In the civilized world a crime is a crime is a crime and will be treated as a crime. Tax payers believe that their tax dollars protect them from ALL crimes and criminals. Call the police, file a report and leave it in their capable hands. In general that is true. But when enormous sums of money are embezzled from condo coffers, why then does it become a “civil matter” and up to the condo owners to hire attorneys and investigate the theft? Why aren’t all crimes treated equally? And why do we need laws making the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars a crime? These thefts could lead to the loss of people’s homes and their largest assets but they are swept under the rug. The criminals get away with it and the victims are left helplessly to try to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Jan Bergemann joins us On The Commons. Jan is a homeowner, an owner advocate and the founder and president of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice. As an advocate who has seen the abuses and the horrors that occur routinely in residential associations he has an intimate understanding of how and why such hideously outrageous abuses occur. We’ll talk to Jan about a new law that just took affect in Florida – HB 1237 – dubbed, of all things, “the Condo Crime bill”. The bill has many moving parts and addresses a number of insane situations that are so commonplace in condos and homeowner associations but would raise more than eyebrows in a civilized, sane society. We go through some of the parts to understand why it was necessary to include them. Some don’t require much imagination like attorneys may not represent BOTH the HOA and its management company. Picture that one in a court of law – arguing both sides of the case! Any cartoonists want to tackle that one?
Representing both sides – a client on the right and one on the left, which one will generate more money in the future? Morality and the truth is always sacrificed.
First you scare them, then you promise to protect them and then you own them. Once that is accomplished, perpetrating the biggest consumer scam is a piece of cake. Buying a few state legislators’ assistance, creating a very lucrative stream of “free” income for the municipalities, paving the way for developers to increase their profit margins exponentially seals the deal. And that is how simple it has been to force housing consumers into HOAs where they can be robbed of their homes, their wealth and health and their peace of mind. The lies that have been repeated over the decades to scare prospective homeowners appear to have become universally accepted truths. After all, if you keep hearing the same thing over and over again, if must be true, right? However, the one thing that is true is that non HOA controlled housing is almost nonexistent in most of the country. So being told that the house you are buying is in a mandatory membership homeowner association is no surprise.
Jonathan Friedrich joins us On The Commons. When he retired, Jonathan left New York in search of lower property taxes and moved to Las Vegas, Nevada where he bought a house that needed a lot of work. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work. When he bought the house he was given an HOA disclosure package which contained a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions commonly known as CC&Rs. Jonathan’s concern was getting away from crippling property taxes and not so much HOAs. His focus was fixing the house he had just bought and making it habitable. He also became involved in his new community. And that’s when the imperfections of his association and association living in general started rising to the top. He dealt with all the usual insanity that seems to go along with HOAs which not so surprisingly led to the court house. After 5 long years in court, Jonathan won his case. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details and to truly appreciate the win one has to hear the details of his story, in his own words. The twists, the turns, the lies, the misrepresentations made along the way should alert consumers of what to look for and where to look when buying a house. There may be more to come as Jonathan is not finished cleaning up the mess. Stay tuned.
They don’t build things like they used to. The Pyramids of Egypt have been around since approximately 2700 BC, that’s almost 5000 years. I wonder how much maintenance has been done on them over the centuries? Our cardboard and scotch tape buildings fail after a few years and will probably not be a source of amazement in a century. In fact, at this rate, most of them will not be still standing and that’s with maintenance. How times they are a changing!
Tyler Berding joins us On The Commons this week. Tyler is a founding partner of Berding and Weil, a law firm in California specializing in construction defect litigation and condominiums. He has long warned us of the perils we are facing by not being adequately funded for multi unit housing. Tyler also maintains a blog called, not surprisingly, Condo Issues. Tyler talks about a couple of recent tragic building failures in California that claimed the lives of several people. He explains why he believes these buildings are failing and what can be done about it. He also tells us about one bill he wrote that he thinks might help in the future. But at no time does he promise us that we will be building and living in anything that is remotely as well built as the Pyramids built by the ancient Egyptians. Take another listen.
Imagine the resulting destruction if a classroom full of kindergartners had been given boxes of matches and told to play with fire. No safety instructions, no oversight, no plans to prevent the inevitable mayhem and chaos, just the blanket permission for children to play with fire. Now I know what you are thinking, no sane and rational person would ever do anything that reckless and stupid. OK, so maybe we don’t actually give a room full of 5 year old boxes of matches but can you see much of a difference between that scenario and what is happening in condo and homeowner associations across the country? How about state legislatures?
