Ward Lucas

In the movie, Wait Until Dark, Audrey Hepburn played the role of a blind woman who was alone in her house when some “bad guys” broke in.  She sensed they were in her house but she could not see them.  It was a pretty terrifying scene.  But it is the same scenario that repeats itself every day in the hundreds of thousands of HOAs across the country.  Homeowners are subjected to the same terrifying situations that Audrey Hepburn’s character was experiencing.  So much of what is being done to individual homeowners, or as the HOA industry so cavalierly puts it, ” isolated incidents” is being done under cover of darkness.  Neighbors are kept in the dark or don’t want to get involved for fear of becoming yet another neighborhood “isolated incident”.  Sometimes the only way to deal with the abuses is to shine a bright light on the situation and in this case, the light is the press.  On the rare occasions when a media outlet decides to tell their readers about a homeowner who is being abused, the bright light the news article or the TV story shines on the ‘bad guys” puts enough pressure on the HOA to start acting and behaving like mature, responsible adults.  But, getting the attention of the media is a battle on to itself.  

Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons.  Ward is an award winning print, TV and radio journalist who, over his career has covered stories of war while fighting his own war to protect his property in a homeowners association.  His experience and expertise were put to great use when he wrote Neighbors at War, the Creepy case Against your Homeowners Association.  The term ” Neighbors at War” has caught on and is used often in HOA stories.  Ward also maintains a blog by the same name.  All his posts give an estimated reading time.  We’ll find out why.  We’ll also ask him how to capture the attention of the mainstream media and what we, as homeowners with all sorts of different backgrounds, can do to become more effective communicators.  I always have fun talking to Ward so tune in and join in the fun.  Oh, and as an added bonus, we’ll hear all about his latest book.

Audrey Hepburn in a scene from Wait Until Dark.  This is how many homeowners live in their HOAs.
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Carolyn Douglas

Respect, honor, honesty, decency, justice, manners – all have been buried in the past.  Once characteristics of civilized citizens they seem to have been delegated to an age gone by as we barge ahead, like a herd of cattle, headlong into the turbulent future.   There was a time when children were taught to be polite, to respect their neighbors, to be honest and truthful. It was unthinkable for decent and honorable people to mistreat each other, abuse neighbor’s rights, bully and harass them just because they wanted to be the big gorilla in the neighborhood.  Nowadays if Sam the Man across the street decides his neighbor spent too much time crossing a private driveway, Sam the Man, and his brood of thugs, find it perfectly acceptable to chastise and penalize the neighbor.  There are fines, followed by threatening letters from their attorneys and finally foreclosure to get rid of undesirable neighbors.  The unthinkable has become common place.

But in this brave new world we have created, we always have the courts, don’t we? 

Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons.  Caroline, a former attorney, is well versed in the way the courts work.  Not being one to turn a blind eye to a lot of the injustices around her, she became a whistleblower. However, since lawyers’ first loyalty is to the courts, Caroline could not alert the public to what really happens “behind closed doors” until she lost her law license.  At that point she was able to exercise her First Amendment rights.  So she wrote The Dark Side; a Law Treatise on Judging – with Memoir.  The book is packed with information but on the show we can only scratch the surface of some of the things that routinely happen behind the scenes.  We find out what and how we can protect our rights and we learn about some of the things that are done that are designed to frustrate and intimidate us. Once you know and understand what lies ahead, it is easier to navigate the murky waters of the justice system and come up with your defense and a plan of action.  I always feel like I have been drinking from a fire hydrant and that we haven’t even made a dent in all we could learn from Caroline.  If you want to contact her you can reach her at carolinegdouglas@gmail.com

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Frank Short

I have never much liked the idea of mandatory membership homeowner associations.  The concept of binding private real property to a hodgepodge of real estate owned by a third party, maintained and controlled by a motley crew of individuals with no expertise in the art of management has always seemed counterintuitive to me.  That the model is not working is no real surprise.  What galls me the most however,  is the idea that a handful of owners and hired managers are allowed to fine the owners. This practice does get very personal.  People have been fined for some of the most ridiculous things.  A few examples include having a dusty roof and mailbox, a cracked flowerpot on the front porch, an “unapproved” garden hose in the yard, and “unapproved object” in a flowerpot (small US flag), talking to neighbors on front porch of ones own home, interior window blinds the wrong shade of white, a pet that exceeds the allowed weight limit, unapproved number of rose bushes, trash cans visible from the street.  The list goes on and on, all as ridiculous as these examples.  Fining is a power that is often used as a bully tool and abused and should be STOPPED.  Fines can lead to the loss of a home through foreclosure and the loss of an owner’s financial security.

Frank Short joins us On The Commons.  Frank, an attorney and a popular repeat guest of the show, discusses fines in HOAs and Condominiums.  He explains why we have fines and who benefits from the fines.  Over the years there have been a number of court cases about fines.  He discuses those cases, explains what the courts considered and tells us how they ruled.  He also explains the constitutional connections.  This is an excellent show from the archives.  For those being fined by their HOAs for whatever reason, this show is a must for the owner and their attorneys.  Share your stories on:  From the HOA Trenches

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John Cowherd

In a grossly twisted misrepresentation of facts, homeowners in residential associations are told that their relationship with the association is a contractual one.  They are told that “they agreed”.  OK.  Let’s assume this is correct (although I still maintain that no sane person would ever agree to the conditions in homeowner associations if they actually knew what they were getting into).  The “contract” in this case says that the homeowner agrees to pay the corporate entity a certain sum of money either monthly, quarterly or annually and in return they will get certain services.  Sounds straightforward enough, doesn’t it?  The contract usually includes a list of remedies available to the HOA in the event the homeowner breaches his or her end of the bargain.  However, there is no corresponding list of remedies available to the homeowner when the HOA fails to uphold its end of the contract.   The only option they have is to hire an attorney and go to court.  So why isn’t there a list of cheap remedies for the owners  when they are not getting what they are paying for?   Can they fine the HOA or withhold their assessments?  Maybe that should be part of every “contract” that comes attached to a home.  

John Cowherd joins us On The Commons.  John is a Virginia attorney who represents owners who find themselves having to defend their rights in their associations.  He is a blogger.  He writes about current cases and court decisions affecting property owners in Virginia.   His blog is called Words of Conveyance   In his latest posting he writes about Lambert V. Sea Oats where the condo owner scores a victory in court. It’s a classic breach of contract case that involves a broken door jamb, of all silly things.  It was the condo’s responsibility but they failed to live up to their end of the sacred contract.  The condo owner, Martha Lambert, had to sue the condominium to collect the $500 she spent fixing the door jamb.  And that’s when it starts getting interesting.  We talk to John about the ins and outs of the case and start realizing that judges may be somewhat reluctant to award fees in the thousands of dollars to settle a $500 item.  The case went up to the Virginia Supreme Court and was remanded to the lower courts who had awarded Martha only $350 of the approximately $9,000 in legal fees it has cost her.  So, should these contracts be more equitable and provide remedies for the owners in the event the associations is in breach of the governing documents?  What do you think?

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