Is it all about power or is money really at the root of all evil? Or is it a combination of both? I am of course taking about this notion of a fourth layer of government or, as they are more commonly referred to, mandatory membership homeowner associations. Whatever the reason for their proliferation, consumer choice is not one of them and consumer acceptance is a myth. Municipal mandates ensure a steady stream of tax free dollars flowing into the public coffers while power hungry board members are always on hand to enforce alleged rules and regulations. Let’s not forget the special interests behind the scenes orchestrating everything. For them it is definitely power, money and greed. So what is a homeowner to do once the honeymoon with their new house is over? They usually hit the internet and start searching for a friendly voice out there and the they do, they are like to find my guest.
Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons. Ward is an award winning TV anchor from Denver, Colorado who has the wonderful ability to see the humor in so many things including his own battles with his HOA. Now retired as an anchor, the heart of a journalist still beats hard in him. He first wrote a book called “Neighbors at War; The creepy case against your homeowners association. That was followed by a blog by the same name where he talks about some of the daily disasters in associations to grab the headlines. His second book is more of a personal story that allows the reader to glimpse the family life that has to be the reason for his wonderful sense of humor. Even the title is fun, “Get this Mother Published. The wacky world of a recovering army brat family”. And for all his fans, stay tuned because book 3 is in the works. We’ll talk about the books, his web site, some of the stories from his Neighbors at War book but mostly about what is happening in HOA land across the country. Tune in as we wander around the whacky world of controlled living, American Style.
Increasingly in America homeowners are treated like incompetent idiots who are incapable of managing their own lives and their homes. Members of the HOA industry have gone as far as to equate the owners as “children who do not know what is good for them”. Naturally they are more than happy to make all our important decisions for us- and leave us with the bill! To add insult to injury, the false advertising and misinformation that, under most other circumstances, would be punishable by law, is swept under the rug and ignored. Unit owners in homeowner and condo associations are often ridiculed, harassed and penalized for demanding transparency or even questioning the actions of the association. Their duty is to not ask why but to pay up and shut up.
Well, times they are a changing. Slowly but surely more and more talented people have had enough and are starting to move mountains, one stone at a time!
John Sellers joins us On The Commons this week. John has worked in the banking industry for years and knows just where to look for any irregularities. So when things just didn’t smell quite right, he put his talents to work and started digging. What he discovered is quite incredible. Not only are the people who are supposed to be protecting your rights turning a blind eye to all the shenanigans going on behind closed doors, but they are also using YOUR tax dollars to cover up some missing funds in HOA banks. John continued digging and was told to “get a hobby”. Fortunately for us, he took that advice to heart, expanded his search criteria and started a blog called ArizonaHOA where he intends to not only share information but to also gather information from other homeowners. He estimates there have been 3,000 court cases involving HOAs in Arizona. Chances are those did not happen because associations were doing such a wonderful job, as proponents of HOAs would have you believe. Tune in, it is an eye opening interview.
Have you noticed how all sense flies out the window when an involuntary membership homeowners association is involved? All of a sudden we fear anything that is not part of that uniform look and feel of a kontrolled kommunity. A different shade of blah can topple an entire neighborhood, an unapproved garden hose, dusty mailboxes, flags, rose bushes and pudgy pooches are all a threat to property values. An addition that doesn’t quite konform to the existing architectural guidelines will no doubt turn the neighborhood green with envy.
Oh, get real!
Joining us On The Commons this week are Maria and Sam Farran. The Farrans weren’t about to believe all the nonsense they were told. They did their homework, knew the rules and the laws and decided to fight back. After years of court room drama, they won their cases and were awarded attorney fees and court costs. However, there was a snag. You see, in the process, their HOA ran out of money and went bankrupt. But there is a happy ending after all. As Maria says; “We used to be a corporation that ran a neighborhood, we are now a neighborhood that runs a corporation”. I won’t ruin it for you so tune in and find out how they got their money and what happened to the association. You’ll love it.How did they do it? Well, look for their new and improved governing documents On The Commons and yes, you may use them as a template if you too want to return common sense and a sense of community to your neighborhood.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Caveat Emptor, buyer beware, was once the watch word for housing consumers. In other words, do your homework and understand what you are doing because if you buy it you “own it”, all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. Notwithstanding all the laws, allegedly protecting real estate buyers, “caveat emptor” is probably more applicable now than ever before. Real estate deals are no longer simply between the buyer and the seller, today there are many other interests involved in every transaction. The ever present HOA always rears its ugly head and inserts itself in the middle of the sales contract.