Frank Short joins us On The Commons. Frank, a long time friend, a government attorney and a popular guest on the show follows proposed legislation and explains how these laws, if enacted, would work in real life. We focus on just one of those bad bills today and talk about a towing bill that was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates earlier this year. Unfortunately this bill survived and went on to become the law while its companion bill in the Virginia Senate failed. Keep that picture of 5 year olds with their boxes of matches in mind as you consider the ramifications of how this new law will affect consumers, voters, taxpayers and anyone else caught in the web that has been spun by legislators. Maybe it is time to recognize that our elected officials can’t be trusted any more than any other predator when it comes to protecting their constituents. Is it time to take away the matchboxes from the “little ones” and start providing some desperately needed adult supervision?
Homeowner and condo associations abuses have always been with us as long as HOAs and condos have existed. However, in the early days of this housing concept very few homeowners spoke out. They were embarrassed and believed they were at fault. They didn’t want their friends and family to know they had been sued, fined or ridiculed for such offensive crimes as painting their house the wrong shade of beige or having too many rose bushes in their yards. They were ostracized and isolated from they neighborhood and retreated within themselves, did not talk to their neighbors and quietly sold their homes and heads hung low, moved away. In those days it was still possible to find a home that was not saddled with the atrocities of an association, but as housing choices evaporate and HOA housing became the only viable option available to consumers, the voices are getting getting louder. More and more people caught in the web of residential associations are expressing their anger and their frustrations.
Judy, a homeowner joins us On The Commons. Judy is one of the many angry and frustrated homeowners who want to wrest control of their lives and homes back away from the special interests and the neighborhood thugs. After putting a lot of thought into the status quo, she looked at some of the problems and the issues homeowners face on a daily basis and came up with a long list of things she believes need to be done to return residential America back to a desirable place to live. We talk to Judy about her thoughts and her ideas. Many of them have been discussed before but some are new. She has a call to action for fellow owners and activists and a creative way of raising the much needed funds to fight back and protect our rights and our properties.
If I could draw I think I would write the HOA book as a series of cartoons because that’s how my mind tends to work. Many of those cartoons would be funny, others not so funny. But over the years never has there been a sumo wrestler in any of my imagined doodles or cartoons – until this interview. That’s when I started putting sumo wrestlers in the picture . But a gratuitous, enormous hulking, naked man in what appears to be a diaper, in the middle of a manicured, sterile, characterless, controlled residential association wasn’t quite connecting. So, I decided to read up on sumo wrestling and sumo wrestlers. And all of a sudden it was a perfect fit, diaper and all. I discovered, among other things, that although some of these massive men appear to be invincible, they have been toppled by smaller opponents. A sumo historian is quoted as saying he believes the circular ring was chosen to assist smaller fighters to slip away and that the sumo rules tends to root for the underdog.
If you find yourselves in the bullseye of an HOA battle, facing what may seem like a sumo wrestler, grin at the diaper and know that you can win.
Dr. Wes Rocki, MD, PhD joins us On The Commons. Retired from practicing conventional medicine, Wes now focusses on alternative medicine, including techniques on self help and self healing. He explains how we can empower ourselves to better handle any conflict. We talk about how we can step away, mentally and emotionally to get a better grasp of the situation. Wes gives us a lot of really good advice on how to not only survive being at the center of an HOA storm but how to survive emotionally, reframe the conflict, empower ourselves and win against that massive sumo wrestler in the ring with us. So many light bulbs went off during the course of this interview. Listen and be empowered. Well worth a second listen.
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.
In the 1930’s, City dwellers resorted to using this balcony-cage contraption as a way of allowing their children to be outside.
The special interests have a way of convincing us to embrace something that is so horribly wrong and really bad for us. One of those trends happens to be something called “new urbanism”. The idea is that the suburbs are bad and contribute to sprawl and to be good citizens, we all need to abandon our desire for space and ownership. To sell us this concept, in addition to using blatant brainwashing tactics, pretty words and terms are liberally used to describe new urbanism. Words and phrases like – smart growth – walkable communities – pedestrian friendly communities. Don’t those words conjure up warm and fuzzy images of happy places? Developers, municipal governments and other interested groups and agencies would like to take us back to “the good old days”. Back to the days before Americans fled crowded and congested urban centers in search of space and the ability to provide healthier lives for our kids. As you allow your mind to picture the good old days remember the old adage; “A picture is worth 1000 words” and check out the photo included in this promo.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney, is well versed in all things HOA. Having been on the front lines of defending his property and himself from all the usual legal and moral problems that define communal living he also is one of a handful of attorneys who will represent homeowners against their residential associations. We talk about the time when Americans migrated to the suburbs in search of what many refer to as the “American dream”. Along the way they encountered the concept of corporate housing with forced membership and all the inherent problems and horrors associated with it. Join us as we take a look back in time, look at the pictures and ask yourselves, notwithstanding all the pretty words, if this is really what you want.
Taking us back to the “good old days” where neighborhoods were walkable but not so pedestrian friendly.
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