Whenever I think of paradise, images of Hawaii come to mind. Miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches, a never ending expanse of a deep blue ocean with gently rolling waves, lapping on the sand. So peaceful, so serene, so relaxing. It must be paradise. Even the thought of condominiums and homeowner associations are not enough to mar the image of paradise. After all, how could people living in such an idyllic place, waste time on such stupid, irrational and immature petty squabbles that are so common in residential associations of all kinds? Not only have my dreams been shattered but just when I thought I had heard it all, someone has to come along and prove me wrong.
Mary McAndrew joins us On The Commons. Mary lives in Hawaii right on the water, watching the gentle waves lap on the shore and listening to the special music they make as the wash over the sands. But she is apparently far from the paradise I envisioned. She is a mother and a handicapped widow. Mary bought a dilapidated condo, right on the water that needed some major TLC. So she rolled up her sleeves and started transforming her unit into her dream home. We talk to Mary about all the usual bumps in the road, the surprises behind the walls, the problems with the association, living next door to a board member (yes, you know how that goes), the threats, the fines and the lawsuits. So far it is all par for the course, right? So where does the moonshine come in? You’ll have to tune in to find out. That was a new one on me.
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The stories vary little and over time have become predictable. The same words are used over and over again when talking about life in an HOA. Fear, harassment, fines, threats, abuse, vandalism. Over the last four or five decades, America’s residential neighborhoods have been transformed from tidy, happy communities into places of terror. Places where individuality, personal expression and personal freedom have given way to war zones. Far from the love affair Americans allegedly have with their HOAs, the truth is homeowners say they hate their HOAs.
And with very good reason.
Dr. Robin Huhn joins us On The Commons. Robin lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and like many homeowners across the country, has experienced firsthand what it feels like to be caught in the cross hairs of the neighborhood bullies. She is currently on the board of her association and shares with us her experiences as a homeowner, a board member and an advocate for the owners. We will hear about some of the calls and emails she gets and will learn what life is like when one finds oneself living in a house that has been targeted. My guess is that many of my listeners will understand exactly what she is talking about.
Oh, it’s a brave new world when homeowner associations and condos are allowed, by law, to assess fines for alleged rules infractions and covenant violations. They are also permitted to add junk fees, file a lien and then foreclose to collect those charges which often include hefty attorney fees. In many states associations have been granted priority over mortgages and other liens. What exactly does that mean? And how do associations find all these minor problems? The stories of covenant enforcement highlight the sheer pettiness and nastiness that seems to be quite rampant in association governed neighborhoods.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill is an attorney in Texas who knows firsthand what it is like to be targeted by a homeowner association. He regularly represents other homeowners, often in the battle of their lives against their HOAs. We talk to Bill about super priority liens, find out what they are and what they do. We also talk about something that is on the horizon that would allow associations to watch an owner’s every move and inspect every nook and cranny on private property.We are, of course, talking about drones. As I mentioned, it is a brave new world. Private property? A home? What will American homes and property rights look like in the future.
Reporters are finally getting bold enough to start reporting the horror stories that keep cropping up in homeowner associations across the country. Sometimes they even get the facts straight. The stories are frequently as ridiculous as reporting crying babies to the HOA, to fining owners for having unapproved garden hoses in their yards or having the wrong shade of white blinds in their widows. These stories will make you scratch your head and wonder if absolutely everyone is so ridiculous and out of touch with reality to believe that these are important issues. Occasionally the headlines will promise a meatier story, one that we should be aware of that could affect us all. The many embezzlement stories that result in special assessments that we read about would fall into that category. But if you really want to know what is happening “behind the HOA closed doors”, where do you go?
Nila Ridings joins us On The Commons. Nila is an HOA homeowner in Kansas where life is nowhere near as rosy as she expected it to be when she bought her house. She has since done her homework, been active in the legislative arena, lobbied to get homeowner rights codified in Kansas and has shared her knowledge and insights with owners caught in the crosshairs of their associations. She is a frequent blogger on Ward Lucas’ Neighbors at war. And if one wants to find the unreported stories, one asks Nila. I did just that. We all hear the silly stories, the “too many rose bushes”, the costly ones about driveways having to be torn out because they are 2 inches wider than the approved plans, but which stories does she hear too often for comfort? Which stories tug at her heartstrings the most? Her number one story is not one the media reports on often but should.
I have never much liked the idea of mandatory membership homeowner associations. The concept of binding private real property to a hodgepodge of real estate owned by a third party, maintained and controlled by a motley crew of individuals with no expertise in the art of management has always seemed counterintuitive to me. That the model is not working is no real surprise. What galls me the most though is the idea that a handful of owners and hired managers are allowed to fine the owners. This is a power that is often used as a bully tool and abused. The fines can lead to the loss of a home and their financial security.
Frank Short joins us On The Commons. Frank, an attorney and a popular repeat guest of the show, discusses fines in HOAs and Condominiums. He explains why we have fines and who benefits from the fines. Over the years there have been a number of court cases about fines. He discuses those cases, explains what the courts considered and tells us how they ruled. He also explains the constitutional connections. This is an excellent show from the archives. For those being fined by their HOAs for whatever reason, this show is a must for the owner and their attorneys.