Jonathan Friedrich joins us On The Commons. Jonathan’s story should remind us to do our homework so that we know what we are buying. It should also warn us not rely on what we are told. Because Jonathan relied on the information provided by title company, it cost him thousands of dollars for HOA assessments he did not owe because, surprise, his house was NOT part of the HOA. Nice surprise but it cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars extricating himself from the HOA he never belonged to. He recently won a major legal battle and is rightly very proud of himself. But that is not the end of the story, he is now going to try to recoup some of the money he has spent to get this far. What he will never regain is the years of “fighting”to protect what is rightfully his. Tune in and listen to Jonathan’s story, in his own words. F ind out how he discovered the clue that led him on this journey.
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.
First you scare them, then you promise to protect them and then you own them. Once that is accomplished, perpetrating the biggest consumer scam is a piece of cake. Buying a few state legislators’ assistance, creating a very lucrative stream of “free” income for the municipalities, paving the way for developers to increase their profit margins exponentially seals the deal. And that is how simple it has been to force housing consumers into HOAs where they can be robbed of their homes, their wealth and health and their peace of mind. The lies that have been repeated over the decades to scare prospective homeowners appear to have become universally accepted truths. After all, if you keep hearing the same thing over and over again, if must be true, right? However, the one thing that is true is that non HOA controlled housing is almost nonexistent in most of the country. So being told that the house you are buying is in a mandatory membership homeowner association is no surprise.
Jonathan Friedrich joins us On The Commons. When he retired, Jonathan left New York in search of lower property taxes and moved to Las Vegas, Nevada where he bought a house that needed a lot of work. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work. When he bought the house he was given an HOA disclosure package which contained a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions commonly known as CC&Rs. Jonathan’s concern was getting away from crippling property taxes and not so much HOAs. His focus was fixing the house he had just bought and making it habitable. He also became involved in his new community. And that’s when the imperfections of his association and association living in general started rising to the top. He dealt with all the usual insanity that seems to go along with HOAs which not so surprisingly led to the court house. After 5 long years in court, Jonathan won his case. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details and to truly appreciate the win one has to hear the details of his story, in his own words. The twists, the turns, the lies, the misrepresentations made along the way should alert consumers of what to look for and where to look when buying a house. There may be more to come as Jonathan is not finished cleaning up the mess. Stay tuned.
Housing consumers have been told that in an HOA they would enjoy greater control over their environment, they would have full and complete access to all the books and records of the association, their property values would be enhanced and protected and all this while providing them the luxury of carefree living. Hmm? My mother always told me that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. In this case she was right. As far as I can make out the entire HOA housing concept is built on a mountain of lies and more lies and these lies are starting to fall like a house of cards.
Scott Wircenske joins us On The Commons. Scott is a homeowner in Parkhill Manor association located in Olathe, Kansas. His battle is not new and like many people embroiled in HOA issues and problems, he has learned more about associations than he ever wanted to know. So many problems and issues keep coming up again and again in cities, towns and municipalities in state after state across the country. Same problems, same issues, same MO, just the names of the people are different. Many of these problems can be filed under the heading of mismanaged funds or lack of transparency or both. In Scott’s story both of these issues take center stage. Usually when ANY (and I use the term loosely) governing body is reluctant to act in the open and insists on hiding under cover of darkness, there is a reason for it. Scott kept asking the embarrassing questions, information he was entitled to but instead of answers he kept getting vilified by the members of his HOA. You see, they were following the official HOA script. You’ll recognize them when you listen to Scott. Not one to back away, Scott odyssey has been going on for several years, and still continues. His story and experiences should serve as a warning to housing consumers looking for a house in an HOA.
