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.
Violence is alive and well in residential America. So is bullying. And so are the feelings of helplessness, loneliness and frustration that countless American homeowners face on a daily basis. Quite a few of these stories do make the headlines but many more of them never see the light of day. We’ve heard from homeowners who were beaten up during meetings for asking questions, we’ve heard about the elderly being shoved and pushed by the bullies in charge, we’ve heard about pets being poisoned and shot, we’ve heard about owners and guests being terrorized by cars on the streets of their developments. We’ve heard about the stresses of association living get to the point where death is preferable. There have been more suicides and attempted suicides in residential America than we can even begin to imagine.
What is it about this version of the American Dream that causes so much violence, stress and pain for the members? And why is the real government so oblivious to these problems?
Jerry Berg joins us On The Commons. Jerry is a Kansas condo owner who has experienced first hand some of the violence that seems to be prevalent in America’s over almost half a million mandatory membership condos and homeowner associations. We’ll talk to Jerry and find out what led to the violent confrontation that put him in the hospital after being beaten up with a crowbar and put the manager in jail, at least briefly. We’ll also find out why, after several years, nothing has been resolved and the cases are ongoing. We’ll learn how the bullying in his particular association caused two of his neighbors to commit suicide.
“If it hurts, it must be good for you”. Remember that one? Fortunately we got smart and realized that if it hurt it really was not good for us. Along the same lines of thinking is the other oft repeated canard which is that homeowner associations protect property values. “If your HOA makes you miserable and physically ill, is abusive, is grossly mismanaged, is secretive, etc. etc. etc., it is OK because it protects your property values.” This makes about as much sense as “if it hurts, it’s good for you.” Despite the fact that protected property values claim is totally unsubstantiated, we hear it over and over again.
Maybe it is time to get smart and to stop being so gullible. Next time you are told HOAs protect property values, insist on tangible proof. Preventing a neighbor from painting their front door red is not acceptable and it really doesn’t prove anything.
Joining us On The Commons this week is Jill Schweitzer. Jill is a Real Estate Broker in Scottsdale, Arizona where there are a lot of mandatory membership HOAs and condominiums. She is concerned about all the problems in these kontrolled properties and has taken it upon herself to try to understand what is going on. She actually put pen to paper and did the math. She tracked and analyzed property values in 10 condo projects in Scottsdale over a period of 10 years. Her findings are on her website hoasavers.com. It might come as no surprise that contrary to protecting property values, HOAs can actually devalue property. Tune in, we’ll talk to Jill about a myriad of problems that seem to be part and parcel of HOAs, find out why she decided to look into HOAs and what she is planning on doing to protect her clients’ property.
Have you noticed how often the phrase, “it protects property values” is used to justify the most ridiculous behavior in homeowner associations? It is a one size fits all excuse or explanation for the bizarre, ludicrous, absurd, wacky and outrageous shenanigans by so called kommunity leaders. Over the years we have heard it all – unapproved garden hoses, too many rose bushes, a driveway that is three inches wider than approved, a pudgy pooch or a rogue bird feeder. The list is endless.
It will come as no surprise to you then that at The Tides Condominium at Sweetwater in Florida fully grown adults sat around one day and came up with “flowerpot rules”. When it comes to property values, you see, nothing is too insignificant for these selfless altruists who give so freely of their time and expertise to determine what you can put in your flowerpot. Kompliance with konformity in kondos is of utmost concern as you might have guessed, and violators are sought and penalized lest they devalue property.
Joining us On The Commons is Larry Murphree. Larry lives in Jacksonville, Florida where, by the largess of the kondo leaders, he is allowed to have a flowerpot but the tiny flag tucked in with his flowers is verboten. His flagrant disregard of the rules got him a letter from the kondo kommandos notifying him that there is an “unauthorized object” in his flowerpot. When Larry refused to remove the flag, passionately believing in his 1st Amendment rights as well as his right to have it there, he was fined $100 a day for protecting his rights. Florida law allows fines up to $1000 (bless their hearts) but through some very creative accounting, the kondo threatened to foreclose on Larry’s unit to collect $8000 they alleged he owed. Please join us to learn the details of this absurd situation, find out what the most recent law suit filed by the kondo sought and what the local realtors have to say about why buyers are not beating a path to this particular project’s gate. Also, check out Larry’s website at http://letmeflytheflag.com
There is a rumor out there that 9 out of 10 owners in homeowners associations are delighted with their living conditions. Apparently the Community Associations Institute has a hard time believing those numbers as well because they seem to be commissioning a new survey every year or two – just to make sure, I suppose. The statistics and the numbers are, well, quite incredible but they must be true, otherwise we wouldn’t be reading about them in in every article about HOA horror stories.
The folks I hear from are not the deliriously happy homeowners the pollsters seem to unearth every year or so. I hear from people who are being terrorized, bullied, demonized and abused by a housing scheme that is beyond repair. I talk to people who are terrified of going home, of answering the door or the phone or picking up their mail. Perhaps that explains why they are not represented in all these happy surveys? The sorry fact is that HOAs are ruining a lot of lives and destroying a lot of people.
But there is strength in numbers and sometimes that can be a beautiful thing. Joining us On The Commons this week is Larry Fletcher. Larry and his neighbors decided they didn’t want to be harassed and abused by a board president with too much free time on his hands and a passion for writing threat letters and issuing fines. So they went to court and challenged the fines and the nit picky violations and they won their case. In the process they got a kinder, gentler president. But that did not guarantee that theirs would be a happy neighborhood forever after. They realized they were one election away from having another tyrant at the helm so they set out to ensure that they would always have a real sense of community where neighbors cared for each other and celebrated together. You will LOVE their story and what they did to get there. You will also understand why Larry sounds like such a cheerful chap.
The most effective way of breaking up a larger concentration of power is to “divide and conquer” or “divide and rule”. And one of the easiest ways of doing that is through the use of fear. It is no secret that many HOA homeowners live in fear. The statutory powers associations have been given across the country puts the owners at a huge disadvantage. And associations have been known to use, and in some cases, abuse those powers. Sometimes all it takes is making an example of one homeowner in a neighborhood to ensure that everyone toes the line without any problems. That is the Fear factor. But do the neighbors have a duty to get involved or should they just roll over and hope things blow over soon? Joining us On The Commons this week is Ward Lucas. Ward is an award winning investigative journalist who found himself tangled up in the HOA web. So what does an investigative journalist do when he thinks something smells bad? He investigates associations and when he discovered that he was not alone, he wrote a book called Neighbors at War. He then started a blog by the same name neighborsatwar.com We’ll talk to Ward about his book, his blog and get a feel of what is going on around the country. We’ll also talk about what it takes to stand up to the neighborhood bullies and why, even though there are more homeowners than association employees, the homeowners are losing the battle.
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 kommunities , 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.
Joining us On The Commons this week is Barry Silver. Barry, an attorney who practices in Florida, has spent his career fighting for the rights of individuals, including homeowners in HOAs. Currently Barry is 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 would use 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.