In a grossly twisted misrepresentation of facts, homeowners in residential associations are told that their relationship with the association is a contractual one. They are told that “they agreed”. OK. Let’s assume this is correct (although I still maintain that no sane person would ever agree to the conditions in homeowner associations if they actually knew what they were getting into). The “contract” in this case says that the homeowner agrees to pay the corporate entity a certain sum of money either monthly, quarterly or annually and in return they will get certain services. Sounds straightforward enough, doesn’t it? The contract usually includes a list of remedies available to the HOA in the event the homeowner breaches his or her end of the bargain. However, there is no corresponding list of remedies available to the homeowner when the HOA fails to uphold its end of the contract. The only option they have is to hire an attorney and go to court. So why isn’t there a list of cheap remedies for the owners when they are not getting what they are paying for? Can they fine the HOA or withhold their assessments? Maybe that should be part of every “contract” that comes attached to a home.
John Cowherd joins us On The Commons. John is a Virginia attorney who represents owners who find themselves having to defend their rights in their associations. He is a blogger. He writes about current cases and court decisions affecting property owners in Virginia. His blog is called Words of Conveyance In his latest posting he writes about Lambert V. Sea Oats where the condo owner scores a victory in court. It’s a classic breach of contract case that involves a broken door jamb, of all silly things. It was the condo’s responsibility but they failed to live up to their end of the sacred contract. The condo owner, Martha Lambert, had to sue the condominium to collect the $500 she spent fixing the door jamb. And that’s when it starts getting interesting. We talk to John about the ins and outs of the case and start realizing that judges may be somewhat reluctant to award fees in the thousands of dollars to settle a $500 item. The case went up to the Virginia Supreme Court and was remanded to the lower courts who had awarded Martha only $350 of the approximately $9,000 in legal fees it has cost her. So, should these contracts be more equitable and provide remedies for the owners in the event the associations is in breach of the governing documents? What do you think?
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.
The one-place individuals should have the most control of their lives and their actions, is at home. That is, provided they are not infringing on anyone else’s property. After all, who knows more about an individual’s wants, needs and tastes than that person? Yet, what should be the simplest concept and the most sacrosanct area of private life has become the most fraught with peril, bogged down with rules and regulations and top heavy with “enforcers” whose sole purpose in life seems to be to ensure blind obedience and compliance with arbitrary rules.
Sara Benson joins us On The Commons. Sara is a real estate broker in Chicago, Illinois and co-author of the book, Escaping Condo Jail: The keys to navigating risks and surviving perils of the carefree community lifestyle. We talk about the risks and perils of association controlled living, the expectations housing consumers have and what they are told, and, more importantly, not told, about the “dream house” they are buying. We also talk about the importance of making their voices heard by not allowing others to speak for them. Do you ever wonder why there are so many rules and regulations protected by laws? In part it is because there are groups of “special interests” who claim to speak for you. Don’t let them get away with it. Let your voice be heard.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I often see cartoons when I read the horror stories and see the abuses that take place in a residential association. Unfortunately what my mind “sees”, my hand can’t seem to draw so others can also take advantage of the “picture” in my mind. I have to use the thousand words to get you to see and feel what I see and feel when these stories come pouring out. So bear with me.
One of the many images that readily comes to the forefront of my mind when thinking of the hundreds of heartbreaking stories is a tsunami One small puff of air in the shape of a pudgy pooch or window blinds that are the wrong shade of white and off we go. The HOA huffs and it puffs and it gathers up strength and speed and then it rolls across the oceans, demolishing everything in its wake. When the oceans unleash their fury and come inland it is called a “disaster”. When an HOA bulldozes a member why don’t we recognize it as a disaster? All of these horrors and abuses are slowly but surely destroying any sense of community and ” belonging” we have.
Sara Benson joins us On The Commons. Sara is a longtime real estate broker in Chicago where condos and co-ops abound. Her hands-on and intimate knowledge of the residential association regime led her to co author a book called “Escaping the Condo Jail – The Keys to navigating Risks and surviving perils of the “Carefree” Community Lifestyle.” The book has been out for a couple of years now and anytime a book, a blog, an article or even a radio show is available to the public, it acts as a lifeline to homeowners drowning in the abuses of their HOAs. We talk to Sara about her book and follow up on some of the feedback she has received. Keep the image of a tsunami rolling across the angry oceans, looking for a place to land as you listen to the show and you will get an idea of how well Escaping Condo Jail is doing.
