If you are reading this promo or tuning into On The Commons regularly, chances are you have had a nasty surprise or two when you bought your HOA burdened house. I often hear homeowners tell me they will never buy in an HOA again for as long as they live. Do you suppose they would have felt that way had they known what they were getting themselves into? Would a 2 or 3 inch stack of legal papers prepared them for life as usual in an HOA? Do you feel you were you given all the necessary and pertinent documents about the association before closing escrow? Did you have enough time to read and understand the contents of the package? Were there any red flags? What would you tell a friend and/or a relative who is house hunting to look for? What do you think should be included in a disclosure package that is not included now?
John Cowherd joins us On The Commons. John, an attorney in Virginia, is one of a handful of attorneys across the country who represents homeowners in disputes with their HOAs. John is also interested in educating the public about HOAs and condominiums. He has a widely read and discussed blog called Words of Conveyance where he writes about cases, legislation, and how stories that have made the headlines might affect associations. We talk to John about the Virginia Disclosure laws and whether they are doing an adequate job of informing potential buyers of what they can expect if they buy in the HOA. We also talk about whether the 72 hours buyers are given is enough time to read through the package and make a decision of whether to not to cancel the purchase. He gives us a lot of food for thought.
Have you ever wondered just where you fit into the grand scheme of our modern world? Who makes all the decisions that affect you and your family? How many strings are being pulled to determine the course of your life and the choices you think you are making? Think of all the layers of government authorized (or not) to adopt laws controlling almost every aspect of your life, where and how you live, what you eat, what you say and how you behave. To help put it into perspective, imagine peeling back the layers of an onion and when you do, just like an onion, it will make you cry.
But then you console yourself with the thought that all those layers and layers are protecting you. Are they?
Jan Bergemann joins us On The Commons. Jan is the founder and president of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice, CCFJ. Over the years Jan has worked with legislators, attorneys and homeowners trying to improve the status quo of owners in Florida’s approximately 4 million association controlled dwelling units. It should have been simple if all those layers of governments were in fact working to protect you, wouldn’t it? We’ll talk to Jan about Some of the major issues facing Floridians, we’ll touch on some of the stupidity that seems to be rampant in controlled America, we’ll find out just who (and how) those layers are really protecting and of course, it would not be a conversation with Jan without a trip back to Germany to compare issues on both sides of the Big Pond. He might just have a few ideas worth thinking about.
Peeling back the layers of an onion will make you cry.
Is it all about power or is money really at the root of all evil? Or is it a combination of both? I am of course taking about this notion of a fourth layer of government or, as they are more commonly referred to, mandatory membership homeowner associations. Whatever the reason for their proliferation, consumer choice is not one of them and consumer acceptance is a myth. Municipal mandates ensure a steady stream of tax free dollars flowing into the public coffers while power hungry board members are always on hand to enforce alleged rules and regulations. Let’s not forget the special interests behind the scenes orchestrating everything. For them it is definitely power, money and greed. So what is a homeowner to do once the honeymoon with their new house is over? They usually hit the internet and start searching for a friendly voice out there and the they do, they are like to find my guest.
Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons. Ward is an award winning TV anchor from Denver, Colorado who has the wonderful ability to see the humor in so many things including his own battles with his HOA. Now retired as an anchor, the heart of a journalist still beats hard in him. He first wrote a book called “Neighbors at War; The creepy case against your homeowners association. That was followed by a blog by the same name where he talks about some of the daily disasters in associations to grab the headlines. His second book is more of a personal story that allows the reader to glimpse the family life that has to be the reason for his wonderful sense of humor. Even the title is fun, “Get this Mother Published. The wacky world of a recovering army brat family”. And for all his fans, stay tuned because book 3 is in the works. We’ll talk about the books, his web site, some of the stories from his Neighbors at War book but mostly about what is happening in HOA land across the country. Tune in as we wander around the whacky world of controlled living, American Style.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I often see cartoons when I read the horror stories and see the abuses that take place in a residential association. Unfortunately what my mind “sees”, my hand can’t seem to draw so others can also take advantage of the “picture” in my mind. I have to use the thousand words to get you to see and feel what I see and feel when these stories come pouring out. So bear with me.
