Due to technical problems we are rebroadcasting this show.
As I write this Louis Armstrong’s, “What a Wonderful World” is playing in the background. I listen to the words and in my mind’s eye I see the green trees, the red roses and imagine them blooming for me and you. I see the colors of the rainbow and the friends shaking hands, saying I love you and watching babies grow, oh, “what a wonderful world”. Then I have to wonder, why we can’t keep it that way? Why do we allow a few bad apples to ruin an otherwise wonderful world? Is there anything we can do to prevent that? But what can one person do?
Martha Boneta joins us On The Commons. Martha’s dream of becoming a farmer was realized when she and her family became the proud owners of Liberty Farm in her native Virginia. However, it wasn’t long before her dream was threatened by the overreaches of the environmental commission and her time was devoted to fending off their abuses, dictates and demands. Not one to roll over, Martha fought back – and she won. Along the way she got two bills named after her, she is also the subject of a documentary film, “Farming in Fear”, she has received numerous awards and has been named Most Amazing Woman by Country Woman’s Magazine. We talk to Martha about fighting back and learn what we, as individuals and as a group of homeowner advocates and activists, can do to fight back, protect our rights and our homes. With all the tools available to us we don’t have to roll over, we can fight back and then look at the skies of blue and the clouds of white and think to ourselves, “what a wonderful world”.
Every year lobbyists for the HOA industry present legislators with proposed legislation designed to increase the powers of homeowner and condo associations. The lobbyists often claim they are there at the request of the owners who actually want this new law. How many of the legislators actually believe these canards is a mystery. With some of the provisions in these bills you’d have to wonder why any sane owner would even contemplate such laws. Maybe many of the our lawmakers don’t stop to consider what these bills would actually mean if passed. Could it be they don’t understand what they are carrying?
Frank Short joins us On The Commons. Ever since our very first mid March show we have had a St Patrick’s day edition where Frank has done a roundup of all the proposed legislation in Virginia. This year is no exception. We will find out what the managers and attorneys representing associations are dreaming about and how they propose to relieve the owners of more rights. Frank talks about the wording of some of these bills and explains how, if signed into law by the governor, they would take away a right that the owners have. Tune in, compare our bills to some proposed in your state and compare the language. To access the Virginia bills check out Richmond Sunlight.
Bruised, abused, mocked, harassed, dejected and frustrated, homeowners in HOAs have tried to fight back. They have been sued, fined, ridiculed, outgunned and left standing alone in a sea of their neighbors, homeowners like themselves too terrified to even talk to them lest they find themselves in the crosshairs of the HOA. Over the years I have talked to and witnessed some of these homeowners as they start an organization to fight the injustices of HOAs only to end up fighting amongst themselves. Their vision of taming the HOA monster evaporating into thin air. Could part of the problem be the lack of teamwork? Are they listening to each other or shouting over each other? Is the key to real reform as simple as listening?
John McGuire joins us On The Commons. John, a Virginia delegate has one of the most amazing and inspiring personal stories I have yet to come across. When all the odds seemed to be against him, John fought and earned one of the coveted spots as a Navy Seal, despite being told he couldn’t do it. Later he defied the odds again and survived a life threatening accident, learned to walk and to write his name – again. Incredibly none of what he went through in life convinced him he couldn’t do something. Being told he couldn’t do something was the impetus he needed to prove them wrong. John strongly believes in teamwork and like every good leader, gives credit to his team. I heard about John when he managed to help resolve a 20 year HOA horror story. We’ll get to know John personally and learn about his philosophy, talk about the problems in HOAs and start looking at different ways of dealing with the problems millions of American homeowners face nationwide.
If homeowner associations are so amazing and beneficial to the homeowners, why do proponents find it necessary to lie about them? Why can’t they just be honest and explain why non HOA housing is for all intents and purposes non-existent? Why aren’t prospective homeowners told the truth about what they are buying? Is it because the truth will scare them away if they understood what they were getting into? And why is it that most of the buyers out there who do understand what HOAs are really all about, steer clear of them if they can?
Bill Davis joins us On the Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney and one of a handful of attorneys nationwide who understands HOA and Condominium laws and will represent the homeowners against their HOA. He somehow manages to find cases with a twist. The case we talk about this week is no exception. Oh, the lies are there, including the ones about the HOA preserving the values of the properties and the amenities and being granted the right/duty/authority to collect assessments and enforce the covenants. All the usual. There is, however, one whacking great big lie about this whole set up. Remember, it pays to know your rights and to know what your Declaration really says. You will have to tune in to hear this BIG LIE!
Over the last few decades American homeowners have gradually lost sovereignty over their property. With every new law, every new covenant, every new policy our ability to live in our homes as we see fit has been eroded. With every new policy there is an acceptance that this is the way of the future. It is “normal” now to have someone else dictate and approve the colors you choose for your house, the plants and flowers you plant, the decorative elements you use, or in fact even if you are ” allowed” to use them, the structures you buy for your children’s play equipment including the colors you use. The list is endless. Sometimes I think it is getting to the point where children in kindergarten have more autonomy over their daily lives than do their parents.
