Over the last few decades American homeowners have gradually lost sovereignty over their property. With every new law, every new covenant, every new policy our ability to live in our homes as we see fit has been eroded. With every new policy there is an acceptance that this is the way of the future. It is “normal” now to have someone else dictate and approve the colors you choose for your house, the plants and flowers you plant, the decorative elements you use, or in fact even if you are ” allowed” to use them, the structures you buy for your children’s play equipment including the colors you use. The list is endless. Sometimes I think it is getting to the point where children in kindergarten have more autonomy over their daily lives than do their parents.
John Cowherd j oins us On The Commons. John is a Virginia attorney who represents homeowners against their condominiums and homeowner associations. He hosts and maintains Words of Conveyance a blog that focuses on property law. One of the trends he is seeing more of is the growing restrictions on renting one’s home, or even a room, either short term or long term. He has a recent blog about this not so new issue of contention in America’s controlled residential associations titled Rental Restrictions in Virginia Condominiums. While there may be some genuine concerns about rentals, as usual the problems don’t appear to be quite as awful as some people might have you believe. We’ll talk to John and learn more about it. We will also talk about how the courts rule in cases where the use of free use of property is inhibited. Fortunately there is some good news there.
We seem to live in a culture of unprecedented intolerance, incredible rudeness and bullying. None of these traits are conducive to a society that is civilized, fair or pleasant. In fact the opposite is true. Do we continue down this path, unchecked, acting and behaving like animals? What are the consequences of such abusive behavior?
For a glimpse of where we might be headed, we need to look no further than the HOAs that are forced on America’s homeowners. Without the checks and balances required by the Constitution and absent any oversight the so called leaders in these associations act and behave like the adult versions of the bullies they probably were in school. And absent any “adult” to prevent the abuse, there will be tragic consequences.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. We are both very saddened to announce that a homeowner who fought to protect her home, her family and her rights lost the biggest battle of all, her life. Many of you had corresponded with Andrea Barnes over the years and are familiar with the terror and insanity she had to put up with in her HOA. Andrea was a young mother of 3 children that she loved and was very proud of. She was a very talented photographer and a gifted writer. And as everything in HOAs the problems and the HOA complaints were petty.They included her trashcan, a birdhouse her kids made her in school, a hose wheel (unapproved? Wrong shade of gray? who knows!). So quite apart from the barrage of violation notices for petty alleged infractions, the association isolated her, the abuse spilled onto the kids at school and they removed her from the community Facebook page.
They parked at the end of her driveway and sat there watching the house. Oh, she also had Meniers disease, a disability that is not outwardly visible but a disability nonetheless. The stress she lived under in her association was relentless. But then this is what HOAs are about. I have to wonder if the HOA had the authority to do any of the things they did to Andrea and do to countless other homeowners on a daily basis. It is time to pull the plug on homeowner associations! It is time to learn how to be a caring, polite and civilized country once again.
In a free and civilized society there is the expectation that the citizens have rights, including the right to be treated fairly. However fairness seems to be one of the first casualties in mandatory membership residential associations. Gone are all the safeguards put in place by the Constitution. Gone is the notion of checks and balances and the idea that in the event of a dispute there will be a fair and just outcome. Is this just an HOA problem or does it affect other institutions?
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline has a law degree, and is passionate about the law. She is an author and a professor in Maryland and is always willing to share her knowledge, expertise and ideas with us. She is very well aware of the what can happen when the safety nets fail to ensure fairness. We’ll talk about the meaning and need for law. We also learn about a 30 year old case, how that was handled in court and what has happened in the Pam Smart case. How can we ensure fairness in this world?
“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” When confronted with anything that “sounds too good to be true”, don’t take it at face value, instead do a little digging to get the details. One of these golden gems in the land of residential associations is Alternate Dispute Resolution, or ADR. Proponents would have us believe arbitration and mediation are cheaper, quicker and better than going to court. It sounds too good to be true so I did a little digging, and several years ago wrote a paper on my findings which is on my web site. You can read it here. But there is so much more.
As time goes on and more and more people fall in the trap of giving up their right to go to court, some pretty unsavory details have come to light. Mediation is used pretty extensively in neighborhood association wars which usually include a confidentiality clause, in other words, a gag order. I have always opposed this.
Robin Lent joins us On The Commons. Robin, a Texas homeowner got tangled up in a battle with her association 10 years ago, went to a court ordered mediation and after an exhausting session, when she was ready to drop, signed an agreement that included a confidentiality clause. The terms of the settlement are sealed so we will NOT be discussing them BUT for the details of the mediation process, and the fall out of the gag order, you will have to tune in. It was a huge eye opener for me and I learned so much from this show. So, you think you want to go to arbitration? Please tune in.
I can’t even begin to tell you just how appalled, angry, disgusted and frustrated I am at the state of housing, American style. Most countries in the world have a healthier respect for private spaces, whether those spaces are owned by the residents or leased. But with the proliferation of mandatory, forced membership in residential corporations, Americans are subject to the whims and caprices of neighborhood self appointed “enforcers” and their hired ” professionals” aka, HOA attorneys. After all, they really are not smart enough or capable enough to live in their own homes without a lot of oversight.
