When I look at the very sorry state of housing in the US, I often wonder how we got to where we are. However, I don’t have to think too hard about it because the fingerprints of dysfunction are everywhere. In the country that describes itself as the freest, the biggest, the richest and the best, how can something as simple and basic as the right to homeownership be fraught with so many pitfalls? How can America’s homeowners be subject to such unfettered powers by special interests?
Julio Robaina joins us On The Commons. Julio, a former State Representative in Florida vowed to do everything in his power to protect the rights of owners in Florida’s many condominiums. He headed up a task force, traveled the state and listened to the stories of complete and utter abuses by management companies, board members and industry attorneys. What he heard changed him profoundly. During his term in office he championed legislation that ensured some rights were protected but like all laws, they were changed. As the current co-owner of a management company, he is still working on getting the existing laws enforced. Protecting owners from fraud, embezzlement and ensuring fair elections in condominiums. We talk about all of this and also discuss the bigger picture of communal living with commingled assets, liabilities, responsibilities in a world apparently shrouded in secrecy.
Once upon a time people bought a house, painted the front door a color of their choice, found a door knocker they loved and house numbers that looked just right, planted their favorite flowers, shrubs and bushes, stood back, admired their work then went in and shut the world out of their private space. But then came homeowner associations with their tomes of covenants, rules, regulations, permits, approval forms, nosy neighbors, nasty neighbors, fines for having unapproved garden hoses in their front yards, cracked flowerpots on their front steps, dusty mailboxes and window shades that are the wrong shade of white. And suddenly there was nothing left of the owners choice. Even the joy and pride of homeownership was gone only to be replaced with fear, acrimony, hate and discontent. Have HOAs improved housing or are they destroying a once sacred way of life?
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney and frequent guest, expanded his practice to include representing homeowners in the fight of their lives with their residential associations. In most states it is that time of year when legislators gather to propose legislation, often sponsoring bills to strip homeowners of more of their rights and to empower HOAs to exert ever more control over the owners. We talk about that and we also brainstorm about the need for HOAs. Are they truly needed and what real purpose do they serve? We wonder if there are cheaper, better and more efficient ways of delivering any services that might be perceived as benefits to homeowners in residential neighborhoods. Maybe it is time to start thinking outside the box and investigating ways of improving and simplifying life at home.
As we mourn the deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, who died a day later, we are reminded of the effects a broken heart and stress can have on us. It is reported that Debbie’s last words were, “I want to be with Carrie”. leaving little doubt as to how she must have been feeling. While this is an extreme case, the stress and the heartbreak are every day occurrences for us, especially if HOAs are involved. Imagine having your every move watched and documented, being endlessly harassed and isolated from neighbors and friends, being bombarded with nasty and incessant demand letters and ultimatums and threatened with foreclosure. These scenarios are very real in the every day lives of many of the HOA owners. What are the physical and psychological effects of this lifestyle? Will this unnecessary form of housing make us an extremely unhealthy nation? What will the health care costs be to deal with the aftermath of this self imposed house of horrors?
Dr. Gary Solomon joins me On The Commons. Dr. Solomon has dedicated the last several years of his life to educating the public about the health risks of living in an HOA. He has written one of the most creative and comprehensive e-books called HOA:Crisis in America which he has made available online free to everyone. You can read the book, listen to it or watch video clips. It is book that everyone should read, whether in the hallowed halls of our State and Federal Capitols, academia and especially his colleagues in the medical world. The medical practitioners who have the task of healing and curing their patients need to understand the root cause of the problems their patients are suffering. Every time I talk to Dr. Solomon, I learn something new and I get to know the man a little better. He is definitely a man well worth getting to know. Enjoy a rebroadcast of this very informative show.
As life gets more and more complex and complicated, I believe we need to keep the most basic and fundamental core of our lives as simple and clutter free as possible. And nothing can be more basic than our need to shelter, i.e. our homes and by extension, our neighborhoods. Unfortunately local municipal governments and special interests have highjacked the sanctity of our homes, destroyed our communities and burdened us with yet more governance, more regulations and increased the risks associated with our homes. Instead of unwinding and re-energizing at the end of the day, many of America’s homeowners come home to fight to keep what they have. However, in order to be able to do that, they need to know what to look for, how to fight and what to do.
