn Greens Complex HOA in Auburn, California requiring the owners to leave their garage doors open during the day or face a fine of $200. This should be a hard sell for proponents of fines and protecting property values.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah blogs on Independent American Communities where no HOA story misses her attention. She is a prolific writer and augments all her posts with additional research and more details thus enriching her posts. She has become a go-to person for all the latest HOA land. I asked Deborah to help us do a round up of some of the idiotic rules that seem to be adding to the stress levels of American homeowners. She had a string of such stories lined up within minutes. We talk about some of them, by no means did we scratch the surface of the sheer insanity that is out there. You will no doubt agree that Condos and HOAs are a failed concept and beyond repair.
As my mind goes back over the decades to the Christmases of my youth, I recall the love and warmth of my family, friends and the neighbors. I smile at the memories of decorating the tree and the house, and relive the excitement of the coming festivities and the general sense of goodwill and joy. Of course, I had never even heard of an HOA. They didn’t exist back then and I can’t help but think how much better off we were. The biggest gift we had was that we were left alone and allowed to celebrate the way that made the most sense to us.
In the years since, we have changed the landscape of residential America. No longer are people left to their own devices and allowed to enjoy decorating their homes without threats and interference. Every little item is micromanaged to the point where the joy of Christmas has been taken out of it.
How did we ever get to that point?
Bill Davis joins us On the Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney, found himself in a number of law suits having to protect his rights and his property from his HOA. Having learned about HOA law and seen the games that were being played, it was a natural transition to representing other owners who found themselves fighting to protect hearth and home. We talk to Bill about some of his cases, and a few of the “games” that he uncovered. Many people would not be surprised at how much some of the board members resemble a good old-fashioned crime family. Bill is always entertaining and his interviews are always an eye-opener. You will want to hear what he has to say.
On the Commons will be back in the middle of January, 2018. In the meantime, we wish you all a healthy and happy holiday season.