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.
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.