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 homeownerassociation 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 controlled, where threats and sanctions are the norm and where fear seems to rule the day.
Harry Flagle joins us On The Commons. 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.
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 email@example.com but you won’t want to miss this interview.
On The Commons begins its 20th year of broadcasting.
To celebrate we are rebroadcasting a show we often talk about. Tune in, you’ll love it just as much this time around.
Have you noticed how all sense flies out the window when an involuntary membership homeowners association is involved? All of a sudden we fear everything that is not part of that uniform look and feel of a controlled community. 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 conform to the existing architectural guidelines will no doubt incite a riot, oh get real.
Maria and Sam Farran join us On The Commons this week. 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.
For years the bulk of information about this relatively new experiment in housing has come from the industry that has created it and gains from it. The sales pitch generally describes the concept of condominiums, homeowner associations and cooperatives in glowing terms, promising the owners an easy life where all their problems will be taken care of for them. Housing consumers are assured they will have greater control over their immediate environment, that this is “democracy up close and personal”, it is carefree living at its best, owners will have access to amenities that are beyond the financial reach of most Americans and of course the promise of protected and enhanced property values. We’ve all heard these promises and all know that nothing can be further from the truth.
But finally the tables are starting to turn. Academics, attorneys, psychologists, advocates and medical professionals are speaking out. And finally the truth about the effects of HOAs is being uncovered.
We’ll talk to Mike and Shelly about their case study, a crisis in a condo association on the gulf coast. In this case the condo owners were faced with massive renovations. The condo owners were facing having to get a loan in excess of 10 million dollars to make the repairs. Naturally the owners would be required to repay the loan. We’ll learn how the association communicated the problem to the owners and how the owners reacted. While we have seen many similar cases, they have all focused on the structural issues, and often when discussed by the HOA industry the blame has been put squarely on the shoulders of the owners. What is refreshingly enlightening about this paper is that the authors study the situation more from an interpersonal and normal communication perspective. Really happy to note that this dynamic trio are busy working on their next paper. It is high time to get the real story out.
Lord Acton said ” power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And if what is happening all around us is not proof that he was bang on target, I don’t know what is. I can list all the rights and freedoms Americans have lost and are losing at all levels but this week I want to focus on the most innocent and vulnerable among us – our children. Yes, they are being targeted by the bullies in HOAs and in local governments. For generations kids have been allowed to set up lemonade stands, make and sell lemonade to make some pocket money, help their parents meet their expenses, raise money for charity and even for neighbors. They have learned so much and, along the way practiced being responsible adults. But that’s not good enough.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah has a blog called Independent American Communities where she blogs about everything that is happening in America’s HOA controlled neighborhoods and also the non HOA controlled communities. But as we learn today, it is not just HOAs that behave like thugs and seem to exist solely to “enforce, enforce, enforce”. Local real governments seem to have jumped on the bandwagon and will apparently do anything to increase their revenue, even at the expense of children. We’ll talk to Deborah about two states, Texas and Colorado, that have enacted legislation allowing children under 18 to have lemonade stands without having to get a municipal permit to do so. Can you imagine forcing a 5 or 6 or even an 11 year old to pay outrageous fees for a permit and then FINING the child if they neglected to get one? These two states appear to be role models because other states are also contemplating legislatively allowing children to be children, including New York. The other piece of good news I have for you is that Country Time, makers of lemonade have set up a Lemon Ade, for a brief period of time they will pay for fines incurred for setting up a lemonade stand as well as permits paid for – with proof, of course.
So proud of the children who are standing up for their rights. Be sure to watch 8 year old Branson Burton’s testimony in front of the Texas committee on State Affairs. Kids like Branson give me hope that all is not lost.
The mere existence of a homeowners association does not mean that the HOA has limitless power and authority and can do everything and anything it wants. Unfortunately that notion seems to be widely accepted. I’ve heard board members say, “we are the board and can do anything we want” and their attorneys respond, You are not on solid legal foundation but homeowners don’t assert their rights so go ahead….. So what is a homeowner who is caught in this insane web to do?
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney who represents homeowners against their homeowners associations tends to run into some of the strangest cases. Today’s discussion is about one such case and underscores the importance of homeowners doing their own research. We’ll talk about one association that may, or may not have the power and authority to do anything it feels like doing. In this case the homeowner chose to assert his legal rights and in the process uncovered some interesting facts about the association.
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.
Why do some HOA horror stories grab the headlines, go viral, get written up in news outlets around the world, discussed on radio shows and highlighted on local and national TV shows while others, equally horrible, get ignored? We never seem to learn as the stories repeat themselves, over and over and over again. Flag flaps, children play equipment in private backyards that seem to irk some of the less tolerant in the ‘hood, non conforming trashcans, unapproved garden hoses, bird feeders, discrimination, discrimination and more discrimination against anyone who does not conform to some secret acceptable standard. There are hundreds of these stories every single day yet we only ever hear about a tiny handful of them. Why?
Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons this week. Ward is an award winning print, TV and radio journalist who, over his career have covered stories of war while fighting a 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, due out soon.
Regular listeners often hear me refer to American housing as being made of cardboard and scotch tape. It is not just housing that is no longer built to last, everything else tends to fall apart and need to be repaired or replaced much too soon and far too often. While people agree with me, the explanation I get is that it is cheaper to make junk than it is to build things that will be around, functional and in one piece for awhile. But how cost effective is it? Are we destined to continually play “catch up” juggling our budgets to patch and prop things up?
John Sellers joins us On The Commons. John has a degree in aeronautical engineering and a background in finance. When he moved to Arizona he ran into the flawed concept of residential associations. Taking a step back and looking at the really big picture he identified some of the problems and came up with a few ideas on how to avoid building the “junk” in the first place, especially when it comes to infrastructure. John, along with his colleagues, founded the Yavapai Regional Capital . We’ll talk to John, get some of the details, find out how we can build infrastructure that might have a chance of lasting, how to finance it and whether there is a place for modern technology in the future of the world we live in. This was one of the most fascinating and eye opening interviews I have had. You won’t want to miss it.
Life throws obstacles in front of us all the time, but only the strongest and most dedicated refuse to roll over, regardless of the time or the cost involved in honoring a promise.
Richard Oulton joins us On The Commons. Richard was a Navy Corpsman assigned to the Marines of the First Battalion of the Ninth Marine Regiment and served on the front lines in Vietnam. His battalion sustained the longest combat in the history of the United States Marines. In the process they suffered the highest death rate in the Marine corps’ history, earning the nickname of “The Walking Dead”. The fact that Richard could not save all his wounded “boys” as he calls them, affected him deeply. When he came home he brought the flag that he had flown over his bunker with him promising “his boys” he would never forget them. Twenty years ago when the flag first flew on a shiny new flagpole in his front yard the local HOA reared its ugly head. As I said, the strongest and most dedicated refuse to roll over regardless of cost and time when it comes to keeping a promise. Tune in for an incredible story of love, dedication and determination.