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.