I find it ironic that we spend the first 18 – 22 years of our lives learning how to be adults and to make decisions that will affect us and our lives only to end up in an HOA, feeling like we did in when we were in kindergarten. “Eat your vegetables”, “Wash your hands”, “Pick up your toys”, “Go to bed” and if you don’t behave, it is “time out” or “NO TV”. Only as an adult, supposedly having been taught how to make the right decisions, in an HOA it tends to be, “Your blinds are the wrong shade of white”, “You have an unapproved garden hose”, “no cars in the driveway”, “Too many roses in your yard” OR ELSE, “fines” “foreclosures”. and other nasty penalties hurled in our direction.
We’ve all heard the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!”. It makes sense and sounds easy enough but what if life hands us more than mere lemons? What happens when life comes at us full force, out of the clear blue and knocks us for a loop? And that can be especially true if we live in one of the nation’s hundreds of thousands mandatory Homeowner associations. How do we make lemonade out if that mess? And that is especially true when one of the absolute big taboos is HOAs is “LEMONADE STANDS” ? Even children trying to be helpful and mature beyond their years have found themselves in the crosshairs of a rather stupid HOA. What to do?
Dr. Wes Rocki, MD, PHD joins us On The Commons. Wes is a retired physician who has been working in alternative medicine for a while. Much of his focus has been on self-healing which is something that is sorely needed in every life and especially in what resembles battle zones in our neighborhoods. We talk to Wes about our natural and normal reactions to finding ourselves being attacked and in harm’s way. We find out how to protect ourselves or, at a minimum, how to react and even how to put our opponents off balance. We touch a little on “fear” which is a big part of how we are controlled and put at a disadvantage. We talk about how we react and can take charge of at least part of the situation. You will want some of Wes’ advice in your survival tool kit.
Bruised, abused, mocked, harassed, dejected and frustrated, homeowners in HOAs have tried to fight back. They have been sued, fined, ridiculed, outgunned and left standing alone in a sea of their neighbors, homeowners like themselves too terrified to even talk to them lest they find themselves in the crosshairs of the HOA. Over the years I have talked to and witnessed some of these homeowners as they start an organization to fight the injustices of HOAs only to end up fighting amongst themselves. Their vision of taming the HOA monster evaporating into thin air. Could part of the problem be the lack of teamwork? Are they listening to each other or shouting over each other? Is the key to real reform as simple as listening?
John McGuire joins us On The Commons. John, a Virginia delegate has one of the most amazing and inspiring personal stories I have yet to come across. When all the odds seemed to be against him, John fought and earned one of the coveted spots as a Navy Seal, despite being told he couldn’t do it. Later he defied the odds again and survived a life threatening accident, learned to walk and to write his name – again. Incredibly none of what he went through in life convinced him he couldn’t do something. Being told he couldn’t do something was the impetus he needed to prove them wrong. John strongly believes in teamwork and like every good leader, gives credit to his team. I heard about John when he managed to help resolve a 20 year HOA horror story. We’ll get to know John personally and learn about his philosophy, talk about the problems in HOAs and start looking at different ways of dealing with the problems millions of American homeowners face nationwide.
Claiming to be a 5th generation land owner, Philip Thompson said, “I will do whatever it takes to help preserve the countryside we call home”. The countryside he calls home is in Fauquier County, Virginia about an hour outside Washington DC. He inherited much of the land in the countryside he called home, then proceeded to place a large tract into a conservation easement managed by the Piedmont Environmental Council, (PEC). Much like the Declarations in residential associations, the easements restrict the use of the property. Much like a residential association, power is given to the administrator. And we all know that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”(Lord Acton) regardless of who has it.
Dr. Bonner Cohen joins us On The Commons. Dr. Cohen is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research. He also serves as senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. He is an author, has spoken at conferences, appears on TV and radio. Dr. Cohen, a friend of Martha Boneta, has been following the horrors and abuses taking place in Liberty Farms. He wrote an article about the latest round of lawsuits. We find just what Mr. Thompson meant when he said he would do “whatever it takes…” .