Robert Stern

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.

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Martha Boneta

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.  

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Bill Davis

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.

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Kate Souders and Andy Ostrowski

“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. 

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Andy Ostrowski

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.

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Larry Murphree and Stephanie Krasowski

We have lost sight of the true value of homeownership in this country.  Traditionally buying property included a “Legal Bundle of Rights” that came with the deed.
Those “rights” included the rights of possession, control, exclusion, enjoyment and disposition  and were irrefutable.  As long as the tax man was paid and the banker got the mortgage money, the owners were the royalties in residence.  They enjoyed every bit of the rights they acquired when they got the title to their castles.  The concept worked well until mandatory membership HOAs were involuntarily foisted on American homeowners.  No longer does ownership guarantee any of those rights, no longer do governments protect those rights and no longer is ownership a thing of pride and dignity.  In the kontrolled world of HOA living, pride, dignity, security, control and individuality have been replaced by fear, terror, abuse, theft and ill health.

On The Commons this week we are rejoined by Larry Murphree.  You will recall that Larry, a condo owner in Florida, was cited by his HOA for having an “unauthorized object in his flowerpot” and was being fined $100/day for his transgression.  Yes, you read it right, the kondo kommandos in Larry’s little bit of heaven decided to come up with a list of “flowerpot rules”!  Author of condo flowerpot rules. Put that on your epitaph!  Larry’s 11X17 INCH flag violates the rules, offends their aesthetics and the uniformity of the look alike units.  As if that was not bad and stupid enough, the HOA attorney has started foreclosing to collect fines and legal fees.  in a power HOAs have commonly known as the priority of payment scam, legitimate assessments are diverted to pay the HOA attorney FIRST (wonder who wrote those laws?), fines, interest and other junk fees before making sure their share of the commons expenses are covered.   And as often happens,  there is nothing left the owner and the owner is behind in his or her dues. Time to foreclose and collect dues from “these deadbeat homeowners”. You can read more about Larry’s plight in his condo http://letmeflytheflag.com

What if you don’t violate a flowerpot rule?  How well are your Rights of ownership being protected?

Stephanie Krasowski joins us during the second half of the show.  Stephanie, also a condo owner in Florida, is fighting a much bigger problem than a stupid flowerpot rule.  In her case it is not stupid neighbors but a stupid government that made it possible for her and thousands of Floridians to lose their homes in what amounts to a hostile takeover.  When a law is enacted as a knee jerk reaction to address a relatively small issue without putting in adequate protections to protect the citizens and prevent a small group of people from using and abusing the law for their own benefit, the lives of many people can be ruined.  A law that allows 80% of the owners in a condo project to terminate the condominium, stripping the remaining 20% of the owners of their RIGHTS and rendering them homeless is a huge problem.  Exact numbers may not be available but it is known that at least 17,010 people have lost their homes through no fault of their own and another 1035 families are at risk of being victims of this particular scam.  You can read more about this disaster at http://www.cnbc.com/id/101746928 and sign Stephanie’s petition to save her home at http://www.change.org/p/floridiansact-against-condo-takeover .

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Lisa Kapsokefales

“We have met the enemy and he is us” – Pogo.  

If they can get it right in a cartoon why can’t we see it?  We have been tinkering with residential America to the point where it is worse than anything imaginable. First we privatized public functions, not to make them more economically sound but to give local municipal governments a free pass on the tax money they collected. Then we lied to housing consumers and constituents by telling them these new fancy schemes will protect property values. Then we took away all the choices consumers and potential owners had NOT to live behind bars, being micromanaged by bullies.  What this fancy new scam did was allow governments to mandate associations that benefits them, that benefit the developers who get away with increasing density and cutting corners and by building an entire new career field on the backs of the homeowners.  This new industry is costing home and condo owners 65 Billion dollars annually,

When all the tweaking, massaging and lies were said and done what we ended up with is a housing scheme that terrorizes residents, is run by a bunch of inept lunatics, is adding immeasurably to the stress level of Americans, costing them their health, their wealth and yes, even their homes.  What is happening in residential America is, simply, a disgrace.  But that’s OK, there is always the government, right?  The only legitimate function of any government is to protect its citizens and in America we have lots of layers of government so lots of protections, right?  Let’s see, we have the Federal government, with a President, Senators, Congressman, the FBI, the CIA, the Justices, the courts, to oversee things.  In fact they have an entire city to rule from.  Then we have State governments with Governors and Lt Governors, an Attorney General with deputies, there are state legislators and state agencies and small and large county governments and city mayors and more agencies than you can shake a stick at.  They’ll help, right?  After all they are there to protect you, the citizen, the tax payer, the constituent, the homeowner.  That’s what you pay your taxes for, isn’t it?

