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.
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 email@example.com
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
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?
There was a time when we believed that if something hurt it had to be good for us. We’re a lot smarter now and realize that pain is an indicator that something is wrong. We are also learning that not all pain is physical. Increasingly it is emotional and psychological and that is especially true in the case of the pain inflicted on owners by residential associations. Finally homeowners are refusing to accept the false assertion that HOAs protect property values. They are no longer willing to put up with the abuses common in residential associations just to protect the mythical notion that their property will be worth a dollar or two more if they spend thousands of dollars in medical bills. They know it is a lie. So why, they now ask, do we really need HOAs? Who really benefits from them?
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah is a prolific blogger and a tireless researcher. Her blog, Independent American Communities tracks all the latest trends and stories in America’s many forms of residential associations. Lately she has been writing about HOA members who are talking about disbanding the corporate structure of the neighborhood. We talk to Deborah about the growing number of homeowners looking into dissolving the corporation that is part and parcel of their neighborhood and returning it to the people who live there. She tells us that homeowners like their homes and their neighborhoods, they just can’t stand their HOAs and all that goes with them. In a recent blog about Walnut Grove, an Omaha neighborhood, she starts with a quote that reads: “The first step to getting what you want is having the courage to get rid of what you don’t want.” And that’s just what some homeowners are doing. They want their homes, their neighborhoods and to be left alone to live in peace and to get what they want they need to get rid of what they don’t want – the HOA.
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.
I have often wondered, and worried, about children growing up in HOAs who watch their parents suffer at the hands of the HOA bullies. What is the message we are giving them? Will they be willing and able to fight to protect their homes and families when they are raising their children in these irrational and often abusive residential associations? Or will they simply roll over and hope the horrors end, believing this is normal? “This is just the way it is” or “They are all like this”, never realizing they can fight back and they can make life better for all concerned?
Jessica Suico joins us On The Commons. Jessica is a second year student at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California. She is majoring in journalism and works on The Advocate, the college newsletter. The paper normally reports on all things college related, new classes, upcoming events on campus and other news items or topics of interest that would affect student life. Jessica’s article is a little out of the norm for her paper but, I believe, so very important. She witnessed the harassment and subsequent eviction of her mother and aunt from their home. She also saw the frustration as her mother and aunt exhausted all venues seeking non-existing help for people in similar situations. They may have been able to get some help had they known where to look. That has to be part of the education. However, in the end, a couple of elderly ladies who have had health problems were evicted, ended up in the hospital and rendered homeless. Using the college newspaper was an excellent way of, not only getting the story out, but also of education other young college students who will be facing similar problems unless we stop the bleeding in private residential America SOON.