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.
A picture is worth a thousand words, or so we have heard. As I watch the primaries unfold for the US presidential candidates and seeing the backlash against both political parties, the picture that comes to my mind is “The Awakening”. The Awakening is an enormous sculpture, that is now housed at the National Harbor in Maryland, of a giant waking up after a long sleep. When you look at the candidates in both parties what is of particular interest is that the front runners are not the party favorites. Senator Sanders has amassed millions of dollars in contributions, a handful of dollars at a time which suggests a huge base. Donald Trump is self-funded and therefor not beholden to any of the special interests that have traditionally manipulated the direction this country has taken. Mr. Trump is, by far, the biggest vote getter. Both of these candidates have enormous grass roots support. Not party support but people support. It seems a showdown may be on the horizon. Will this dissatisfaction with the status quo manifest itself in the homeowner association arena? Are Americans fed up and are they really ready to do something about it? I say, power to the people!
Dr. Gary Solomon joins us On The Commons. Dr. Solomon is a retired college professor who took an interest in how the stress of living in HOAs affects homeowners, the very people who are supposed to benefit from homeownership. He has authored several papers, including HOA Syndrome, Elder Abuse in HOAs, Child Abuse by Proxy and his brilliant and creative book, HOA Crisis in America which is a must read, watch and listen to book. He explains how HOAs are a sick concept. Many of the board members have psychological problems, problems that affect them. They, in turn, take it out on their neighbors. The stress of living in the cross hairs of a mentally unsound board member triggers stress related diseases. It is a fascinating idea and a scary thought when we consider not only the ill health of many homeowners but also the cost of medical care. Perhaps it is time for preventive medicine instead of what we have. Dr. Solomon is willing to consult with homeowners and their attorneys in lawsuits against their HOAs. He is also ready and willing to assist medical doctors understand how their patients who live in HOAs may be living under constant stress. Is an Awakening headed to the homeowners in mass produced HOAs nationwide? Will homeowners reject the special interests and start really taking control of their own lives?
The Awakening, a statue in the DC area of a giant waking up after a long sleep. It is now at the National Harbor in Maryland.
Shouldn’t we be trying to simplify life? With all the technological and scientific advances that have been made recently, we have the resources and the ability to really free up our time, allowing us to devote ourselves to our families and friends and on the things that make us happy. Instead, we are being bogged down in layers and layers of red tape. If we did get rid of the things that really make no sense, would the abuses simply vanish and would we, in effect, create a kinder, friendlier environment?
Barbara Stage joins us On The Commons. Barbara is an attorney in central Florida, where she represents homeowners as well as homeowners associations (HOAs). The slogan on her website reads; “Protecting the rights of homeowners across the state of Florida”. Barbara recently wrote a letter to the Florida Legislature advocating for greater oversight of HOAs and also for less costly alternatives to preserving one’s rights against their association. We talk to Barbara about some of the atrocities she has witnessed over the years in Florida HOAs. We find out what kind of advice industry attorneys give their HOA clients and we talk about HOAs refusing to cash checks from homeowners and sending legal notices to wrong addresses. And that’s just for starters, there is so much more. I ask myself again, what on earth are we thinking?
Over the years battle weary homeowners across the country have reached out to share their tales of woe as they try to survive in their own homes. Some of the stories are sad, others make me mad, some are funny, silly, ridiculous, outrageous, abusive, horrible and even deadly but the one thing they all have in common is that they reinforce my belief that this housing concept is structurally flawed and cannot be tweaked and made into something a little more homeowner friendly. Nothing short of a major overhaul will suffice to drag it out of the dark ages.
Jerry Berg joins us On The Commons. Jerry lives in a condominium in Kansas and like many other homeowners in America, Jerry wondered, out loud, what was happening to all the money the association was collecting from the homeowners. That was 5 years ago. His curiosity earned him a severe beating with a crow bar, which landed him in the hospital. He was jailed a couple of times, fined $100 seventy one times. One of those fines was for walking his dog “too slowly” across their private driveway. His court case was recently postponed so he continues to live in limbo, just waiting for justice to be served. Hoping that justice will be served. In the meantime he has had more surgery and the insanity in his neighborhood continues.
Claiming to be a 5th generation landowner, Philip Thompson said, “I will do whatever it takes to help preserve the countryside we call home”. The countryside he calls home is in Fauquier County, Virginia about an hour outside Washington DC. He inherited much of the land in the countryside he called home, then proceeded to place a large tract into a conservation easement managed by the Piedmont Environmental Council, (PEC). Much like the Declarations in residential associations, the easements restrict the use of the property. Much like a residential association, power is given to the administrator. And we all know that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”(Lord Acton) regardless of who has it.
Dr. Bonner Cohen joins us On The Commons. Dr. Cohen is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research. He also serves as senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. He is an author, has spoken at conferences, and appears on TV and radio. Dr. Cohen, a friend of Martha Boneta, has been following the horrors and abuses taking place in Liberty Farms. He wrote an article about the latest round of lawsuits. We find just what Mr. Thompson meant when he said he would do “whatever it takes…” And for “before” and “after” pictures of what the farm looked like under the Thomas’s and the PEC’s stewardship, watch Farming in Fear.