Category Archives: Fighting Back

Scott Wircenski

How do you fix something that is so horribly broken, something that was built on a foundation of lies and misinformation and something that is so anti owner?  You can’t.  For the past several decades homeowners, legislators, academics, health professionals and yes, even the homeowners themselves, have suggested ways weeks and mini fixes, all they have accomplished is made the whole process more burdensome and complicated.  Maybe it is time to take a step back, analyze the issues and the reasons for the conflicts and tackle the real reasons for the feuds instead of just trying to make them more palatable.

Scott Wircenske joins us On The Commons.  Scott, a homeowner in Kansas asked the board of directors of Parkhill Manor HOA a rather embarrassing question: “where is our money?” .  Homeowners who are members of any residential association are responsible for the financial health of the association as well as the condition of the common assets (liabilities?).  The owners have a right to know what is going on and the board has a fiduciary duty to keep the owners informed.  Scott’s board chose, instead, to withhold that information.  For the past 8 years Scott has been involved in litigation, trying to work with the board as well as attempting to get legislation enacted to prevent the abuses.  Scott shares his story with us and warns us of the pitfalls that he encountered. 
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Deborah Goonan

It is so easy to just accept as gospel what we read, hear and are told without actually thinking things through.  One issue that is really rich in such non sequiturs is the whole concept of condo and homeowner associations.  The reasons and explanations given about the benefits of these forced memberships are many and, as our president would say, FAKE NEWS.  Think about it and try to understand how, allowing complete strangers full and total power over your home can protect your rights?  How “agreeing” to finance every and any folly of this group of strangers can be a good thing? Oh, so you have met some of them and they seemed really nice?  Maybe.  But does that translate to them having the knowledge and common sense to make sane and sensible decisions regarding what you own and where you live?  And did you really “agree” to all this?

Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons.  Deborah owns and maintains a very active and widely read blog called  Independent  American Communities.  She tracks and writes about the many issues that happen on a daily basis in residential America.  So many  of the stories have heartbreaking consequences when individual homeowners have no idea and no say in what is happening in their communities or in their names. While the owners may have been kept in the dark, lied to and perhaps even targeted, they are, never the less, still on the hook for the many stupid decisions made by “those nice neighbors” who sit on the board.  We talk to Deborah about some of the stories she has blogged about recently and learn about one incident where “penny wise” proved to be “pound foolish” and where one young man will bear the marks of a board’s poor judgement for the rest of his life.  During our conversation, politics rears its ugly head and we learn why, when this concept, notwithstanding all the platitudes of the proponents of residential associations, are we still mass producing them and leading unsuspecting housing consumers into the lion’s den?

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Living in an HOA can easily result in an empty wallet.
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John Paskert

How do you define “civilization”?  I understand it to describe people who are educated, cultured, have manners and are socially and morally advanced. The dictionary defines it as “an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture, science,  industry,  and government has been reached.” Some words that are used to define the opposite of civilization are decline, destruction, ignorance, rudeness, barbarism, primitiveness.  What do you think best describes life in a residential association?  And how, in a country that presents itself as the most civilized, the richest, the best and the freest can we force people to live in controlled housing developments where, in many cases, those in power are rude, barbaric, abusive, dictatorial and completely wild?  And finally, how do homeowners deal with some of these atrocities?

John Paskert joins us On The Commons. John is a retired military psychological Operations officer.  The tactics he learned while an active duty officer helped him even out the playing field somewhat in his homeowners association.  Rather than allowing the ruder and more ignorant denizens in his neighborhood to frustrate and demoralize him, he remained civilized, did his homework, and fought back in very clever and subtle ways.  He shares some of the lessons he learned operating in this new arena and also tells us some of his stories. I think the big lesson here is that there is more than one way to fight back. However, trying to become a truly civilized society, where respect and cooperation are the norm, should be our ultimate goal.  

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Fatemeh Mojtabai

Over the years industry lobbyists have convinced state legislators, and in some cases US legislators that they represent the homeowners living in residential associations, be they condominiums or homeowner associations.  Gradually over the years they have managed to get legislation enacted stripping owners of rights and property and thus empowering associations.  When contacted by their constituents the legislators have explained that the homeowners themselves requested the new laws.  Of course that is not true.  They have even gone on to say that it is the homeowners fault for their problems because they bought into an association governed development.   Hopefully times they are a changing. With their ability to network, connect online and compare notes, homeowners are getting much more savvy. And they are getting active.

