Here we go again, around and around trying to craft the perfect piece of legislation they tell us will fix all the problems that are part and parcel of a dysfunctional housing concept. These carefully chosen words and sentences will be swapped about and moved around like so many jigsaw pieces, eventually changing the original intent of the proposed law. At some point, it becomes apparent that our magnificent creation is, well, to put it mildly, totally incomprehensible and in desperate need of some serious help. They refer to this as “housekeeping” legislation. And that is the topic of this week’s show.
Joining us On The Commons this week, we have none other than our old friend, Jan Bergemann. Jan is the founder and President of the Florida-based Cyber Citizens for Justice. Having spent years following all the proposed legislative changes, he has become quite the expert. This year’s bills include a lot of what Jan calls “Housekeeping” bills. Having spent years running every proposed new law through the legislative sausage-making machine, who would have thought the time would come to do some heavy-duty house cleaning and, with luck, include some clarity to the mess. Tune in to hear Jan explain the proposed clarifications and how they will hopefully reduce the abuse.
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.
An often cited benefit for residential associations used to be that they allowed the members greater control over their immediate surroundings. The other bonus they were promised was that collectively they would gain political clout. At least that was the sales pitch, along with the ever present promise of enhanced property values. It all sounded wonderful and in a perverse sense sounded sort of logical. But as we have learned over the years not everything works the way it is supposed to. In fact in the case of residential associations, the opposite is true. Not only don’t the members have control over their immediate surroundings but have lost sovereignty over their own private spaces. The existence of an HOA or Condo association is infinitely more intrusive and tyrannical than a neighborhood where the residents are on their own and allegedly have no control.
Jonathan Dessaules joins us On The Commons. Jon is an attorney in Phoenix, Arizona. As part of his practice he represents homeowners against their associations. He is one of a handful of attorneys nationwide who will only represent the owners and not straddle the fence hopping over to the HOA side when they feel like it. Currently his is in a class of his own in Arizona. He also has a blog where he discusses HOA issues and gives general guidance. It’s a great page to check out for quick guidance on some of the more common issues facing homeowners. We talk to Jon about all the usual HOA issues common to all American homeowners but we also talk about a long and protracted case that he recently won. His clients own a unit in an upscale condominium where the fees are in excess of $1,000/month. The condo shut the key card down, impeding access to the private unit and banned the use of the amenities until the owners forfeited a right they had. So much for having greater control of your immediate surroundings in a residential association.
Words have meanings and the word community generally imparts a sense of belonging. People in a community tend to have something in common. They come from similar backgrounds, are generally in the same socioeconomic group, perhaps share hobbies and interests. They have something that binds them together. In the good old days, before “communities” were designed and force-fed on Americans, the sense of community evolved naturally. Neighbors were friends who helped and looked out for each other. They took in a child who might have inadvertently been locked out, picked up packages for neighbors or retrieved a trash can that was blown down the street by the wind. In this brave new world of controlled living, the sense of community is no longer communal but rather a gathering of people who delight is spying on their neighbors. Now a child who is locked out might get rescued by the police, mail is left out and the association is called to report a stray trash can.
Ileana Johnson joins us On The Commons this week. Ileana is an American by choice and a Romanian by birth. She is a freelance journalist, an author, a speaker and a radio commentator. She also maintains a blog at www.ileanajohnson.com. Ileana and her husband currently live in a Homeowner Association in Virginia where inspections are conducted regularly to ensure that no blade of grass exceeds the allowable length and that all things visible on the property conform to some rather vague standard. Creativity and individuality are highly frowned upon. Ileana tells us about life in her 300 square foot apartment in Communist Romania and draws some parallels between Communist Romania and HOAs, American Style. Sometimes it is hard to find much difference.
Do you wonder how legislators pass bills into law and what they think when they vote for some of these bills? Maybe we will get a peek into how all this nonsense comes up.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons this week. Deborah is the owner and author of the Independent American Communities Blog. She covers everything to do with Condos, homeowner associations, and any other form of association-governed dwelling.
At this time of year, when homeowners try the get laws passed that would protect their rights and their property, they find themselves competing with the industry lobbyists who are pushing for laws that would strip the owners of even more rights and property. And with coronavirus running rampant, they have a perfect excuse to propose absurd legislation. Debbie is going to go through a list of bills under discussion by legislators across the country.
A word to the wise, your voting rights are at risk. The assertion is that YOU, the homeowners, have the right to change your governing documents, the changes are binding, and you voted for the changes. But what was the actual outcome of the election? What if everyone you talk to voted against the proposed changes, and they all passed with flying colors, and NO HOMEOWNER is allowed to see the ballots? What if the homeowners are stuck with all sorts of additional fees and amendments they never wanted, and legislators blame the pandemic for it. Tune in for an eye-opening discussion on how your rights are disappearing right under your nose while the ballots are a secret. That is democracy up close and personal!