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.
Residential America has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. Gone are the days when housing consumers bought a house or a plot of land and were lords of their mansions, kings or queens of their castles, where their word was law – within the confines of their property, of course. Increasingly living in residential America is more complicated, more restrictive and more expensive. Do American homeowners know and understand how and why their lives and homes have changed?
Donna Fossum joins us On The Commons. Donna is an attorney, a long time resident and condo owner in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. She was a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, a former member of the Alexandria Planning Commission and a one time candidate for City Council. Donna, with her analytical background, has written the most comprehensive and complete report on the changing residential communities. After a lot of research, Donna discovers what is essentially two cities in one, divided more or less equally by the east side and the west side of the City of Alexandria.
She explains how this shift resulted in double taxation for approximately half of the homeowners in Alexandria. But probably one of the most eye opening discoveries she made was the differences in the political process and participation by the citizens of the two different halves of the city. Tune in and hear her talk about all the issues that significantly affect the way we live in America today and read her report, Fossum Files . While her research and analysis centered on Alexandria, the same issues and resulting problems exist across the country.
I keep thinking that there really must be a breaking point. A point where American housing consumers start digging a little deeper and looking beyond the frills and the pretty upgrades in a house they are considering buying. I hope they start looking for construction inspection reports (if such a thing exists and if not it might be a good idea to turn around and RUN as far away as possible). They should also find out whether or not there is a mandatory, involuntary membership requirement in a homeowners association. An upgraded backsplash in the kitchen is not going to make up for a house that is poorly constructed, starts falling down around them and is run and managed by people they would be better off never having met. The quality of their lives in such a place could very well become material for a horror story.
But, you think, the courts are always there to sort it all out, aren’t they? Tune in. It is time to take those rose colored glasses off and take steps to prevent yourself from getting trapped in a real live horror movie.
Nila Ridings joins us On The Commons. Nila could be the poster child for what happens when the HOA seemingly has a personal vendetta against a member. Her story starts many years ago when her driveway started sinking and got lower than the garage floor, causing problems in her house. There were other construction problems that the HOA chose not to replace on her property, citing inadequate funds as the reason. Miraculously they found the money to make the repairs on other homes in the development. He request for access to the financial records of the HOA was, predictably, denied even though this is a basic right of the members. To understand the twists and turns in her story and the road that led to years worth of very costly litigation and the loss of her house, you will have to tune in and hear Nila explain it and then to find out that at the end of the day, she was even denied her day in court. Over the years Nila has used the knowledge she has gained from her own battles to help others who find themselves in a war for their home, their rights and their sanity while fighting for her own home. Her story might help you loosen your grip on those rose colored glasses you have.
I find it ironic that we spend the first 18 – 22 years of our lives learning how to be adults and to make decisions that will affect us and our lives only to end up in an HOA, feeling like we did in when we were in kindergarten. “Eat your vegetables”, “Wash your hands”, “Pick up your toys”, “Go to bed” and if you don’t behave, it is “time out” or “NO TV”. Only as an adult, supposedly having been taught how to make the right decisions, in an HOA it tends to be, “Your blinds are the wrong shade of white”, “You have an unapproved garden hose”, “no cars in the driveway”, “Too many roses in your yard” OR ELSE, “fines” “foreclosures”. and other nasty penalties hurled in our direction.
We’ve all heard the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!” . It makes sense and sounds easy enough but what if life hands us more than mere lemons? What happens when life comes at us full force, out of the clear blue and knocks us for a loop? And that can be especially true if we live in one of the nation’s hundreds of thousands mandatory Homeowner associations. How do we make lemonade out if that mess? And that is especially true when one of the absolute big taboos is HOAs is “LEMONADE STANDS” ? Even children trying to be helpful and mature beyond their years have found themselves in the crosshairs of a rather stupid HOA. What to do?
Dr. Wes Rocki, MD, PHD joins us On The Commons. Wes is a retired physician who has been working in alternative medicine for a while. Much of his focus has been on self-healing which is something that is sorely needed in every life and especially in what resembles battle zones in our neighborhoods. We talk to Wes about our natural and normal reactions to finding ourselves being attacked and in harm’s way. We find out how to protect ourselves or, at a minimum, how to react and even how to put our opponents off balance. We touch a little on “fear” which is a big part of how we are controlled and put at a disadvantage. We talk about how we react and can take charge of at least part of the situation. You will want some of Wes’ advice in your survival tool kit.
