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.
In the civilized world a crime is a crime is a crime and will be treated as a crime. Tax payers believe that their tax dollars protect them from ALL crimes and criminals. Call the police, file a report and leave it in their capable hands. In general that is true. But when enormous sums of money are embezzled from condo coffers, why then does it become a “civil matter” and up to the condo owners to hire attorneys and investigate the theft? Why aren’t all crimes treated equally? And why do we need laws making the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars a crime? These thefts could lead to the loss of people’s homes and their largest assets but they are swept under the rug. The criminals get away with it and the victims are left helplessly to try to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Jan Bergemann joins us On The Commons. Jan is a homeowner, an owner advocate and the founder and president of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice. As an advocate who has seen the abuses and the horrors that occur routinely in residential associations he has an intimate understanding of how and why such hideously outrageous abuses occur. We’ll talk to Jan about a new law that just took affect in Florida – HB 1237 – dubbed, of all things, “the Condo Crime bill”. The bill has many moving parts and addresses a number of insane situations that are so commonplace in condos and homeowner associations but would raise more than eyebrows in a civilized, sane society. We go through some of the parts to understand why it was necessary to include them. Some don’t require much imagination like attorneys may not represent BOTH the HOA and its management company. Picture that one in a court of law – arguing both sides of the case! Any cartoonists want to tackle that one?
Representing both sides – a client on the right and one on the left, which one will generate more money in the future? Morality and the truth is always sacrificed.
They don’t build things like they used to. The Pyramids of Egypt have been around since approximately 2700 BC, that’s almost 5000 years. I wonder how much maintenance has been done on them over the centuries? Our cardboard and scotch tape buildings fail after a few years and will probably not be a source of amazement in a century. In fact, at this rate, most of them will not be still standing and that’s with maintenance. How times they are a changing!
Tyler Berding joins us On The Commons this week. Tyler is a founding partner of Berding and Weil, a law firm in California specializing in construction defect litigation and condominiums. He has long warned us of the perils we are facing by not being adequately funded for multi unit housing. Tyler also maintains a blog called, not surprisingly, Condo Issues. Tyler talks about a couple of recent tragic building failures in California that claimed the lives of several people. He explains why he believes these buildings are failing and what can be done about it. He also tells us about one bill he wrote that he thinks might help in the future. But at no time does he promise us that we will be building and living in anything that is remotely as well built as the Pyramids built by the ancient Egyptians. Take another listen.
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.