The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the Mediterranean South co-operative building in Fort Lee, New Jersey violated an owner’s right to free speech by prohibiting him from distributing campaign literature when he ran for a seat on the board. The co-op had a house rule that prohibited owners from distributing written material, the reason given is to “preserve the residents’ quiet enjoyment of their units and to cut down on paper pollution”. But, as we know, what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander because when the board distributed their diatribes, quiet enjoyment was never a consideration and apparently, unlike all other paper, the board’s missives did not pollute. On a somewhat humorous note, (or is it ironic?), the board included the following sentence in one of their leaflets; “Can you imagine the disaster that would befall upon Med South and all of us if this group of selfish people ever got control of the Med South Board?”
Robert Dublirer joins us On The Commons. Rob is a former New York Prosecutor, so well versed in the law and quite comfortable in a court of law so after years of having his rights trampled on and being lied to, he decided to put his knowledge and skills to work. He sued the Mediterranean South co-op to protect his right to communicate with his neighbors. The rules and regulations adopted by the board include some of the most restrictive gag orders on what the owners are allowed to talk about and discuss. Join us as Rob fills us in on all his battles from the time he moved in and was not given a handicapped parking space to ending up, not only protecting his rights, but also arguing for the rights of his fellow New Jersey HOA denizens.
As I watched homeowners lose more control and sovereignty over their own property, privacy and lives I was convinced that there had to be a breaking point. At some point they would all, not only resist this intrusion but push back and push back hard. They had to! Or did they? As the battle between owner and special interests intensified, bullying and misinformation became the norm giving rise to chaos and being outnumbered and out maneuvered, owners for the most part retreated. A few owners across the country did decide to armor up and fight back. But is it enough and are they fighting the right battles? do they know what they are doing?
John Cowherd joins us On The Commons. John, a Virginia real estate attorney, an advocate for homeowners , a blogger and a frequent guest on the show has been following the various advocacies across the country as they build groups, recruit members, come up with strategies and start lobbying for improved laws protecting the rights of the owners. Are they making any progress? Are they on the right track? Do they know what they are doing? We’ll talk about the state of affairs in America’s millions of association controlled developments and what needs to be done to “empower the people”. It is THEIR homes and THEIR lives that are dangling on the end of strings controlled by puppeteers with a very different agenda.
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I hate using the word community when talking about HOAs. “Community” infers a sense of belonging, of having similar goals and interests and a way of communicating together to further those interests. In an HOA the ties that bind everyone go much deeper than simply sharing the same goals. Like it or not, the private fortunes of the entire neighborhood are at risk. It is incumbent on everyone in the neighborhood to know exactly how much is in the collective kitty and where the money is kept. I can’t imagine a single governing document that would deny a homeowner the right to inspect the books and records. Nor can I imagine any governing document prohibiting the members of the association from “communicating” with other members of the so called “community”. Unfortunately the unimaginable is all too common place.
Mark dos Santos joins us On The Commons. Mark owns several homes in different associations in different states. For the most part there are no major problems that he is aware of. So based on his experiences with the problem free HOAs he probably would never have stepped back to take a look at the big picture. But that one problem was an eye opener.
He started doing a little digging and didn’t particularly like what he discovered. Firsr of all, the lack of transparency made his job so much tougher. He got to thinking about it and dug a little deeper. He started looking online and discovered he wasn’t alone. He started a blog called South Carolina Homeowner’s Forum to share his findings and “communicate” with others in South Carolina. Mark has a better chance of building a true “community” with his blog than his HOA does.
As life gets more and more complex and complicated, I believe we need to keep the most basic and fundamental core of our lives as simple and clutter free as possible. And nothing can be more basic than our need to shelter, i.e. our homes and by extension, our neighborhoods. Unfortunately local municipal governments and special interests have highjacked the sanctity of our homes, destroyed our communities and burdened us with yet more governance, more regulations and increased the risks associated with our homes. Instead of unwinding and re-energizing at the end of the day, many of America’s homeowners come home to fight to keep what they have. However, in order to be able to do that, they need to know what to look for, how to fight and what to do.
