Do you ever feel like you are being watched? That your every move is being recorded, noted, tagged, documented and archived for future reference? That’s because you are being watched from every corner and every angle imaginable. No, it is not science fiction, it is the here and now of our every day lives. In the land of the free and the brave, eyes and ears are everywhere, watching you. Any false move is likely to result in hefty fines and even lead to the confiscation of your home. Just what are these false moves that could have such dire consequences? And what new tools and techniques are being used to rat you out? And how is technology helping?
Jan Bergemann joins us On The Commons. Jan is the founder and President of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice a grass roots organization dedicated to protecting the owners in condo and homeowner associations. We talk to Jan about the state of association living in Florida. We learn about a bill making its way through the legislative process that would not give board members a pass should they commit a crime. And you’ll never guess who is opposing this bill. We learn about a new app called “The Parking Boss” which is being used to enforce rental restrictions in condos and gated communities. The Parking Boss? And for those who have had their fill of being inspected from every angle and snooped and spied on, there is a glimmer of hope. We’ll find out whether there is life after an HOA dies. And just for fun, along the way we learn about some of the most petty violations people have been cited and fined for.
I am frequently contacted by homeowners who are being bullied and abused by board members and/or managers in the association governing their neighborhood. More often than not, the source for the conflict is petty and ridiculous. Notwithstanding the sort of personality that tends to gravitate to these positions, our legislators have seen fit to bestow extraordinary powers on them, tipping the balance very heavily in favor of the association. The experience of being caught in the crosshairs of the association causes stress induced health challenges for the homeowners.
But suppose the homeowner is disabled? The weaker and more vulnerable amongst us are more likely to be targeted because they are easier to bully, scare and abuse. Is there any help for the?
Dr. Karin Huffer joins us On The Commons this week. Dr. Huffer is a multi talented force to be reckoned with. She is an author, a speaker, a trainer and now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. For years, Karin has known that people with disabilities are more likely to have their rights ignored, or trampled on by everyone, including the courts. She decided to do something about it. She set up a web page and started a program called Equal Access Advocates. She trains people to become advocates and to accompany people with disabilities in court to protect their rights. We’ll talk to Karin about her advocates, who they are and how they help their clients. We learn a little more about the Americans With Disabilities Act and how her program ensures that people are treated fairly. With an advocate by their side, people in court have someone very firmly in their corner.
Why do bad ideas take off like wildfire and become part of the norm? Recently I discovered an article I had intended to cover that had slipped through the cracks. I wondered, after three years, if it was still being used or if common sense had prevailed and respect for property and individual rights had won the day. I did some research and discovered that the Crime Free Lease Addendum is not only still in use but encouraged. The article is about an enterprising management company that “fully supports participation in crime free programs by homeowner associations”. By forcing a homeowner/landlord to use this addendum, ostensibly to decrease crime in the neighborhood, the management company acting on behalf of the HOA, has the contractual right to evict tenants for breaking the law or violating a rule. This is, in my opinion, a really bad idea.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill is a Texas attorney who does represent homeowners in battle with their HOAs. He has seen the bad, the ugly and the stupid side of what goes on in these developments. I sent the article to him and asked if it was just me or did he see the potential for incredible abuse with this addendum? We talk about all the obvious infractions that could trigger an eviction and discuss the ways that this addendum could could be financially lucrative to the HOA/management company. And as usual, there is no oversight, no checks and balances, no sanity checks anywhere because the addendum includes a clause that says “The Association will be the sole judge as to what constitutes criminal activity”. In return homeowners are promised safer neighborhoods. Yep, that sounds like the same empty promises we’ve been hearing for years like increased property values and carefree living. As Bill so accurately described it – it is a form of “domestic terrorism.”
I often wonder what my life would be like if I had complete and total control over it. Would I be able to deflect all the curve balls life throws at me? Or would I still be floating on the sea of life like so much flotsam and jetsam, subject to all the vagaries lurking in the shadows, just waiting to trip me up? Happily we can take control of many things in our lives but unfortunately for those of us living in America’s ever growing number of residential associations, we seem to be losing the war. It is just a handful of people who make the major decisions that affect our lives and more importantly, our wallets.
