“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” When confronted with anything that “sounds too good to be true”, don’t take it at face value, instead do a little digging to get the details. One of these golden gems in the land of residential associations is Alternate Dispute Resolution, or ADR. Proponents would have us believe arbitration and mediation are cheaper, quicker and better than going to court. It sounds too good to be true so I did a little digging, and several years ago wrote a paper on my findings which is on my web site. You can read it here. But there is so much more.
As time goes on and more and more people fall in the trap of giving up their right to go to court, some pretty unsavory details have come to light. Mediation is used pretty extensively in neighborhood association wars which usually include a confidentiality clause, in other words, a gag order. I have always opposed this.
Robin Lent joins us On The Commons. Robin, a Texas homeowner got tangled up in a battle with her association 10 years ago, went to a court ordered mediation and after an exhausting session, when she was ready to drop, signed an agreement that included a confidentiality clause. The terms of the settlement are sealed so we will NOT be discussing them BUT for the details of the mediation process, and the fall out of the gag order, you will have to tune in. It was a huge eye opener for me and I learned so much from this show. So, you think you want to go to arbitration? Please tune in.
How do you fix something that is so horribly broken, something that was built on a foundation of lies and misinformation and something that is so anti owner? You can’t. For the past several decades homeowners, legislators, academics, health professionals and yes, even the homeowners themselves, have suggested ways weeks and mini fixes, all they have accomplished is made the whole process more burdensome and complicated. Maybe it is time to take a step back, analyze the issues and the reasons for the conflicts and tackle the real reasons for the feuds instead of just trying to make them more palatable.
Scott Wircenske joins us On The Commons. Scott, a homeowner in Kansas asked the board of directors of Parkhill Manor HOA a rather embarrassing question: “where is our money?” . Homeowners who are members of any residential association are responsible for the financial health of the association as well as the condition of the common assets (liabilities?). The owners have a right to know what is going on and the board has a fiduciary duty to keep the owners informed. Scott’s board chose, instead, to withhold that information. For the past 8 years Scott has been involved in litigation, trying to work with the board as well as attempting to get legislation enacted to prevent the abuses. Scott shares his story with us and warns us of the pitfalls that he encountered.
You follow a case as it winds its way through the court system. It seems so simple, so cut and dried that you wonder why so much time, money and hostility is invested in such a petty argument. Why should it cost hundreds of thousands of hard earned dollars to figure out whether a homeowner in an association can have white roses instead of red ones? Or whether or not a condo owner is allowed to have a small American flag on his or her front porch or if a family can have a swing set in the backyard for their children? Why should these even be an issue? And why would anyone in their right mind care? And finally, after months of discovery, nasty letters, fines, bullying, isolation and abusive language, dividing up the neighborhood, name calling and other nastiness, the opinion from the judges is handed down deciding the case once and for all. This is it, this is the end of this road. The wise men and women of the legal system have spoken and you are left with your mouth hanging open, wondering what on earth just happened.
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline has a law degree although she is no longer a practicing attorney. She has seen the dark side of the legal profession and decided to blow the whistle on what happens “behind the scenes”. In an 800 page book called “The Dark Side: a law treatise on judging – with memoir” she explains it all and gives us clues to look for so we are not caught off guard. In a fascinating interview she walks us through what goes on behind the scenes and how and why some of these off the wall decisions are reached. Caroline has witnessed these irregularities both as a practicing attorney and a litigant caught in this legal “chamber of horrors”. You can reach Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org but you won’t want to miss this interview.
It is so easy to just accept as gospel what we read, hear and are told without actually thinking things through. One issue that is really rich in such non sequiturs is the whole concept of condo and homeowner associations. The reasons and explanations given about the benefits of these forced memberships are many and, as our president would say, FAKE NEWS. Think about it and try to understand how, allowing complete strangers full and total power over your home can protect your rights? How “agreeing” to finance every and any folly of this group of strangers can be a good thing? Oh, so you have met some of them and they seemed really nice? Maybe. But does that translate to them having the knowledge and common sense to make sane and sensible decisions regarding what you own and where you live? And did you really “agree” to all this?
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah owns and maintains a very active and widely read blog called Independent American Communities. She tracks and writes about the many issues that happen on a daily basis in residential America. So many of the stories have heartbreaking consequences when individual homeowners have no idea and no say in what is happening in their communities or in their names. While the owners may have been kept in the dark, lied to and perhaps even targeted, they are, never the less, still on the hook for the many stupid decisions made by “those nice neighbors” who sit on the board. We talk to Deborah about some of the stories she has blogged about recently and learn about one incident where “penny wise” proved to be “pound foolish” and where one young man will bear the marks of a board’s poor judgement for the rest of his life. During our conversation, politics rears its ugly head and we learn why, when this concept, notwithstanding all the platitudes of the proponents of residential associations, are we still mass producing them and leading unsuspecting housing consumers into the lion’s den?