I have been scratching my head, trying to understand the thinking behind homeowner and condo associations. It was a big mystery 36 years ago when I first encountered these confounding things. It is still a huge mystery. Condo associations are a different breed of animal but I still fail to understand the need for all the gibberish that seems to be part and parcel of this ancient and once simple and uncomplicated housing concept. After almost 30 years of studying residential associations and trying to understand them, I am still scratching my head. What would happen if we removed that 4th layer of government and taxing power? Would the world collapse? Perhaps local municipal governments would have to become better stewards of public funds instead of thinking money grows on trees? Now that would be a tragedy, wouldn’t it? Or would we become a nation of red doors, cars on blocks and toilets adorning front yards? Does anyone really believe that? We are told that this form of governance brings us “democracy, up close and personal”. Still trying to understand that one. All the pretty speak surrounding this type of homeownership assures housing consumers they will have far greater influence over the way their communities work. I say hogwash!
Tom LePage joins us On The Commons this week. Tom is a property manager north of the border, in Ontario, Canada. With over 30 years of experience in the field of property management he branched out into consulting and says he has a passion for well managed condominiums. Tom has been following all the nonsense that goes on here, south of his border and is, no doubt, scratching his head as well. He is the founder of Condo-Ology and maintains a blog that can be accessed from his web page. Property managers here, there and everywhere are a dime a dozen but one thing that makes Tom different is his firm belief in TRANSPARENCY. That word is one of the first words you will find on his website. Join us for a fun interview as we compare and contrast typical association issues, talk about potential “fixes”, discuss some that have been tried in the US and start to explore more ideas. Tom has a lot of ideas that deserve to be heard so listen to part one now as I hope he will be back sometime soon with more of his ideas.
There is a rumor that condominiums are carefree living at their best. No lawns to mow, no snow to shovel (in areas where it snows) no maintenance, all an owner has to do is pick up the phone, call the manager or a friendly board member, report a problem and poof, as if by magic, the problem is taken care of. Right? Well, if you believe that I have bridge to sell you. No one tells you about your responsibilities as an owner or the hours “volunteers” donate to the association. There are other misconceptions associated with condo living, carefree living is the least of them.
Don DeBat joins us On The Commons this week. Don is a long time reporter, a newspaper columnist who has written hundreds of newspaper columns on condominium and homeowner association living. He is a Pulitzer Prize nominee for a series he wrote on shoddy home repairs, He has authored a number of books, including co-authoring “Escaping Condo Jail: Navigating the Risks and Surviving the Perils of the “Carefree Community Lifestyle” with Sara Benson. The multi talented DeBat wrote the press release for the new homeowner satisfaction survey conducted recently by the Coalition for Community Housing Policy in the Public Interest (CHPPI) We talk to Don about his career as a Real Estate reporter, his research for his latest book and we find out how he managed to get his nickname, Batman. Tune in for a fun interview.
Byron Hanke is largely credited with being the grandfather of what we often refer to as “homeowner associations”. But this concept of homeownership includes condominiums, co-ooperatives as well as fee simple single family homes. As I started looking at the bigger picture of HOAs, I wondered about the origins of the concept. I called Byron Hanke several times and talked to him on the phone. He never agreed to be interviewed but was generous with his time when it came to talking one on one. In October of 1999 I got a call from Lincoln Cummins, one of the three founders of CAI and its second President, inviting me to a summit to be held at at Anne and Byron’s house in a place called “Scientists Cliffs” in Maryland. Scientists Cliffs served as a model for HOAs.
Lincoln Cummings joins us On The Commons this week. Linc has been involved from the very beginning so has a unique perspective. He takes us on a trip down memory lane to the very early days of association housing, introduces us to the people involved and talks a little about the thoughts and plans they had. We’ll find out whether or not their ideas materialized as imagined or whether some things went astray. We’ll also ask Linc, hindsight being 20/20, if he could go back to the very beginning, would he do anything differently.
Consumers are purchasers and users of products and services. They have certain expectations, particularly if the item or the service they buy is expensive. Often some of these items come with warranties. Sometimes these warranties come in writing but at other times they are implied. Despite the glossy brochures, the clever ads with the catchy descriptions, the promises and the dreams that are being bought and sold, are American housing consumers getting what they think they are buying?
John Cowherd joins us On The Commons. John is a Virginia attorney with a passion for protecting individual property rights. He represents owners in court. He is also a passionate blogger called Words of Conveyance where he writes about some of the issues homeowners and housing consumers face on a daily basis. We learn about a law suit arising out of the purchase of a couple of luxury Hotel Condominium units in Trump Tower in Chicago. We discuss the perils and the merits of owning common elements in a residential association. We also talk about warranties. What should consumers know about them and what to look out for. It is important to know and understand what is being bought.