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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
Homeowner and condo associations abuses have always been with us as long as HOAs and condos have existed. However, in the early days of this housing concept very few homeowners spoke out. They were embarrassed and believed they were at fault. They didn’t want their friends and family to know they had been sued, fined or ridiculed for such offensive crimes as painting their house the wrong shade of beige or having too many rose bushes in their yards. They were ostracized and isolated from they neighborhood and retreated within themselves, did not talk to their neighbors and quietly sold their homes and heads hung low, moved away. In those days it was still possible to find a home that was not saddled with the atrocities of an association, but as housing choices evaporate and HOA housing became the only viable option available to consumers, the voices are getting getting louder. More and more people caught in the web of residential associations are expressing their anger and their frustrations.
Judy, a homeowner joins us On The Commons. Judy is one of the many angry and frustrated homeowners who want to wrest control of their lives and homes back away from the special interests and the neighborhood thugs. After putting a lot of thought into the status quo, she looked at some of the problems and the issues homeowners face on a daily basis and came up with a long list of things she believes need to be done to return residential America back to a desirable place to live. We talk to Judy about her thoughts and her ideas. Many of them have been discussed before but some are new. She has a call to action for fellow owners and activists and a creative way of raising the much needed funds to fight back and protect our rights and our properties.
If I could draw I think I would write the HOA book as a series of cartoons because that’s how my mind tends to work. Many of those cartoons would be funny, others not so funny. But over the years never has there been a sumo wrestler in any of my imagined doodles or cartoons – until this interview. That’s when I started putting sumo wrestlers in the picture . But a gratuitous, enormous hulking, naked man in what appears to be a diaper, in the middle of a manicured, sterile, characterless, controlled residential association wasn’t quite connecting. So, I decided to read up on sumo wrestling and sumo wrestlers. And all of a sudden it was a perfect fit, diaper and all. I discovered, among other things, that although some of these massive men appear to be invincible, they have been toppled by smaller opponents. A sumo historian is quoted as saying he believes the circular ring was chosen to assist smaller fighters to slip away and that the sumo rules tends to root for the underdog.
If you find yourselves in the bullseye of an HOA battle, facing what may seem like a sumo wrestler, grin at the diaper and know that you can win.
Dr. Wes Rocki, MD, PhD joins us On The Commons. Retired from practicing conventional medicine, Wes now focusses on alternative medicine, including techniques on self help and self healing. He explains how we can empower ourselves to better handle any conflict. We talk about how we can step away, mentally and emotionally to get a better grasp of the situation. Wes gives us a lot of really good advice on how to not only survive being at the center of an HOA storm but how to survive emotionally, reframe the conflict, empower ourselves and win against that massive sumo wrestler in the ring with us. So many light bulbs went off during the course of this interview. Listen and be empowered. Well worth a second listen.
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.
In the movie, Wait Until Dark, Audrey Hepburn played the role of a blind woman who was alone in her house when some “bad guys” broke in. She sensed they were in her house but she could not see them. It was a pretty terrifying scene. But it is the same scenario that repeats itself every day in the hundreds of thousands of HOAs across the country. Homeowners are subjected to the same terrifying situations that Audrey Hepburn’s character was experiencing. So much of what is being done to individual homeowners, or as the HOA industry so cavalierly puts it, ” isolated incidents” is being done under cover of darkness. Neighbors are kept in the dark or don’t want to get involved for fear of becoming yet another neighborhood “isolated incident”. Sometimes the only way to deal with the abuses is to shine a bright light on the situation and in this case, the light is the press. On the rare occasions when a media outlet decides to tell their readers about a homeowner who is being abused, the bright light the news article or the TV story shines on the ‘bad guys” puts enough pressure on the HOA to start acting and behaving like mature, responsible adults. But, getting the attention of the media is a battle on to itself.
Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons. Ward is an award winning print, TV and radio journalist who, over his career has covered stories of war while fighting his own war to protect his property in a homeowners association. His experience and expertise were put to great use when he wrote Neighbors at War, the Creepy case Against your Homeowners Association. The term ” Neighbors at War” has caught on and is used often in HOA stories. Ward also maintains a blog by the same name. All his posts give an estimated reading time. We’ll find out why. We’ll also ask him how to capture the attention of the mainstream media and what we, as homeowners with all sorts of different backgrounds, can do to become more effective communicators. I always have fun talking to Ward so tune in and join in the fun. Oh, and as an added bonus, we’ll hear all about his latest book.
Audrey Hepburn in a scene from Wait Until Dark. This is how many homeowners live in their HOAs.
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?