A house is just a house, four walls and a door to keep the outside out and the inside in. It is simply a place where people live. A home, on the other hand, is a place where our affections are centered, where, to use an old cliché, the heart is. Sadly, we have gone from acquiring a house and making it our home to living in what is now known as a “unit”. The Dictionary defines a unit as “one of many”. There is nothing special about a “unit”. Nothing unique, nothing to distinguish it from all the others.
Notwithstanding the outer changes of our dwelling units, we still need to have a nesting place, a place all our own, a place that reflects who we are, a place that is safe and a place where we escape the outside world, even if just for a short while. In the homeowner association world that is taking over residential America, the concept of a home is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. We now live in corporations where every aspect of daily life is kontrolled, where threats and sanctions are the norm and where fear seems to rule the day. Joining us On The Commons this week is Harry Flagle. Harry is a multi talented gent with a heart as big as they come. A composer and song writer, Harry wrote the lyrics and the music to our theme song, “One Way Ticket to Hell” and donated the song to the homeowners striving to maintain some semblance of sanity in their neighborhoods. He owns several patents and is an Emmy Award winner for some of his contributions to the film industry. We’ll ask Harry why he wrote One Way Ticket to Hell and what the reaction to the song has been and then we’ll join Harry on a delightful stroll down memory lane to a time when life was simpler and the unimaginable was possible.
Due to Inclement Weather, the Fairfax Public Access Offices have been closed this past week. This Show was first aired on MARCH 7, 2020.
Just when I thought that nothing in the condo/HOA world could ever shock or surprise me someone comes up with something that leaves me scratching my head and wondering if the entire world has gone stark raving mad. Is this just the latest out of the CAI book of allowing their members to increase their income without having to do much? Is it something that is happening just locally or is it more widespread than I realize? Where do condos/managers get their authority or is this a new trend that you should watch out for? I’d like to hear from you on this.
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline is a non practicing attorney, author of the book “The Dark Side” and a popular guest on the show. As usual Caroline likes to look at the big picture, see what is going on nationally, analyze the underlying reasons and causes and to provide us with a scenario that ties many aspects together. Today we talk about choirs, songs and general incivility and focus on the big picture. But we also talk about parking in condos and something that I have learned about 2 condos in Northern Virginia 20 miles apart. My daughter and grandson who recently moved back up from Florida rent condos, both have Florida license plates on their cars and both have been denied parking permits in their respective condos because of it. I have yet to find the authority for this practice. Have they been tasked by the State to enforce state statutes? County ordinances? What difference does it make to the condo where their license plates are from? They rent, pay exorbitant monthly rents but yet they are denied parking passes. In one case for the tenant, my grandson whose car was towed to the tune of $350. In my daughter’s case, she can park in her driveway but no permits for guests. I have not been able to visit either one of them because of the draconian parking rules and practices. Caroline and I talk about this and Caroline shares her thoughts on this situation.
What is in it for me? That is a question we often hear and in the case of mandatory membership HOAs, the answer depends on who is asking the question. In the case of local municipalities, the answer is “free tax dollars” by shunting their responsibilities onto the private sector they don’t have to maintain the infrastructure. For developers, they won’t have to satisfy local municipal building codes since municipalities will not be assuming maintenance of the infrastructure so can cut corners. For the homeowners? Absolutely Nothing! Nothing at all. However, the ever-helpful attorneys, for a fee, of course, make sure that the board members and the managers and committee members and whoever else has a position of power has plenty of enabling legislation to back them up and allow them to do pretty much as they please. And then the homeowners try to wrestle back some of the rights they once had and so the annual shuffle continues. This year is no exception.
Jan Bergemann, founder and president of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice joins us On The Commons to discuss this year’s legislative agenda he is working on for Florida. It is always worth listening to what different states have done or are doing as the issues, problems and new bills magically seem to get duplicated around the country. (I wonder how that happens??) In a way this is the closest thing we have to a national homeowners’ organization. There have been some worthwhile ideas that have come out of Florida in the past and we look forward to following their lead in the future.
David Kahne joins us On The Commons this week. David is an attorney in Houston Texas. He has worked in HOA and Condo law for many years as an attorney in court representing homeowners and as an advocate for HOA reform. David has been working on an interesting case that he will tell us about. Working through the case and doing his research, it became clear to David that some legislative fixes me be in order. Since David will be telling us all about the case I will leave it up to him to explain it but I urge you all to tune in and listen very carefully because he is asking us for our thoughts and any ideas we may have on how to hold board members responsible for violating the governing documents. Right now board members can fine homeowners in violation of almost everything but when a board member steps off the straight and narrow path homeowner are left holding the bag. That needs to change Tune in, listen in and send us your thoughts and ideas.
This interview was recorded and broadcast earlier.
Byron Hanke is largely credited with being the grandfather of what we often refer to as “homeowner associations”. But this concept of homeownership includes condominiums, co-ooperatives as well as fee simple single family homes. As I started looking at the bigger picture of HOAs, I wondered about the origins of the concept. I called Byron Hanke several times and talked to him on the phone. He never agreed to be interviewed but was generous with his time when it came to talking one on one. In October of 1999 I got a call from Lincoln Cummins, one of the three founders of CAI and its second President, inviting me to a summit to be held at at Anne and Byron’s house in a place called “Scientists Cliffs” in Maryland. Scientists Cliffs served as a model for HOAs.
Lincoln Cummings joins us On The Commons this week. Linc has been involved from the very beginning so has a unique perspective. He takes us on a trip down memory lane to the very early days of association housing, introduces us to the people involved and talks a little about the thoughts and plans they had. We’ll find out whether or not their ideas materialized as imagined or whether some things went astray. We’ll also ask Linc, hindsight being 20/20, if he could go back to the very beginning, would he do anything differently.