One of the many images that readily comes to the forefront of my mind when thinking of the hundreds of heartbreaking stories is a tsunami One small puff of air in the shape of a pudgy pooch or window blinds that are the wrong shade of white and off we go. The HOA huffs and it puffs and it gathers up strength and speed and then it rolls across the oceans, demolishing everything in its wake. When the oceans unleash their fury and come inland it is called a “disaster”. When an HOA bulldozes a member why don’t we recognize it as a disaster? All of these horrors and abuses are slowly but surely destroying any sense of community and ” belonging” we have.
Sara Benson joins us On The Commons. Sara is a longtime real estate broker in Chicago where condos and co-ops abound. Her hands-on and intimate knowledge of the residential association regime led her to co author a book called “Escaping the Condo Jail – The Keys to navigating Risks and surviving perils of the “Carefree” Community Lifestyle.” The book has been out for a couple of years now and anytime a book, a blog, an article or even a radio show is available to the public, it acts as a lifeline to homeowners drowning in the abuses of their HOAs. We talk to Sara about her book and follow up on some of the feedback she has received. Keep the image of a tsunami rolling across the angry oceans, looking for a place to land as you listen to the show and you will get an idea of how well Escaping Condo Jail is doing.
You follow a case as it winds its way through the court system. It seems so simple, so cut and dried that you wonder why so much time, money and hostility is invested in such a petty argument. Why should it cost hundreds of thousands of hard earned dollars to figure out whether a homeowner in an association can have white roses instead of red ones? Or whether or not a condo owner is allowed to have a small American flag on his or her front porch or if a family can have a swing set in the backyard for their children? Why should these even be an issue? And why would anyone in their right mind care? And finally, after months of discovery, nasty letters, fines, bullying, isolation and abusive language, dividing up the neighborhood, name calling and other nastiness, the opinion from the judges is handed down deciding the case once and for all. This is it, this is the end of this road. The wise men and women of the legal system have spoken and you are left with your mouth hanging open, wondering what on earth just happened.
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline has a law degree although she is no longer a practicing attorney. She has seen the dark side of the legal profession and decided to blow the whistle on what happens “behind the scenes”. In an 800 page book called “The Dark Side: a law treatise on judging – with memoir” she explains it all and gives us clues to look for so we are not caught off guard. In a fascinating interview she walks us through what goes on behind the scenes and how and why some of these off the wall decisions are reached. Caroline has witnessed these irregularities both as a practicing attorney and a litigant caught in this legal “chamber of horrors”. You can reach Caroline at email@example.com but you won’t want to miss this interview.
Oh, it’s a brave new world when homeowner associations and condos are allowed, by law, to assess fines for alleged rules infractions and covenant violations. They are also permitted to add junk fees, file a lien and then foreclose to collect those charges which often include hefty attorney fees. In many states associations have been granted priority over mortgages and other liens. What exactly does that mean? And how do associations find all these minor problems? The stories of covenant enforcement highlight the sheer pettiness and nastiness that seems to be quite rampant in association governed neighborhoods.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill is an attorney in Texas who knows firsthand what it is like to be targeted by a homeowner association. He regularly represents other homeowners, often in the battle of their lives against their HOAs. We talk to Bill about super priority liens, find out what they are and what they do. We also talk about something that is on the horizon that would allow associations to watch an owner’s every move and inspect every nook and cranny on private property.We are, of course, talking about drones. As I mentioned, it is a brave new world. Private property? A home? What will American homes and property rights look like in the future.
Over the years I have spoken to so many people who have found themselves on the receiving end of the wrath and fury of their condo or homeowners associations. The fear, anger, frustration and terror are unmistakable in their voices. They feel trapped and don’t understand how “this can happen in America”. They tell me they will never, ever buy another house in an association again if they are fortunate enough to get out of their current situation. It often takes years to finally put an end to their fights.
Jerry Berg joins us On The Commons. Jerry, as some of you may remember, was hospitalized when the president of his condominium beat him up with a crowbar. The president was a former judge who should have known better. When I called Jerry recently I noticed lightness in his voice. Was I imagining it or did he sound happier? Join us for a recap and an update on what he has been up to. He settled his case, refused to sign a gag order so is able to talk about it and to disclose the terms of the agreement. He has advice for others in similar situations. His advice will surprise you.
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.