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.
Most people aspire to have a nice home, one they are proud of as it reflects their personality and attests to their hard work and success in life. A place they can be comfortable and surround themselves with the people and things they love. But, the reality is that the most valuable thing we have is our health. Without it, little else matters. Without it you may not be able to take care of your property, or enjoy having the people you love around you. Yet our homes today are built and forced into toxic environments – controlled mandatory, and often involuntary, membership residential associations.
Dr. Gary Solomon joins us On The Commons. Dr. Solomon is a retired professor who became aware of the ugly side of homeowner associations when he realized his neighbors were living in fear. After a little digging he discovered that life really wasn’t rosy and all happy in these pristine environments, where the color and shape of the grass was more important than the health and happiness of the people living there. With his many degrees and his background in psychology, he started studying the effects of living in an HOA. One of the most alarming and damaging consequences created by associations, is the level of stress they create and the very damaging effects on our health. He has since written extensively on what goes on in residential America today. His most innovative and creative work is an e-book called HOA:Crisis in America. The book is free and you the option of reading it, watching the videos or just listening to it. But before he wrote his book, he wrote a couple of papers about HOAs, HOA Syndrome and Elder Abuse. We talk to Dr. Solomon about the health of HOAs and especially the health of the residents in HOAs.
The dictionary has many definitions for the word “home” but to me home is that safe place we all go to recharge our batteries, be with those we love or enjoy the solitude those 4 walls provide. It is a place that is uniquely our own. Houses, apartments, hotel rooms and ” units” can all look alike, but much like fingerprints and snowflakes no two ” homes” are ever exactly alike. In a world that seems to fear individuality and promotes uniformity, a home has even more importance than ever.
In our brave new world of cookie cutter dwelling units, crammed into modern day communes, more often than not the heart and soul of what we once called a community is gone. In addition to all looking alike and living alike we now also are expected to be alike.
Barry Silver joins us On The Commons. Barry, an attorney who practices law in Florida, has spent his career fighting for the rights of individuals, including homeowners in HOAs. Currently Barry has been working with several homeowners in a particular association where the owners are being evicted from their own homes. These owners are paid up, they do not owe any money so it is not a case of “mooching off their neighbors” as proponents of this dysfunctional housing scheme often cite as an acceptable reason for this barbaric behavior. They are, however, elderly so they are vulnerable. Their alleged “crimes”, and the reason they are being evicted are petty, absurd and ridiculous. We’ll talk to Barry about these homeowners, what they are being targeted for and where they are now. This is a rebroadcast of an earlier show and a reminder of just how abusive and nasty people can be.
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.