Increasingly in America homeowners are treated like incompetent idiots who are incapable of managing their own lives and their homes. Members of the HOA industry have gone as far as to equate the owners as “children who do not know what is good for them”. Naturally they are more than happy to make all our important decisions for us- and leave us with the bill! To add insult to injury, the false advertising and misinformation that, under most other circumstances, would be punishable by law, is swept under the rug and ignored. Unit owners in homeowner and condo associations are often ridiculed, harassed and penalized for demanding transparency or even questioning the actions of the association. Their duty is to not ask why but to pay up and shut up.
Well, times they are a changing. Slowly but surely more and more talented people have had enough and are starting to move mountains, one stone at a time!
John Sellers joins us On The Commons this week. John has worked in the banking industry for years and knows just where to look for any irregularities. So when things just didn’t smell quite right, he put his talents to work and started digging. What he discovered is quite incredible. Not only are the people who are supposed to be protecting your rights turning a blind eye to all the shenanigans going on behind closed doors, but they are also using YOUR tax dollars to cover up some missing funds in HOA banks. John continued digging and was told to “get a hobby”. Fortunately for us, he took that advice to heart, expanded his search criteria and started a blog called ArizonaHOA where he intends to not only share information but to also gather information from other homeowners. He estimates there have been 3,000 court cases involving HOAs in Arizona. Chances are those did not happen because associations were doing such a wonderful job, as proponents of HOAs would have you believe. Tune in, it is an eye opening interview.
Have you noticed how all sense flies out the window when an involuntary membership homeowners association is involved? All of a sudden we fear anything that is not part of that uniform look and feel of a kontrolled kommunity. A different shade of blah can topple an entire neighborhood, an unapproved garden hose, dusty mailboxes, flags, rose bushes and pudgy pooches are all a threat to property values. An addition that doesn’t quite konform to the existing architectural guidelines will no doubt turn the neighborhood green with envy.
Oh, get real!
Joining us On The Commons this week are Maria and Sam Farran. The Farrans weren’t about to believe all the nonsense they were told. They did their homework, knew the rules and the laws and decided to fight back. After years of court room drama, they won their cases and were awarded attorney fees and court costs. However, there was a snag. You see, in the process, their HOA ran out of money and went bankrupt. But there is a happy ending after all. As Maria says; “We used to be a corporation that ran a neighborhood, we are now a neighborhood that runs a corporation”. I won’t ruin it for you so tune in and find out how they got their money and what happened to the association. You’ll love it.How did they do it? Well, look for their new and improved governing documents On The Commons and yes, you may use them as a template if you too want to return common sense and a sense of community to your neighborhood.
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.
Regular listeners to the show know that I have never bought into the notion that HOAs protect and even enhance property values. When you look at all the moving parts in a house controlled by a homeowners association, in no way can I see how that could be the truth. Professor Robertson, who was on the last show, did the research and found that HOAs not only do not protect and enhance values as claimed, but actually diminish the values. Now that made a lot more sense to me. But then I got an email from my friend Tyler Berding, an attorney in California, wanting clarification on what properties Professor Roberts based his study on. We are guessing they are single family homes, comparing similar sized homes with roughly the same square feet and amenities (number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and other amenities, construction and location, one in an HOA and the other Free as a bird and not in an HOA. But then Tyler reminded me of one of the big pitfalls in this entire HOA discussion and that is language. We don’t use terms that are common to everyone. Some people and places refer to them as common interest developments, others call them property owners associations, and yet others refer to them as condominiums, cooperatives, attached and detached housing and the list goes on and on. I am beginning to think we have a modern Tower of Babel.
Tyler Berding joins us On The Commons Tyler is a founding partner in the California based law firm of Berding and Weil. Tyler and his fellow attorneys specialize in Common Interest development law. We talk about language and the differences in the different forms and styles of these dwelling units and then dive into construction. Like I said, there are so many moving parts to a house in a homeowner association. We don’t often dig in deep enough when discussing the issues in HOA/common interest developments/ condominiums, etc, etc. I still can’t see how a house in an HOA can possibly protect and enhance the value, regardless of what you call it. in fact given all the parts it makes more sense that HOAs strip the owner of so much more. But regardless, I always enjoy talking to Tyler and learn so much from him. Tune in, I hope you enjoy the show as much as I did.
For the past several decades, states have required that housing consumers, buying into a mandatory membership housing association, be provided what is commonly called a “disclosure package.” Some states provide a list of what the package must contain. Much of the information is accurate but confusing and makes little sense. Even some attorneys have a hard time trying to decipher some sections. Realtors and some settlement attorneys shrug off any questions as “you agree to pay so much a month to get trash and snow removed,” where applicable. No bells go off. “HOAs protect property values” has become such a common notion that buyers do not dig any further and accept it on face value. Intuitively that statement makes no sense whatsoever but, absent proof to the contrary, people still believe it.
Leon Robertson joins us On the Commons this week. Professor Robertson, a retired Yale University professor, discovered HOAs like the rest of us, by buying into one and finding out that it was nothing like he expected. Being a professor and very thorough, he started researching HOAs, land records, tracked sales, and wrote a paper titled Correlation of Homeowner Associations and Inferior Property Value Appreciation. After he crunched the numbers and analyzed the research projects, the result was that far from increasing and enhancing property values, HOAs diminished property values. Perhaps, in fairness and honesty, housing consumers should be given a copy of Professor Robertson’s paper before signing on the dotted line.
Based on his experience, Professor Robertson wrote a book called The HOA Murders – A Novel of Suspense. I have it on my kindle and can’t wait to dive into it. Don’t miss the show with Professor Robertson,