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.
This show is dedicated to Donie Vanitzian 1950-2017 who was found dead on December 28, 2017. For 16 years Donie wrote a weekly column for the LA Times answering questions for homeowners who were caught in a web with their homeowner associations. In addition to her column, she wrote several books on HOAs. She was a great friend to homeowners who had nowhere else to turn and will be greatly missed.
Over the years we have watched the people in positions of power in residential America come up with some of the dumbest rules and policies governing private property. If they couldn’t have such potentially tragic consequences, annual awards for the dumbest of them might make for a great comedy show. However, judging by the headlines, they don’t need any encouragement. Probably one of the most insane to hit the news lately is the mind bogglingly stupid rule from Auburn Greens Complex HOA in Auburn, California requiring the owners to leave their garage doors open during the day or face a fine of $200. This should be a hard sell for proponents of fines and protecting property values.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah blogs on Independent American Communities where no HOA story misses her attention. She is a prolific writer and augments all her posts with additional research and more details thus enriching her posts. She has become a go-to person for all the latest HOA land. I asked Deborah to help us do a round up of some of the idiotic rules that seem to be adding to the stress levels of American homeowners. She had a string of such stories lined up within minutes. We talk about some of them, by no means did we scratch the surface of the sheer insanity that is out there. You will no doubt agree that Condos and HOAs are a failed concept and beyond repair.
As my mind goes back over the decades to the Christmases of my youth, I recall the love and warmth of my family, friends and the neighbors. I smile at the memories of decorating the tree and the house, and relive the excitement of the coming festivities and the general sense of goodwill and joy. Of course, I had never even heard of an HOA. They didn’t exist back then and I can’t help but think how much better off we were. The biggest gift we had was that we were left alone and allowed to celebrate the way that made the most sense to us.
In the years since, we have changed the landscape of residential America. No longer are people left to their own devices and allowed to enjoy decorating their homes without threats and interference. Every little item is micromanaged to the point where the joy of Christmas has been taken out of it.
How did we ever get to that point?
Bill Davis joins us On the Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney, found himself in a number of law suits having to protect his rights and his property from his HOA. Having learned about HOA law and seen the games that were being played, it was a natural transition to representing other owners who found themselves fighting to protect hearth and home. We talk to Bill about some of his cases, and a few of the “games” that he uncovered. Many people would not be surprised at how much some of the board members resemble a good old-fashioned crime family. Bill is always entertaining and his interviews are always an eye-opener. You will want to hear what he has to say.
On the Commons will be back in the middle of January, 2018. In the meantime, we wish you all a healthy and happy holiday season.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
There was a time when we believed that if something hurt it had to be good for us. We’re a lot smarter now and realize that pain is an indicator that something is wrong. We are also learning that not all pain is physical. Increasingly it is emotional and psychological and that is especially true in the case of the pain inflicted on owners by residential associations. Finally homeowners are refusing to accept the false assertion that HOAs protect property values. They are no longer willing to put up with the abuses common in residential associations just to protect the mythical notion that their property will be worth a dollar or two more if they spend thousands of dollars in medical bills. They know it is a lie. So why, they now ask, do we really need HOAs? Who really benefits from them?
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah is a prolific blogger and a tireless researcher. Her blog, Independent American Communities tracks all the latest trends and stories in America’s many forms of residential associations. Lately she has been writing about HOA members who are talking about disbanding the corporate structure of the neighborhood. We talk to Deborah about the growing number of homeowners looking into dissolving the corporation that is part and parcel of their neighborhood and returning it to the people who live there. She tells us that homeowners like their homes and their neighborhoods, they just can’t stand their HOAs and all that goes with them. In a recent blog about Walnut Grove, an Omaha neighborhood, she starts with a quote that reads: “The first step to getting what you want is having the courage to get rid of what you don’t want.” And that’s just what some homeowners are doing. They want their homes, their neighborhoods and to be left alone to live in peace and to get what they want they need to get rid of what they don’t want – the HOA.
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.