Robert Nordlund joins us On The Commons. Robert is the founder and CEO of Association Reserves in California. In his professional life he studies the common elements in an association, be it a condo, HOA, Co-op, dockominium or parkominium to determine whether or not the corporate entity responsible for maintaining the common elements is adequately funded.
The news isn’t good. According to Robert, 70% of all associations are underfunded, which means only 30% are not in immediate danger of incurring special assessments. We’ll talk about the reasons for underfunded associations. Are artificially low assessments the (only) reason for this dilemma or could other common practices be responsible for this predicament? Could better business practices help? And is there a “quick and dirty” way for housing consumers to figure out what the financial health of the association they are considering buying into?
I have to wonder whether throwing more money at something that is broken is the only fix or is it simply the easiest short term solution for a problem? Are there other ways of dealing with it that we are overlooking.
I have often wondered, and worried, about children growing up in HOAs who watch their parents suffer at the hands of the HOA bullies. What is the message we are giving them? Will they be willing and able to fight to protect their homes and families when they are raising their children in these irrational and often abusive residential associations? Or will they simply roll over and hope the horrors end, believing this is normal? “This is just the way it is” or “They are all like this”, never realizing they can fight back and they can make life better for all concerned?
Jessica Suico joins us On The Commons. Jessica is a second year student at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California. She is majoring in journalism and works on The Advocate, the college newsletter. The paper normally reports on all things college related, new classes, upcoming events on campus and other news items or topics of interest that would affect student life. Jessica’s article is a little out of the norm for her paper but, I believe, so very important. She witnessed the harassment and subsequent eviction of her mother and aunt from their home. She also saw the frustration as her mother and aunt exhausted all venues seeking non-existing help for people in similar situations. They may have been able to get some help had they known where to look. That has to be part of the education. However, in the end, a couple of elderly ladies who have had health problems were evicted, ended up in the hospital and rendered homeless. Using the college newspaper was an excellent way of, not only getting the story out, but also of education other young college students who will be facing similar problems unless we stop the bleeding in private residential America SOON.
Some people insist on referring to HOAs as communities. If we describe people; who live in the same geographical area as a community; that might be accurate. However, in a contrived situation like today’s mass-produced residential associations, geography is about the only thing most of the owners have in common. The hierarchical structure of a forced membership association does nothing whatsoever to foster a sense of community, rather it seems to cause isolationism and imposes fear in the residents. In a very real sense their real governments and left to fend for themselves against all manner of abuses have abandoned the owners. In some of the worst cases, homes are being stolen by those in the upper echelons of the HOA hierarchy and sold on the courthouse steps for pennies on the dollar.
Ryan Torrens joins us On The Commons. Ryan is a young attorney in Tampa Florida who was introduced to the horrors of foreclosures right out of law school. Shortly thereafter he started his own firm, The Torrens Law Group, where he specializes in protecting homeowners facing foreclosure from banks and homeowner associations. We talk to Ryan about the situations that promote a climate that not only favors foreclosures but also in some respects makes them commonplace. We get tips on what to do when a homeowner finds themselves in that situation, and probably more importantly, what not to do. We also talk about key legislation that might go a long way in preventing some of the worst abuses.
Most people aspire to have a nice home, one they are proud of as it reflects their personality and attests to their hard work and success in life. A place they can be comfortable and surround themselves with the people and things they love. But, the reality is that the most valuable thing we have is our health. Without it, little else matters. Without it you may not be able to take care of your property, or enjoy having the people you love around you. Yet our homes today are built and forced into toxic environments – controlled mandatory, and often involuntary, membership residential associations.
Dr. Gary Solomon joins us On The Commons. Dr. Solomon is a retired professor who became aware of the ugly side of homeowner associations when he realized his neighbors were living in fear. After a little digging he discovered that life really wasn’t rosy and all happy in these pristine environments, where the color and shape of the grass was more important than the health and happiness of the people living there. With his many degrees and his background in psychology, he started studying the effects of living in an HOA. One of the most alarming and damaging consequences created by associations, is the level of stress they create and the very damaging effects on our health. He has since written extensively on what goes on in residential America today. His most innovative and creative work is an e-book called HOA:Crisis in America. The book is free and you the option of reading it, watching the videos or just listening to it. But before he wrote his book, he wrote a couple of papers about HOAs, HOA Syndrome and Elder Abuse. We talk to Dr. Solomon about the health of HOAs and especially the health of the residents in HOAs.
