For years the bulk of information about this relatively new experiment in housing has come from the industry that has created it and gains from it. The sales pitch generally describes the concept of condominiums, homeowner associations and cooperatives in glowing terms, promising the owners an easy life where all their problems will be taken care of for them. Housing consumers are assured they will have greater control over their immediate environment, that this is “democracy up close and personal”, it is carefree living at its best, owners will have access to amenities that are beyond the financial reach of most Americans and of course the promise of protected and enhanced property values. We’ve all heard these promises and all know that nothing can be further from the truth.
But finally the tables are starting to turn. Academics, attorneys, psychologists, advocates and medical professionals are speaking out. And finally the truth about the effects of HOAs is being uncovered.
We’ll talk to Mike and Shelly about their case study, a crisis in a condo association on the gulf coast. In this case the condo owners were faced with massive renovations. The condo owners were facing having to get a loan in excess of 10 million dollars to make the repairs. Naturally the owners would be required to repay the loan. We’ll learn how the association communicated the problem to the owners and how the owners reacted. While we have seen many similar cases, they have all focused on the structural issues, and often when discussed by the HOA industry the blame has been put squarely on the shoulders of the owners. What is refreshingly enlightening about this paper is that the authors study the situation more from an interpersonal and normal communication perspective. Really happy to note that this dynamic trio are busy working on their next paper. It is high time to get the real story out.
There is a rumor out there that buying a condo or a home in an HOA not only protects but also enhances property values. I still haven’t figured just out how that supposedly works. But proponents of the regime insist it is so. For the sake of argument I’ll leave that alone for the time being. But how on earth do they explain the fact that homeowners are responsible for the actions or inactions of the people either elected or hired and paid good money to “protect and enhance” your property?
Jan Bergemann joins us On The Commons. Jan is a long time advocate and legislative activist for protecting the rights of home and condo owners in Florida. Jan is the founder and President of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice . He keeps a close watch on all the news related to housing, rentals, litigation involving homeowners and pending legislation that would affect the owners. Many, if not all, of the stories end up on his web site. One recent story involves a $7.5 Million award to a condo owner who seriously hurt himself when he fell into a hot tub that had been partially emptied, ill lit and left unprotected while the necessary repairs were being done. We talk about the case and wonder just how much it will cost the owners in the condominium to cover any shortfall in the event that the insurance isn’t adequate to cover the entire $7.5 Million? How does the assertion that a condo protects and enhances property values work in a situation like this?
Wikipedia describes The Tragedy of the Commons as “a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.” But isn’t that just human nature? Don’t we normally make choices and decisions based on our immediate needs and what benefits us? And isn’t that especially true for people who are generally struggling to make ends meet? Can the current model of HOAs and condos function properly for all?
Tyler Berding joins us On The Commons. Tyler is the principle attorney and founder of Berding-Weil, a California law firm. Tyler represents residential associations and has long been concerned about the lack of adequate reserve funding, construction defects, condo conversions and the flawed HOA and condo model. He is particularly concerned about the buildings as they near the end of their useful lifespans. What happens to the buildings that need to be refurbished? What happens to the owners and their assets? Who pays to make the units habitable if the reserves are inadequate to fund it all? Can retirees on fixed incomes and low income owners afford massive special assessments to cover the shortfall? What Tyler is talking about is the classic “tragedy of the commons”. Tyler shares with us his presentation for a summit next month. Tyler also has a blog called Condo Issues with lots of thought provoking blogs covering all things condo.
When the forces of evil succeed in kicking individual and property rights under the rug, then start playing word games trying to explain how you never really had those rights in the first place, it is time to take the kid gloves off.
Everything about HOAs makes my blood boil but nothing has enraged me quite as much as the way a homeowner was treated by the very industry that sucks the life out of our homes, our families, our communities and destroys our peace of mind. This has to stop! While the catalyst for today’s story may have been a small flag, this is not about a flag but about our rights as homeowners and our right to live in peace in our homes.
Larry Murphree joins us On the Commons. Larry, an Air Force veteran, updates us on his battle with his condominium board and the industry attorneys who advise them on how to mistreat and abuse the homeowners. The battle has been raging for over 7 years and still goes on. We’ll talk to Larry and get the details of how his decision to move into a condo has adversely affected his life and his bank account. Of all the horrors, abuses and invasion of one’s privacy, none even come close to the offensive treatment at the hand of a board and it’s attorney hell bent on destroying an owner and robbing him of all he has spent a lifetime working for. All this is being done legally. Legislators, are you listening?
The story goes something like this, condominiums and homeowner associations provide the owners with carefree living and enhanced property values. Well, that’s the story, but the truth bears absolutely no resemblance to the sales pitch. While the carefree bit refers to not having to mow your lawn, the hours and heartache that go with providing oversight, at least trying to, and protecting your rights are never mentioned. The stress takes a toll on your health, and the financial cost of being a condo owner is inconceivable.
Raelene Schifano joins us On The Commons. Rae, a lifelong resident of Washington State decided to buy a condo believing her property will be well cared for when she and her husband traveled. It didn’t take the condo long to start levying fines against her and her husband for some of the most outrageous and insane reasons. Being a business owner with plenty of guts and gumption, Rae refused to be intimidated and fought back. She got involved at the grass roots level in her association and then started working in the legislative arena educating law makers on what happens when they allow power hungry and money grabbing HOA boards, managers and industry members unfettered access to the lives and bank accounts of unsuspecting owners. Listen to Rae’s story, then contact the legislators in your state and DEMAND that fines by condos and HOAs be BANNED.