John Sellers joins us On The Commons. John, a retired banker, lives and owns several HOA burdened properties in Arizona. With his background in finance, he decided to “follow the money” and the trail led him to discover a whole host of irregularities. Problems that most of the rest of us non financial types would not recognize as potential problems and would therefore completely overlook them. Fortunately John saw the red flags everywhere so he decided to stir things up, just a wee bit. He started a blog where he talks about the issues and has the attention of the state legislators who recognize some of the issues and are willing to work with him as well as other Arizona residents interested in implementing protections for the owners. It is no surprise that one of the biggest issues and problems in residential associations is money related. And while finding out the financial health of an association may seem like an insurmountable, it needn’t be. Tune in for a fascinating interview.
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.
Over the years I have spoken to so many people who have found themselves on the receiving end of the wrath and fury of their condo or homeowners associations. The fear, anger, frustration and terror are unmistakable in their voices. They feel trapped and don’t understand how “this can happen in America”. They tell me they will never, ever buy another house in an association again if they are fortunate enough to get out of their current situation. It often takes years to finally put an end to their fights.
Jerry Berg joins us On The Commons. Jerry, as some of you may remember, was hospitalized when the president of his condominium beat him up with a crowbar. The president was a former judge who should have known better. When I called Jerry recently I noticed lightness in his voice. Was I imagining it or did he sound happier? Join us for a recap and an update on what he has been up to. He settled his case, refused to sign a gag order so is able to talk about it and to disclose the terms of the agreement. He has advice for others in similar situations. His advice will surprise you.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, we were limited on where and how we got our information. The papers, radio and TV news reports decided what we should and could know. But, times they are a changing! Technology has opened up so many doors for all of us. Blogging, self publishing books, social media, podcasting, the internet, movies and yes, the traditional outlets that are still with us. All of it is terrific, it gives us access to so much more information.
Greg Dorchak joins us On The Commons. Greg is a movie maker from Austin, Texas. He has taken advantage of all the arts that allow him to get his point across. He is a self published author, a cartoonist as well as a movie maker. His passion is making people laugh so he uses comedy to deliver his message. We first met Greg a couple of years ago when he was working on “The Code Enforcer” which is all about, yup, you guessed it – HOAs. “The Code Enforcer” is on the back burner until he can get the funding to finish his movie. And yes, it is funny. There is nothing quite like taking the Mickey out of people who take themselves too seriously, is there? There is a ton of material in associations. However, in the meantime he is finishing the last bits and pieces on his current movie, a romantic comedy called Kopy Kings that takes place in a copy store. We’ll talk to Greg, find out what it takes to make a movie and how to get the inspiration to satisfy our creative yearnings.
In the very early days you could count the number of private communities with restrictive covenants on the fingers of one hand. In those days housing consumers had to search a home in a restricted development because that is what they wanted. But that was then. Once local municipalities realized they could greatly increase the size of their fiefdoms, increase their tax base without having to provide the services those taxes were designed to pay for, and developers were able to increase density, building more units on less land, the landscape in residential America changed dramatically. The age of cookie cutter and mini units was born. Then they multiplied like rabbits. Everywhere you go and everywhere you look you see the same designs, the same plants, the same colors, the same everything. On the surface they look boring but take a closer look and you will soon realize that the outer shell is a facade. The real story of housing American style, takes place behind those beige, bland, plastic walls.
Rodney Gray joins us On The Commons. Rodney went into acting before enrolling in college where he majored in film. But it wasn’t until he went to visit his mother in Texas that he was introduced to the concept of Homeowner Associations and witnessed the abuses that are part and parcel of everyday life in HOAs. He was informed that the real government could not get involved in protecting the homeowners in his mother’s development because that was a “civil matter”. But when he was threatened by a real police officer at a homeowner meeting the lines between what was a civil matter and what the real government could do became quite blurred. And that’s when his passion for making films and his strong sense of moral justice came together. Going a little beyond what one sees on the surface of HOAs, Rodney put on his investigative reporter’s hat, rounded up some friends and spent several years traveling around interviewing people and filming in HOAs. The result is his documentary, The HOAX The HOAX is making the rounds of film festivals and exposing the underside of Privatopia, as Prof. Evan McKenzie calls them. We’ll talk to Rodney and find out what it took to make the documentary and how the viewers have been reacting to it.
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?
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.