The dictionary has many definitions for the word “home” but to me home is that safe place we all go to recharge our batteries, be with those we love or enjoy the solitude those 4 walls provide. It is a place that is uniquely our own. Houses, apartments, hotel rooms and ” units” can all look alike, but much like fingerprints and snowflakes no two ” homes” are ever exactly alike. In a world that seems to fear individuality and promotes uniformity, a home has even more importance than ever.
In our brave new world of cookie cutter dwelling units, crammed into modern day communes, more often than not the heart and soul of what we once called a community is gone. In addition to all looking alike and living alike we now also are expected to be alike.
Barry Silver joins us On The Commons. Barry, an attorney who practices law in Florida, has spent his career fighting for the rights of individuals, including homeowners in HOAs. Currently Barry has been working with several homeowners in a particular association where the owners are being evicted from their own homes. These owners are paid up, they do not owe any money so it is not a case of “mooching off their neighbors” as proponents of this dysfunctional housing scheme often cite as an acceptable reason for this barbaric behavior. They are, however, elderly so they are vulnerable. Their alleged “crimes”, and the reason they are being evicted are petty, absurd and ridiculous. We’ll talk to Barry about these homeowners, what they are being targeted for and where they are now. This is a rebroadcast of an earlier show and a reminder of just how abusive and nasty people can be.
I must be a newer, more modern version of Rip Van Winkle. Once simple and easy to understand ways of living and going about my business have become so complicated and incomprehensible. Laws that must have been written by inebriated Martians have replaced common sense and common courtesy. Who, in their right mind, would even think of some of the nonsense that is becoming an accepted part of every day life? Take for instance pets in HOAs. Once an absolute no for homeowners in residential associations, CAI appears to be not only softening its stand but also encouraging pets on HOAs. Why? Not only does this inquiring mind want to know but also so do many of our listeners.
So we decided to find out just what was going on.
Stephen Marcus joins us On The Commons. Stephen is an attorney in Massachusetts who has made a career of Community Association law. He is the recent recipient of the Don Buck award, which is awarded for exceptional leadership in the field of community association law by his colleagues. Yes, he is a member of CAI but that has never stopped him from always been generous with his time, willing to talk quite candidly about some the issues that have many of us scratching our heads. So we ask Stephen what those pesky Martians have been up to lately and what changes are blowing in the wind, headed for America’s homeowners. There appears to be a lot of activity at the Federal level, some good and some maybe not so good. We also try to understand why pets are center stage – in a good way for a change – and will have an entire issue of Common Ground dedicated to them. They will also be part of CAI’s annual convention in May. Pets on parade in America’s HOAs? Who would have thunk it? Will your pet be featured in Common Ground?
When I look at the very sorry state of housing in the US, I often wonder how we got to where we are. However, I don’t have to think too hard about it because the fingerprints of dysfunction are everywhere. In the country that describes itself as the freest, the biggest, the richest and the best, how can something as simple and basic as the right to homeownership be fraught with so many pitfalls? How can America’s homeowners be subject to such unfettered powers by special interests?
Julio Robaina joins us On The Commons. Julio, a former State Representative in Florida vowed to do everything in his power to protect the rights of owners in Florida’s many condominiums. He headed up a task force, traveled the state and listened to the stories of complete and utter abuses by management companies, board members and industry attorneys. What he heard changed him profoundly. During his term in office he championed legislation that ensured some rights were protected but like all laws, they were changed. As the current co-owner of a management company, he is still working on getting the existing laws enforced. Protecting owners from fraud, embezzlement and ensuring fair elections in condominiums. We talk about all of this and also discuss the bigger picture of communal living with commingled assets, liabilities, responsibilities in a world apparently shrouded in secrecy.