John Cowherd and Bill Davis join us On The Commons in the first of a two part show analyzing how and why we got to having such disrespect and disdain for private property. The largest tools in these tyrants’ toolbox is the statutory right to fine and then to foreclose to collect these fines. No oversight is provided by the governmental bodies authorizing these remedies, no thought to protecting the rights of the owners. After all, they agreed, right?
Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Whether Einstein said it or not is debatable but what is certain is that the quote is common sense. Yet for some reason we insist on doing the same thing over and over and over again, convincing ourselves that this time it will work. THIS time the results will be different. And yet again, we are disappointed and frustrated. This is especially true when it comes to “fixing” all the problems with residential associations. We believe that one more law requiring or prohibiting something will drastically alter the failing HOA system. But all those statutes do little other than complicate and compound the problems. Maybe it is time to start thinking outside the box and looking at different “solutions” – different ways of protecting homeowner assets and rights.
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline is passionate about the Law, a subject she loves and is always willing to talk about and share thoughts and ideas with us. This week we brainstorm ideas that would allow homeowners to get what it is they want most, the right to be left alone and to enjoy the peace and sanctity of their own homes. We explore the possibility of taking the fight to a different arena and using a different battle cry. We learn about potential rights and remedies. Tune in for an idea packed hour of ways to stop doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results.
If I could draw I think I would write the HOA book as a series of cartoons because that’s how my mind tends to work. Many of those cartoons would be funny, others not so funny. But over the years never has there been a sumo wrestler in any of my imagined doodles or cartoons – until this interview. That’s when I started putting sumo wrestlers in the picture . But a gratuitous, enormous hulking, naked man in what appears to be a diaper, in the middle of a manicured, sterile, characterless, controlled residential association wasn’t quite connecting. So, I decided to read up on sumo wrestling and sumo wrestlers. And all of a sudden it was a perfect fit, diaper and all. I discovered, among other things, that although some of these massive men appear to be invincible, they have been toppled by smaller opponents. A sumo historian is quoted as saying he believes the circular ring was chosen to assist smaller fighters slip away and that the sumo rules tends to root for the underdog.
If you find yourselves in the bullseye of an HOA battle, facing what may seem like a sumo wrestler, grin at the diaper and know that you can win.
Dr. Wes Rocki, MD, PhD joins us On The Commons. Retired from practicing conventional medicine, Wes now focusses on alternative medicine, including techniques on self help and self healing. He explains how we can empower ourselves to better handle any conflict. We talk about how we can step away, mentally and emotionally to get a better grasp of the situation. Wes gives us a lot of really good advice on how to not only survive being at the center of an HOA storm but how to survive emotionally, reframe the conflict, empower ourselves and win against that massive sumo wrestler in the ring with us. So many light bulbs went off during the course of this interview. Listen and be empowered.
We have become a very transient society. I was quite surprised when I first came to the US that one of the first questions we ask someone we meet is, “where are you from?” Our roots have become spread across the globe, leaving behind our friends, families, neighbors, traditions, language, culture and all the other things that are part of who we are. It hasn’t always been that way. There was a time when families lived in the same community and were there for all the milestones. Family lore and history were well known, pride of our ancestors and their accomplishments and legacies were all part of our every day lives. We had a stronger sense of who we were and where we came from.
Sylvia Hoehns Wright joins us On The Commons. Sylvia is one of a handful of people who knows who she is and where she came from. She is the 5th generation to live on a family owned tract of land. There are 9 houses in her neighborhood all owned and inhabited by family who all share the same roots and values. There is no mandatory membership homeowner association so no abuses, horror stories or attempted land grabs that we talk about here. Right? Well, not so fast. A couple of parcels of land were sold and the new owners who don’t share Sylvia’s history, values or traditions would love to be able to get her off her land. She has written a book called Lawfare, American Property Rights versus Muslim Supremacy Tune in to hear Sylvia’s story.
Our founding fathers felt strongly enough about protecting our right to express ourselves, share our thoughts and tell our stories that they included it in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, also known as The Bill of Rights. The importance and the benefits of this right can’t be overstated.
Dr. Gary Solomon joins us On The Commons. Dr Solomon, a professor of psychology has studied the effects of residential associations on the homeowners. I asked him specifically about “gag orders” and how they affected families and especially the harm that is done to the children. He had some interesting insights on how HOAs are “muting” their members. We dig beneath the horror stories and try to understand what goes on underneath it all. Dr Solomon has written extensively on this subject. To access all his work simply Google HOA Syndrome.
The benefit of making mistakes should be that we learn from them and – hopefully- avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. So how come we never seem to learn from the mistake of imposing a 4th layer of government on housing consumers? This extra layer of government has no oversight, no separation of powers, no constitutional restraints and total and complete disregard for individual and property rights. Could the answer be that it really is not a mistake?
Caroline Douglas is back by popular demand, On the Commons . Caroline has a Juris Doctor, she has written a law treatise called The Dark Side and is about to teach the material from her book in several college courses in Baltimore, Maryland. Never having been personally caught in the abuses of an HOA gone off the rails, and never having litigated property association cases, she forces us to look outside the box we have put ourselves in. Tune in for a slightly different show.