There is a huge difference between the way businesses and governments operate. Businesses typically keep their eye on the bottom line and minimize unnecessary expenses. If there is a cost effective way of doing something, they’ll find it and use it. Governments, on the other hand, only seem to care about the size of their departments. The more staff they have, the greater their budgets and the higher their salaries. To help get to that point they rely on regulations, red tape and more staff to oversee useless rules. And the money to pay for all this waste? No worries, just raise taxes. I knew all that so when I first encountered HOAs and was told that certain services were provided “privately” the only thing I found alarming was that the taxes were 3 times as high as they had been where I had come from where everything was included, in fact the HOA assessments were higher than my property taxes had been.
My long held beliefs about the efficiency and cost effectiveness of businesses began to unravel as I watched a “privatized government” at work. These creations of the special interests enjoyed all the benefits of the unaccountable governments while masquerading as efficient businesses. This new model was forced on owners in residential associations, be they condos, co-ops, HOAs or any of the newer concoctions that seem to creep into our daily vocabulary. It embodies all the worst characteristics of both businesses and governments.
Chuck Welsh joins us On The Commons. Chuck, an avid boater, a US Naval Officer for a number of years and a former developer bought a brand new pre-construction condo in a gated development in Florida. The design for the property came complete with plans for a marina. The entire project sounded like it was designed with Chuck in mind. A beautiful unit, amazing views, room for his boat and the promise of a carefree lifestyle with property values soaring through the roof. Isn’t that what we are all promised? Regular listeners and readers of this blog know that when it comes to housing in the US, things are never quite as smooth or problem free as one might expect. Sadly that was the case with Chuck’s ideal condo. All the elements of his dream home were there – in a dream – the problem was that the nightmares started when Chuck woke up. We’ll talk to Chuck about what happened that led to 10 years of his life that was far from “carefree” and his condo – well, even with an upswing in property values, ended up costing him a lot of money, not to mention being dragged through the courts for four years. And that private marina that was the icing on his cake? Well, that didn’t work out so well either. Tune in for all the details as well as a fascinating discussion on the future of privatized residential governments.
I seem to zip through life at breakneck speeds, taking most things for granted and never really thinking about the reason we do things any particular way. Oh, once in a while I ask myself, “What were they ever thinking?” when I run into something a little strange. However, when things are working well the farthest thought is to wonder why it works. It is so much easier to start looking at things that don’t make sense and figure out how to improve it.
And for a show whose sole focus is property rights, that was a little short sighted. How can we protect ownership and rights without knowing how to properly define the property in question? That is one those things most of us have always taken for granted.
Kenneth Ditkowsky joins us On The Commons. Ken is an attorney in Chicago who, when he was fresh out of law school, full of self confidence and a can-do attitude found himself on the ground floor of redefining property boundaries and ultimately changing skylines in cities across the country. Maybe even the world? We’ll talk to Ken about the Prudential Building, the first high rise in Chicago and the hundreds of pages of legal speak explaining the ownership structure. Ken and his partner accepted the challenge and simplified it, reducing the document down to a more manageable size. In the process they paved the way for high-rise residential buildings to be built and ultimately changing the face of the Chicago. We’ll talk about all the things most of us take for granted and never give a second thought to. We’ll learn about different ways to determine the legal boundaries of a piece of property and find out what happens when mother nature decides to ” shift” the things we take for granted. I was spellbound as I listened to Ken. Tune in for a fascinating show.
Not too long ago a friend sent me a link for a video and recommended I watch it. I did. I was shocked and horrified when I realized I was looking at a homeowners’ association. As far as I could see, there was no rhyme or reason to have an HOA in this bucolic part of the country. I have since learned that the property owners in this otherwise peaceful setting each own hundreds of acres of land accessible by dirt roads.
We’ve allowed ourselves to be fooled into believing municipal governments just don’t have the money to provide the services real estate tax dollars are supposed to pay for, therefore HOAs are a necessity to provide those services. Not that I believe that for a moment but if I did, try as I might, I could not find any reason to justify the imposition of an HOA on this particular neighborhood. Check out the video and please let me know if an HOA makes sense to you. I am convinced we have lost all sense of reality and sanity in this country.