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 has written 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
An often cited benefit for residential associations used to be that they allowed the members greater control over their immediate surroundings. The other bonus they were promised was that collectively they would gain political clout. At least that was the sales pitch, along with the ever present promise of enhanced property values. It all sounded wonderful and in a perverse sense sounded sort of logical. But as we have learned over the years not everything works the way it is supposed to. In fact in the case of residential associations, the opposite is true. Not only don’t the members have control over their immediate surroundings but have lost sovereignty over their own private spaces. The existence of an HOA or Condo association is infinitely more intrusive and tyrannical than a neighborhood where the residents are on their own and allegedly have no control.
Jonathan Dessaules joins us On The Commons. Jon is an attorney in Phoenix, Arizona. As part of his practice he represents homeowners against their associations. He is one of a handful of attorneys nationwide who will only represent the owners and not straddle the fence hopping over to the HOA side when they feel like it. Currently his is in a class of his own in Arizona. He also has a blog where he discusses HOA issues and gives general guidance. It’s a great page to check out for quick guidance on some of the more common issues facing homeowners. We talk to Jon about all the usual HOA issues common to all American homeowners but we also talk about a long and protracted case that he recently won. His clients own a unit in an upscale condominium where the fees are in excess of $1,000/month. The condo shut the key card down, impeding access to the private unit and banned the use of the amenities until the owners forfeited a right they had. So much for having greater control of your immediate surroundings in a residential association.
Have you noticed how sometimes the best of intentions can have disastrous consequences? A perfect example is trying to provide affordable housing to the masses, give local municipalities free tax dollars while double taxing the homeowners (who think they just bought something affordable) to pay for essential services. T o achieve all that, we commingle private property and common property and the cherry on the top of this scheme is putting Larry, Curly and Moe in charge. If that is not a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is. We have tried to make this work for decades but have failed miserably. The real tragedy is that we not only refuse to learn from our mistakes but we keep building on them without improving them.
Tyler Berding joins us On The Commons. Tyler is a founding partner of Berding and Weil, a California law firm that represents Condominiums and Homeowner Associations. He has been following all things related to Common Interest developments for the past several decades and speaks on the topic in various forums, including Community Associations Institute, (CAI) and the California based Executive Council of Homeowners, (ECHO). He also participates in writing legislation designed to regulate both commercial and residential CIDs. Tyler has long been writing about the failures of the business model, primarily of condominiums. To prove his point, Pinnacle Condominium Association in San Rafael, California has just approved a $145,000 special assessment for each of the 36 owners in order to make the much needed repairs to the common elements. We talk about the obvious problems with the business model and the problems that can and do rear their ugly heads. We also talk about our penchant for providing affordable housing to everyone. The question really is, just how affordable is “affordable housing”? Is housing built out of cardboard and scotch tape affordable in the long run? Can well built housing that will still be standing in 20 years or longer, be affordable? Or is to time to pull the plug on the “American Dream” of homeownership?
If people knew what they were getting into, would they still buy in an HOA? I was convinced that they wouldn’t, but I was wrong. Thirty years ago when I first became aware of HOAs and started to understand what we were dealing with, HOA mandates were already in place in Fairfax County and probably across the country as well. However, there were still pockets of older neighborhoods so some choices still existed. Now, even most of those older neighborhoods have been razed to the ground only to be replaced by some new faddish fantasy that will no doubt sound positively utopian but in practice be unworkable.
Shelly Marshall and Michael Marshall, PhD join me On The Commons. Shelly is an HOA Warrior. She is a prolific writer of self help books including a book on HOAs, what to look for and how to understand what you are getting into. Dr. Marshall, Shelly’s brother, is a Psychology Professor and practitioner. This dynamic duo have combined forces to answer the question; “Why can’t people hear us?”. Shelly warned Mike about the risks involved in buying a condo and told him to keep looking but that didn’t stop him. For awhile everything went well until one day when his utopian dream came crashing down. So why didn’t he listen? Why don’t people learn from other people’s stories? Mike and Shelly, along with Deborah Goonan, are working on a case study, doing some research with the intent of publishing a paper answering this question. In an easy to understand and simple way, Mike explains the psychology behind human nature. He and Shelly fill in with facts, stories and typical situations that take place every single day. This is a very exciting piece of research and a fascinating interview. For all those people who believe that “HOAs are here to stay,” are you listening?
Change is part of life. It always has been and always will be. Consider all the changes that have taken place over the last few decades and how those changes have affected our lives. Depending on how far back you want to go it is not too hard to see just how things have changed. Cars and roads made it possible for us to expand our world, expand our horizons and explore all the hidden wonders that were beyond our ability to walk to. Computers and cell phones have brought the world even closer and enabled us to see and know what goes on around the world. Another, not really celebrated change by the owners, is the imposition of mandatory membership residential associations like HOAs and Condos. Notwithstanding the fact that housing consumers, for the most part, dislike them, proponents of this regime are quick to say, “HOAs are here to stay”. But are they?
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah has a widely read blog called Independent American Communities . She is active on several social media sites and is a prolific writer. A recent blog of hers titled “Reality check: HOA managers face decline of their industry, like it or not.” caught my eye. I had to read it and when I did, I had to have her join us to talk about it. We talk about the changes, some industry stats and some of “the changes” currently taking place, especially in condominiums. Of course there are problems that simply can’t be ignored and we don’t. However there are so many more that need to be talked about, analyzed, discussed and put on the skyline that we will have to tackle them the next time we get together On The Commons. It is clear that change is inevitable, nothing is here to stay, and the more we try to control the natural flow of life, the bigger problems we will be creating. To find Deborah on her various social media sites, follow the links below.