Fatemeh Mojtabai joins us On The  Commons.  Fatemeh, a condo owner in Massachusetts, encountered the perils of condo living first hand a few years ago.  She searched online and discovered that contrary to what we are often told, her story was not “an isolated incident”. Further, she didn’t do anything to deserve the problems she faced and yes, it happens all the time. She met others with issues and problems in their own neighborhoods, started talking and connecting with other home and condo owners across the country and together they have started a new organization called  HAARRT   in order to empower homeowners and build a network of groups working together.  We talk to Fatemeh about HAART, about the need to get legislation enacted to provide the framework to protect the sanctity of home and property rights and to assert control over what is rightfully ours.  Tune in and find out how you can be a part of this movement and why you might want to.

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Jonathan Dessaules

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.  

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From the HOA Trenches

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Shelly Marshall and Michael Marshall, PhD

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 a while 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?

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Bill Davis

As my mind goes back over the decades to the Christmases of my youth, I recall the love and warmth of my family, friends and the neighbors.  I smile at the memories of decorating the tree and the house, and relive the excitement of the coming festivities and the general sense of goodwill and joy.  Of course, I had never even heard of an HOA.  They didn’t exist back then and I can’t help but think how much better off we were.  The biggest gift we had was that we were left alone and allowed to celebrate the way that made the most sense to us.

In the years since, we have changed the landscape of residential America.  No longer are people left to their own devices and allowed to enjoy decorating their homes without threats and interference.  Every little item is micromanaged to the point where the joy of Christmas has been taken out of it.

How did we ever get to that point?

Bill Davis joins us On the Commons.  Bill, a Texas attorney, found himself in a number of law suits having to protect his rights and his property from his HOA.  Having learned about HOA law and seen the games that were being played, it was a natural transition to representing other owners who found themselves fighting to protect hearth and home.  We talk to Bill about some of his cases, and a few of the “games” that he uncovered.  Many people would not be surprised at how much some of the board members resemble a good old-fashioned crime family.  Bill is always entertaining and his interviews are always an eye-opener.  You will want to hear what he has to say.

On the Commons will be back in the middle of January, 2018.  In the meantime, we wish you all a healthy and happy holiday season.

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Jan Bergmann

Anyone who has ever spent any time studying the condition of housing, American style, has to wonder how We the People, took a fairly simple and straightforward concept of homeownership and turned it into such a disaster.  Oh, we have been fed a lot of platitudes, lied to and with smoke and mirrors watched as individual private rights were turned into duties and obligations, making the owner a serf.  No matter how one looks at it, the condition of homeownership in the US today is plain wrong.  I will be offered explanations such as, “You agreed”, HOAs protect property values”, “It is the way of the future”  “Get used to it, it isn’t going away.”  It is all nonsense. Not everyone is going to just roll over and accept the status quo.  Remember, heroes are not made of doormats. 

Jan Bergemann joins us On The Commons.  Jan is the founder and president of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice  a grass roots organization protecting the rights of individual property owners   A hard working and very active advocate in all the areas affecting Floridians, Jan has studied the stories, the laws, the cases and the trends for a number of years, and he has some rather unique insights into what is happening.  While his observations are mostly focused on his state, the issues are definitely more national in scope.  We talk to Jan about the confusion of what an HOA really is. Proponents and attorneys will tell us it is a “contract” and that we “agreed” to the provisions of the Declaration.  While we can argue that ” we agreed” till the cows come home, the fact is HOAs are contractual in nature. It should, therefore,  be relatively simple to understand, shouldn’t it?  Why isn’t it?  And just what are HOAs, really?  Tune in, we’ll tell you – well, we’ll tell you what they are not.  So, what are they?  

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Barbara Stage

Shouldn’t we be trying to simplify life?  With all the technological and scientific advances that have been made recently, we have the resources and the ability to really free up our time, allowing us to devote ourselves to our families and friends and on the things that make us happy.  Instead, we are being bogged down in layers and layers of red tape. If we did get rid of the things that really make no sense, would the abuses simply vanish and would we, in effect, create a kinder, friendlier environment?

Barbara Stage joins us On The Commons.  Barbara is an attorney in central Florida, where she represents homeowners as well as homeowners associations (HOAs).  The slogan on her website reads; “Protecting the rights of homeowners across the state of Florida”.  Barbara recently wrote a letter to the Florida Legislature advocating for greater oversight of HOAs and also for less costly alternatives to preserving one’s rights against their association.  We talk to Barbara about some of the atrocities she has witnessed over the years in Florida HOAs.  We find out what kind of advice industry attorneys give their HOA clients and we talk about HOAs refusing to cash checks from homeowners and sending legal notices to wrong addresses.  And that’s just for starters, there is so much more.  I ask myself again, what on earth are we thinking?  

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Shelly Marshall

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?

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