Mary Ann Fordyce joins us On The Commons. Mary Ann has a chicken business in a rural community in Texas, where many of her neighbors are also business people, several have livestock and there is at least one other chicken businesses owner as well. Not surprisingly this chicken owner was a board member who sold Mary Ann her first chickens and got her started on her business. And for awhile, all was well. But then life in this peaceful corner of the country changed. We’ll talk to Mary Ann and get some of the details of why her dreams came crashing down and how she lost first one house and is now hanging on, trying to protect the second house she and her husband bought, from being foreclosed on. I’ll ask her what purpose her HOA serves and how it protects her when her closest neighbor is a mile away. I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear what happened to the only common area these property owners had. Maybe the fate of that park is the answer to why an HOA was even part of this neighborhood? Check out Mary Ann’s web site Blue Star Ranch . This lady is determined to help educate housing consumers about the perils of HOAs.
We’ve all heard how an alleged debt of a mere handful of dollars can balloon into a king’s ransom at the hands of an HOA and their attorneys. And no, I am not talking about investments for the homeowners. And certainly not about the empty (read bogus) promises of protected and enhanced property values. Sometimes these debts are due to a legitimate assessment that was missed for some reason. And all too often the “debt” is due to a fine imposed by the association for violating a recorded covenant, a silly rule that was conjured up on the spur of the moment or, increasingly, because the transgression in question violated someones esthetic sensibilities. In other words there is no rhyme or reason for the ensuing war among the neighbors. Notwithstanding all the accompanying sanctimony that attempts to validate these outrageous fees, penalties, charges and surcharges, they are solely for the benefit of the industry that feeds at the trough of the owners. For years the homeowners’ pleas for statutory relief and protection from these abuses have fallen on deaf ears. State legislators have failed to enact legislation to end these practices.
David Kahne joins us On the Commons. David is an attorney in Houston, Texas. His practice includes representing homeowners who find themselves on the receiving end of the malice that is increasingly common in residential associations. In addition to working with individual homeowners, David is an advocate for the rights of property owners. He has worked with legislators and advocacy groups in Texas and around the country. He testifies at the Texas State legislature for increased protections for the owners. We talk to David about this year’s legislative activities and the need for the proposed legislation. We also talk about a swimming pool case in Spring, Texas. A young couple put in a pool in their backyard and to protect their toddlers and the neighborhood children, they erected a fence around the pool. And the objection was? Well, tune in, David will explain it.
We’ve all heard the ridiculous explanations about the horror and abuses of HOAs. “It’s ALL your fault, condo and homeowners, because you agreed”. And that begs the question of why any sane and rational person who fully understands all the ramifications of association living would ever agree to the lopsided powers against them? Do housing consumers really understand that the notion of an HOA contract is as fake as they come? In a contract both parties are pretty much on an equal footing. They agree, in the case of an HOA, to pay a certain sum of money on a monthly/quarterly or annual basis in return for certain services and benefits. So far sounds OK, right? But in the event of a breach in the contract the HOA has seemingly limitless powers to enforce their perception of the breach of the fake contract while the owner is left with nothing more than the right to hire an attorney and go to court. The association? Well, they can fine you and take your house away without ever going to court. Seems fair, right? No, I didn’t think so either. What happens when you exercise your 1st Amendment Right to Free Speech and decide to tell your story? Does that offer you any leverage? Can you prevent someone else from getting caught in the same house of horrors? Well, that’s where more and more homeowners these days are running into something called a gag order. You can’t talk about what you have endured and how the courts sided against you even further tipping the scales of justice in favor of the association.
John Cowherd join us On The Commons this week. John is an attorney in Northern Virginia who represents homeowners caught in the web of HOA horrors. Surprise, surprise, he knows the laws pertaining to condos and HOAs in Virginia. Something not many attorneys understand. John is a blogger where he writes about all things related to real estate, including HOAs. His blog is called Words of Conveyance. We talk to John about his recent blog titled Are Legal Remedies of Owners and HOAs Equitable? We talk about the associations right to fine, why they like that power and what an owner can do to protect him or herself. We also talk about court imposed gag orders to prevent any information about the cases from ever seeing the light of day. Perhaps we ought to remind them of the Louis Brandeis quote: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”
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.