You follow a case as it winds its way through the court system. It seems so simple, so cut and dried that you wonder why so much time, money and hostility is invested in such a petty argument. Why should it cost hundreds of thousands of hard earned dollars to figure out whether a homeowner in an association can have white roses instead of red ones? Or whether or not a condo owner is allowed to have a small American flag on his or her front porch or if a family can have a swing set in the backyard for their children? Why should these even be an issue? And why would anyone in their right mind care? And finally, after months of discovery, nasty letters, fines, bullying, isolation and abusive language, dividing up the neighborhood, name calling and other nastiness, the opinion from the judges is handed down deciding the case once and for all. This is it, this is the end of this road. The wise men and women of the legal system have spoken and you are left with your mouth hanging open, wondering what on earth just happened.
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline has a law degree although she is no longer a practicing attorney. She has seen the dark side of the legal profession and decided to blow the whistle on what happens “behind the scenes”. In an 800 page book called “The Dark Side: a law treatise on judging – with memoir”she explains it all and gives us clues to look for so we are not caught off guard. In a fascinating interview she walks us through what goes on behind the scenes and how and why some of these off the wall decisions are reached. Caroline has witnessed these irregularities both as a practicing attorney and a litigant caught in this legal “chamber of horrors”. You can reach Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org but you won’t want to miss this interview.
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.
We’ve all heard the ridiculous explanations about the horror and abuses of HOAs. “It’s ALL your fault, condo and homeowners, because you agreed”. And that begs the question of why any sane and rational person who fully understands all the ramifications of association living would ever agree to the lopsided powers against them? Do housing consumers really understand that the notion of an HOA contract is as fake as they come? In a contract both parties are pretty much on an equal footing. They agree, in the case of an HOA, to pay a certain sum of money on a monthly/quarterly or annual basis in return for certain services and benefits. So far sounds OK, right? But in the event of a breach in the contract the HOA has seemingly limitless powers to enforce their perception of the breach of the fake contract while the owner is left with nothing more than the right to hire an attorney and go to court. The association? Well, they can fine you and take your house away without ever going to court. Seems fair, right? No, I didn’t think so either. What happens when you exercise your 1st Amendment Right to Free Speech and decide to tell your story? Does that offer you any leverage? Can you prevent someone else from getting caught in the same house of horrors? Well, that’s where more and more homeowners these days are running into something called a gag order. You can’t talk about what you have endured and how the courts sided against you even further tipping the scales of justice in favor of the association.
John Cowherd join us On The Commons this week. John is an attorney in Northern Virginia who represents homeowners caught in the web of HOA horrors. Surprise, surprise, he knows the laws pertaining to condos and HOAs in Virginia. Something not many attorneys understand. John is a blogger where he writes about all things related to real estate, including HOAs. His blog is called Words of Conveyance. We talk to John about his recent blog titled Are Legal Remedies of Owners and HOAs Equitable? We talk about the associations right to fine, why they like that power and what an owner can do to protect him or herself. We also talk about court imposed gag orders to prevent any information about the cases from ever seeing the light of day. Perhaps we ought to remind them of the Louis Brandeis quote: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”
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.
What is life like in your residential association? Please take the survey and let us know.
Do you have an HOA story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you.
On The Commons celebrates 16 years of bringing you news and views of condo and homeowners associations. This is the first show of our 17th year on the air. Thanks to everyone for making this possible.
Sometimes it appears that the the powers of the world are stacked against the individual. No matter what the situation, the individual often finds him or herself standing alone, facing seemingly insurmountable odds. How did we ever get to this point? That sense of having lost control is growing across all areas of life. It has even invaded our most cherished private sanctum, our home. But I believe that the power and the will of the people is not quite ready to be relegated to the annals of history. Every so often there is a glimmer of hope and a sign that all is not yet lost. And that little spark you see in the dark comes from the Virginia Supreme Court.
John Cowherd joins us On The Commons. John is an attorney in Northern Virginia and one of a handful of attorneys nationwide who will represent homeowners in their battles with their homeowner and condo associations. John also has a blog called Words of Conveyance so he is always on the lookout for news and stories of interest to share with his readers and our radio audience. Today we will talk about The Day the Universe Changed as a result of a Virginia Supreme Court decision issued on June 16. In his blog, John quotes Steve Emmert, a VA appellate law blogger, who claims this decision represents a “nuclear explosion”. That can only be good for homeowners. Join us as John walks us through the case and explains what the Parrish v. Federal National Mortgage Association is all about and explains how this case may help homeowners facing foreclosure and eviction.