John Cowherd j oins us On The Commons. John is a Virginia attorney who represents homeowners against their condominiums and homeowner associations. He hosts and maintains Words of Conveyance a blog that focuses on property law. One of the trends he is seeing more of is the growing restrictions on renting one’s home, or even a room, either short term or long term. He has a recent blog about this not so new issue of contention in America’s controlled residential associations titled Rental Restrictions in Virginia Condominiums. While there may be some genuine concerns about rentals, as usual the problems don’t appear to be quite as awful as some people might have you believe. We’ll talk to John and learn more about it. We will also talk about how the courts rule in cases where the use of free use of property is inhibited. Fortunately there is some good news there.
We seem to live in a culture of unprecedented intolerance, incredible rudeness and bullying. None of these traits are conducive to a society that is civilized, fair or pleasant. In fact the opposite is true. Do we continue down this path, unchecked, acting and behaving like animals? What are the consequences of such abusive behavior?
For a glimpse of where we might be headed, we need to look no further than the HOAs that are forced on America’s homeowners. Without the checks and balances required by the Constitution and absent any oversight the so called leaders in these associations act and behave like the adult versions of the bullies they probably were in school. And absent any “adult” to prevent the abuse, there will be tragic consequences.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. We are both very saddened to announce that a homeowner who fought to protect her home, her family and her rights lost the biggest battle of all, her life. Many of you had corresponded with Andrea Barnes over the years and are familiar with the terror and insanity she had to put up with in her HOA. Andrea was a young mother of 3 children that she loved and was very proud of. She was a very talented photographer and a gifted writer. And as everything in HOAs the problems and the HOA complaints were petty.They included her trashcan, a birdhouse her kids made her in school, a hose wheel (unapproved? Wrong shade of gray? who knows!). So quite apart from the barrage of violation notices for petty alleged infractions, the association isolated her, the abuse spilled onto the kids at school and they removed her from the community Facebook page.
They parked at the end of her driveway and sat there watching the house. Oh, she also had Meniers disease, a disability that is not outwardly visible but a disability nonetheless. The stress she lived under in her association was relentless. But then this is what HOAs are about. I have to wonder if the HOA had the authority to do any of the things they did to Andrea and do to countless other homeowners on a daily basis. It is time to pull the plug on homeowner associations! It is time to learn how to be a caring, polite and civilized country once again.
In a free and civilized society there is the expectation that the citizens have rights, including the right to be treated fairly. However fairness seems to be one of the first casualties in mandatory membership residential associations. Gone are all the safeguards put in place by the Constitution. Gone is the notion of checks and balances and the idea that in the event of a dispute there will be a fair and just outcome. Is this just an HOA problem or does it affect other institutions?
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline has a law degree, and is passionate about the law. She is an author and a professor in Maryland and is always willing to share her knowledge, expertise and ideas with us. She is very well aware of the what can happen when the safety nets fail to ensure fairness. We’ll talk about the meaning and need for law. We also learn about a 30 year old case, how that was handled in court and what has happened in the Pam Smart case. How can we ensure fairness in this world?
“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.
I can’t even begin to tell you just how appalled, angry, disgusted and frustrated I am at the state of housing, American style. Most countries in the world have a healthier respect for private spaces, whether those spaces are owned by the residents or leased. But with the proliferation of mandatory, forced membership in residential corporations, Americans are subject to the whims and caprices of neighborhood self appointed “enforcers” and their hired ” professionals” aka, HOA attorneys. After all, they really are not smart enough or capable enough to live in their own homes without a lot of oversight.
John Cowherd and Bill Davis join us On The Commons in the first of a two part show analyzing how and why we got to having such disrespect and disdain for private property. The largest tools in these tyrants’ toolbox is the statutory right to fine and then to foreclose to collect these fines. No oversight is provided by the governmental bodies authorizing these remedies, no thought to protecting the rights of the owners. After all, they agreed, right?
Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Whether Einstein said it or not is debatable but what is certain is that the quote is common sense. Yet for some reason we insist on doing the same thing over and over and over again, convincing ourselves that this time it will work. THIS time the results will be different. And yet again, we are disappointed and frustrated. This is especially true when it comes to “fixing” all the problems with residential associations. We believe that one more law requiring or prohibiting something will drastically alter the failing HOA system. But all those statutes do little other than complicate and compound the problems. Maybe it is time to start thinking outside the box and looking at different “solutions” – different ways of protecting homeowner assets and rights.
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline is passionate about the Law, a subject she loves and is always willing to talk about and share thoughts and ideas with us. This week we brainstorm ideas that would allow homeowners to get what it is they want most, the right to be left alone and to enjoy the peace and sanctity of their own homes. We explore the possibility of taking the fight to a different arena and using a different battle cry. We learn about potential rights and remedies. Tune in for an idea packed hour of ways to stop doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results.