Hot off the presses – there were 328,000 involuntary membership residential associations in America in 2013 according to a new fact book put out by the Community Associations Institute (CAI). I have to wonder just how accurate that number is. We’ve heard about associations that are defunct and the ones that were voluntarily terminated by the members because they found them to be more of a problem then they were worth. Are they part of that number?
On today’s show we visit an association in Texas that, happily, expired a number of years ago. But sometimes even a dead HOA just refuses to die gracefully.
Joining us On The Commons today is Bill Davis. Bill is one of a relatively small handful of attorneys who represents homeowners in litigation against their associations. With his terrific senses of humor and irony, he reports on some of the more bizarre goings on that are missed by the more casual or emotional observer. We’ll talk to Bill and find out just what HOA Board meetings and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have in common. Perhaps the answer for “rogue boards” is a 12 step program? Join us.
There is a saying that you can’t go back home again. But what if you never left home? What if “home” consisted of a large family compound that has been handed down over the centuries, where several generations still live, gather to celebrate holidays and family special days and events, support each other and play together? It is an enviable way of life that is fast disappearing in the name of progress.
We will be visiting just such a place today. A family community in Southern Virginia called Hoehns Lake View Farms that has been owned by the same family for centuries, preserved and lovingly tended by those who live there now and by their ancestors before them. But not all is well in this idyllic corner of Virginia. While encroachment and property ownership disputes may well be a civil matter more properly enforced by the judicial system, local governments have a duty and a responsibility to uphold the laws and protect the citizens. When the local zoning department ignores letters of notification that the construction project they have been asked to approve includes property that is not owned by the developer and the police department refuses to protect citizens from trespass even when the property has been properly posted and the lawful owners have done everything to comply with the letter of the law. These responsibilities fall squarely in the purview of local governments.
And when citizens call the police to file a complaint about harassment, vandalism, cruelty to animals, killing family pets, bullying and endangerment to people, the appropriate response is to dispatch an officer or two to protect the innocent. But maybe the police are too busy arresting homeowners to prevent them from attending HOA meetings to show up when people are in real danger.
Joining us On The Commons this week is Sylvia Wright. Sylvia is a descendent of the Hoehns family. She grew up on the family farm, is actively protecting the land she inherited and loves and is happy that her children and grandchildren are also living on the land and growing up the way she and her ancestors did. But life is not as peaceful as it was when she was young. Please join us as we learn how life has changed in her peaceful, quiet, beautiful part of an otherwise crazy world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch , or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.”
Do you suppose Ralph was thinking about homeowner associations and the many petty municipal governments around with ridiculous rules, ordinances and abusive enforcement mechanisms when he wrote that? His message seems to have fallen on deaf ears because these entities continue to make life miserable for their members and constituents.
Fortunately there are more individuals who are doing some amazing things to make the world a better place, not for just one person but for hundreds of people, despite their local governments.
Joining us On The Commons this week is Jason Helvenston. Jason and his wife, Jennifer, wanted to grow their own food but edible plants tend to require sun and the sun happened to be in their front yard so that’s when they planted their herbs and vegetables. However, the city council of Orlando, Florida thought grass would look normal and so they did what petty governments do so well, they issued an ultimatum, “plant grass or else… we will fine you $500 a day!”. The Helverstons believe in protecting their right to plant whatever they want on their own property so they fought back and they WON! You’ll have to listen to their story to realize that their garden is only the first step to opening our eyes and how they are making so many people “breathe easier.”
There is a rumor out there that 9 out of 10 owners in homeowners associations are delighted with their living conditions. Apparently the Community Associations Institute has a hard time believing those numbers as well because they seem to be commissioning a new survey every year or two – just to make sure, I suppose. The statistics and the numbers are, well, quite incredible but they must be true, otherwise we wouldn’t be reading about them in in every article about HOA horror stories.
The folks I hear from are not the deliriously happy homeowners the pollsters seem to unearth every year or so. I hear from people who are being terrorized, bullied, demonized and abused by a housing scheme that is beyond repair. I talk to people who are terrified of going home, of answering the door or the phone or picking up their mail. Perhaps that explains why they are not represented in all these happy surveys? The sorry fact is that HOAs are ruining a lot of lives and destroying a lot of people.
But there is strength in numbers and sometimes that can be a beautiful thing. Joining us On The Commons this week is Larry Fletcher. Larry and his neighbors decided they didn’t want to be harassed and abused by a board president with too much free time on his hands and a passion for writing threat letters and issuing fines. So they went to court and challenged the fines and the nit picky violations and they won their case. In the process they got a kinder, gentler president. But that did not guarantee that theirs would be a happy neighborhood forever after. They realized they were one election away from having another tyrant at the helm so they set out to ensure that they would always have a real sense of community where neighbors cared for each other and celebrated together. You will LOVE their story and what they did to get there. You will also understand why Larry sounds like such a cheerful chap.