John Sellers joins us On The Commons. John, a retired banker, lives and owns several HOA burdened properties in Arizona. With his background in finance, he decided to “follow the money” and the trail led him to discover a whole host of irregularities. Problems that most of the rest of us non financial types would not recognize as potential problems and would therefore completely overlook them. Fortunately John saw the red flags everywhere so he decided to stir things up, just a wee bit. He started a blog where he talks about the issues and has the attention of the state legislators who recognize some of the issues and are willing to work with him as well as other Arizona residents interested in implementing protections for the owners. It is no surprise that one of the biggest issues and problems in residential associations is money related. And while finding out the financial health of an association may seem like an insurmountable, it needn’t be. Tune in for a fascinating interview.
One of the most oft cited benefits of living in the US has always been the right to own property. Having a roof over one’s head and being able to provide a safe and happy home for one’s family has been referred to as the American Dream. Imagine, a house in the middle of a yard, surrounded by a lush green lawn, fruit trees, flowers and room to play with the kids, grandkids and pets. It doesn’t get much better than that!
So when and how did the dream go so very wrong? When did it become such a nightmare? When did the homeowner stop being the architect of his property, the pilot of her own destiny, the author of his or her story? And when did she or he become the hunted and the target in this insane war in the neighborhood? What is happening in our residential developments is sounding the death knell for what some believe to have been a greatest experiment in freedom.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, an attorney in Texas, defends homeowners caught in the middle of the insanity that seems to have become very much part and parcel of “living the American Dream”. He knows and understands the legal structure of deed restricted developments but more importantly he also knows their limits. Join us as we discuss some of the torture tactics used to bully a homeowner and the far reaching consequences of the actions of these abuses. We also hear the incredible facts in one case that highlights what can happen when neighborhood thugs are given unfettered power to browbeat and bully a neighbor.
The stories vary little and over time have become predictable. The same words are used over and over again when talking about life in an HOA. Fear, harassment, fines, threats, abuse, vandalism. Over the last four or five decades, America’s residential neighborhoods have been transformed from tidy, happy communities into places of terror. Places where individuality, personal expression and personal freedom have given way to war zones. Far from the love affair Americans allegedly have with their HOAs, the truth is homeowners say they hate their HOAs.
And with very good reason.
Dr. Robin Huhn joins us On The Commons. Robin lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and like many homeowners across the country, has experienced firsthand what it feels like to be caught in the cross hairs of the neighborhood bullies. She is currently on the board of her association and shares with us her experiences as a homeowner, a board member and an advocate for the owners. We will hear about some of the calls and emails she gets and will learn what life is like when one finds oneself living in a house that has been targeted. My guess is that many of my listeners will understand exactly what she is talking about.
Have you ever wondered just where you fit into the grand scheme of our modern world? Who makes all the decisions that affect you and your family? How many strings are being pulled to determine the course of your life and the choices you think you are making? Think of all the layers of government authorized (or not) to adopt laws controlling almost every aspect of your life, where and how you live, what you eat, what you say and how you behave. To help put it into perspective, imagine peeling back the layers of an onion and when you do, just like an onion, it will make you cry.
But then you console yourself with the thought that all those layers and layers are protecting you. Are they?
Jan Bergemann joins us On The Commons. Jan is the founder and president of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice, CCFJ. Over the years Jan has worked with legislators, attorneys and homeowners trying to improve the status quo of owners in Florida’s approximately 4 million association controlled dwelling units. It should have been simple if all those layers of governments were in fact working to protect you, wouldn’t it? We’ll talk to Jan about Some of the major issues facing Floridians, we’ll touch on some of the stupidity that seems to be rampant in controlled America, we’ll find out just who (and how) those layers are really protecting and of course, it would not be a conversation with Jan without a trip back to Germany to compare issues on both sides of the Big Pond. He might just have a few ideas worth thinking about.
Peeling back the layers of an onion will make you cry.