Lisa Kapsokefalos joins us On The Commons this week. Lisa and her family bought a townhouse on Lake Champlain in New York state as a second home.  They needed a place to slow down, recharge their batteries and provide their kids with a healthy environment to go to.   But the peaceful and healthy home they thought they bought turned out to be anything but.  Their saga covers well over a decade of harassment and abuse by their neighbors – for no apparent reason other than just because they could.  But there is something very different about this particular “association”.  It is NOT an association.  Just because 3 of the neighbors decide to charge everyone monthly dues doesn’t mean they have the authority to do so.  You’d think THAT little fact would put an end to the tyranny.  There was no constructive notice, there was nothing to agree to.  Unfortunately the courts didn’t see it that way.  And it will probably not surprise you to learn that every single government office or agency Lisa contacted just shrugged their shoulders and said there was nothing they could do.  You will have to hear her story.  

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Stephen Smith

CAI’s Fact Book claims that the current thinking in HOAs is that “Community means harmony – Governance means transparency – Business means sustainability”  Sounds positively utopian, doesn’t it?  For years proponents of kontrolled living have tried to convince us that associations are democracy up close and personal, that they give owners an unprecedented opportunity to influence their surroundings, that the members have a say in the decisions made by the collective and it goes on and on.  If there was even a kernel of truth to any of this total misrepresentation of the facts, why do an ever increasing number of HOA detainees compare their associations to war zones?  Why are more and more horror stories grabbing the headlines?  
 
Over the years we have been warned the future of HOAs is in jeopardy due to the lack of interest by the owners.  The complaints from industry leaders ranged from homeowners not attending association meetings to not caring enough to run for the board and not providing the necessary oversight  to prevent all the embezzlement we keep hearing about. Now we are told that in those days of dire predictions for HOAs that the thinking was  “Governance meant compliance. Community meant conformity.”  We’ve come a long way to arrive at harmony and transparency, haven’t we?

So just how harmonious and transparent are today’s homeowner associations?  

On The Commons with us this week is Stephen Smith.  Stephen, a condo owner in Florida, decided to avail himself of some of that transparency that seems to be the hallmark of associations by asking about the reserve account and the need for a loan.  After all, as a member he will be on the hook financially to cover all the costs and obligations  incurred by the association.  But apparently the folks on his board had not received the email about being open and responsive to the owners because he was given the run around.  However, the incident occurred in a very harmonious setting, right?  For a better understanding of the harmony that exists in associations, you can watch a clip of that meeting here.  Be forewarned that someone just might try to tell you that it is an isolated incident but don’t you believe it.

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Ron Lemons

Home ownership is a simple concept – or it used to be.  People bought homes to shelter themselves and their families, to own a little piece of the world that is all their own where they can surround themselves with the people and the things they love and exclude everything and anyone they don’t want.  People were truly kings and queens of their castles.  And then along came HOAs, condominiums and co-ops and nothing is sane, simple or sensible any more.  Instead of the quiet, peaceful and safe enjoyment of a home, Americans are now being forced into kontrolled kommunities where life can be quite miserable.

This new and rather intrusive living style seems to have empowered the neighbors to be more insulting, insensitive, and extremely rude.  For a country that prides itself on being hospitable, tolerant and inclusive, HOAs appear to be setting the stage for intolerance, disrespect and contempt.  Far from living in communities, this brave new world thrives on living in war zones.  

Joining us On The Commons this week we have Ron Lemons.  Ron and his wife Peggy have experienced firsthand the problems that arise from a mismanaged condominium.  This one seems to have it all; moldy units from lack of maintenance, lack of responsiveness and lack of concern for the residents.  There is also lack of sunshine and lack of accountability, especially when it comes to finances.  The contemptuousness of the board members telling their disabled neighbors that they are not wanted and they need to move.  I guess no one asked Ron and Peggy how satisfied they were with kontrolled living, because you see, they are an “isolated incident”.  Tune in to hear Ron explain the full story.

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Deborah Goonan

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
And they are all made out of ticky tacky,
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes,
And they came out all the same.

Melvina Reynolds’ lyrics, written before ticky tacky little boxes were mass produced, were prophetic.  They perfectly capture the sense of soulless little boxes, all the same, all made of ticky tacky.  Any attempt to add a little personality or any deviation from the uniformity of the little boxes made of ticky tacky is not tolerated. And so the little boxes just keep multiplying like rabbits.  

The latest statistics from the Community Association Institute (CAI) is that 64 million people live in these little boxes and pay 65 BILLION Dollars a year for the privilege.  How much of those Billions of dollars goes to pay experts in invention to conjure up reasons for why these little boxes are the preferred way to live?  There was a time when people believed it but more and more folks are calling these flights of fantasy, “myths”.

On The Commons with us today is Deborah Goonan.  Deborah no longer lives in an involuntary membership association but looks at them from the outside in.  She researches them and blogs about them, often pointing out many of the discrepancies and contradictions in the “official” blurbs put out by CAI.  Join us as we discuss just 3 of the most often repeated fallacies about HOAs. Myth #1, CAI represents homeowners – Myth #2 HOAs are the purest form of democracy and Myth #3 – Survey says…. homeowners are overwhelmingly happy with their HOAs.  Gives one the warm and fuzzies, doesn’t it?

Deborah’s research paper is available Here:   Topics to cover with Shu Bartholomew

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News and Views About Homeowner Associations