Over the years I have spoken to so many people who have found themselves on the receiving end of the wrath and fury of their condo or homeowners associations. The fear, anger, frustration and terror are unmistakable in their voices. They feel trapped and don’t understand how “this can happen in America”. They tell me they will never, ever buy another house in an association again if they are fortunate enough to get out of their current situation. It often takes years to finally put an end to their fights.
Jerry Berg joins us On The Commons. Jerry, as some of you may remember, was hospitalized when the president of his condominium beat him up with a crowbar. The president was a former judge who should have known better. When I called Jerry recently I noticed lightness in his voice. Was I imagining it or did he sound happier? Join us for a recap and an update on what he has been up to. He settled his case, refused to sign a gag order so is able to talk about it and to disclose the terms of the agreement. He has advice for others in similar situations. His advice will surprise you.
Symptoms are warning signs indicative of a problem. These warning signs should be investigated. Sweeping them under the rug and hoping they’ll go away is irresponsible. Far too often that is the treatment of choice in the Homeowner association arena. All the horror stories are symptomatic of deeper problems, and conditions that allow or even encourage the abuses to continue, unabated. They are the results of flawed reasoning. The very people who should be concerned that their brand is defective and harmful to the owners are the very same people who flippantly dismiss every signal that all is not well. Rather than preventing the horrors, the HOA industry blames and belittles the owners. Their arsenal is made up of the same stupid excuses and explanations. They glibly refer to the hundreds and hundreds of stories as “isolated incidents”. They have no credibility, they deserve no respect.
Judy Thomas joins us On The Commons. Judy is an award winning journalist with the Kansas City Star who just wrote and published an amazing series of articles about many of the stories going on in associations across the country. The main story, HOAs from hell: Homes associations torment residents they’re supposed to support just touches on some of the many problems homeowners face on a daily basis. The page also has links to other stories and video clips of some of the stories Judy ran across. In an HOA no one is spared. The color of window dressings is more important than a child’s safety and her life. The color of a swing set takes on a life of its own and ends up costing the family a huge sum of money. In one condo, an approved emotional pet was banned, causing the owner enough distress that he committed suicide. Even a 91 year old great grandmother is not safe in one of these associations. The elderly lady in this story is being charged $15 for every “letter” the HOA sends her notifying her that her garage door is no longer considered trim. Aren’t Americans allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labor without being hounded and harassed by the neighborhood thugs? These stories are real, they are not isolated incidents. The same stories are repeated time and again all over the place. You just can’t make these stories up.
If you have a story to share with Judy please send it to HOA@kcstar.com
In the very early days you could count the number of private communities with restrictive covenants on the fingers of one hand. In those days housing consumers had to search a home in a restricted development because that is what they wanted. But that was then. Once local municipalities realized they could greatly increase the size of their fiefdoms, increase their tax base without having to provide the services those taxes were designed to pay for, and developers were able to increase density, building more units on less land, the landscape in residential America changed dramatically. The age of cookie cutter and mini units was born. Then they multiplied like rabbits. Everywhere you go and everywhere you look you see the same designs, the same plants, the same colors, the same everything. On the surface they look boring but take a closer look and you will soon realize that the outer shell is a facade. The real story of housing American style, takes place behind those beige, bland, plastic walls.
Rodney Gray joins us On The Commons. Rodney went into acting before enrolling in college where he majored in film. But it wasn’t until he went to visit his mother in Texas that he was introduced to the concept of Homeowner Associations and witnessed the abuses that are part and parcel of everyday life in HOAs. He was informed that the real government could not get involved in protecting the homeowners in his mother’s development because that was a “civil matter”. But when he was threatened by a real police officer at a homeowner meeting the lines between what was a civil matter and what the real government could do became quite blurred. And that’s when his passion for making films and his strong sense of moral justice came together. Going a little beyond what one sees on the surface of HOAs, Rodney put on his investigative reporter’s hat, rounded up some friends and spent several years traveling around interviewing people and filming in HOAs. The result is his documentary, The HOAX The HOAX is making the rounds of film festivals and exposing the underside of Privatopia, as Prof. Evan McKenzie calls them. We’ll talk to Rodney and find out what it took to make the documentary and how the viewers have been reacting to it.