What a concept! Build homeowner associations to give municipal governments a sneaky underhanded way of collecting what amounts to free tax money. This sleight of hand is also known as double taxation. It works very nicely for local governments – not so well for the homeowners involved. Developers increase density thus increasing profit margins. Housing consumers are told that this scheme will protect property values and allow them to enjoy greater control over their immediate surroundings. To add insult to injury, real governments have adopted a hands off approach, claiming it is a civic matter. State legislators have enacted legislation empowering associations while special interest groups reap the benefits.
While the carnage continues, those in a position to prevent these atrocities have front row seats to the modern day Gladiator Games.
Julio Robaina joins us On The Commons. Julio is a former Florida State Representative who, during his term, toured the State with a task force talking to home and condo owners. The stories he heard from the owners convinced him that something had to be done to stop horrors. He introduced legislation that would provide oversight through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but subsequent legislative tinkering and bureaucratic red tape has all but rendered the program useless. Not one to give up, Julio, who I nicknamed “The Energizer Bunny” years ago, went straight from the State House into property management where he is still working with the homeowners to put a stop to fraud and embezzlement and to ensure fair elections. He and his partner have a web page detailing all the problems and the issues, naming names and streaming news clips. And while the stories are about Florida, these stories are replicated nationwide. And the Energizer Bunny is still fighting!
I hear from so many people who tell me they will NEVER, EVER buy in an HOA again. NOT EVER!!! However, finding a good old fashioned, stand alone house with no strings attached, no extra layer of government and no financial liability in case of mismanagement or other misdeeds, is getting to be as hard as finding a needle in a haystack in many parts of the country. Residential associations are such a lucrative business for local municipal governments who mandate them, developers who build them and lets not forget the special interests who milk them for all they’re worth. And the owners pay for all the junked up add ons to what was once respected as a private castle. And hammering in the final nail is your state representative. He or she has been bought and paid for by special interests.
Jan Bergemann joins us On The Commons. Jan is the founder and president of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice. Jan has worked tirelessly for years trying to get legislation enacted to protect the rights of home and condo owners in Florida. With every homeowner friendly bill it has been a case of one step forward and several backward. This year is no exception. We’ll talk to Jan about one bill in particular that would allow HOAs to LEGALLY operate under cover of darkness. Really. We scratch our heads, wondering about the utter insanity of it all and ask why we allow it? Why are homeowners and citizens allowing the tail to wag the dog? When are we going to be able to differentiate between the truth and all the lies and when are we going to realize that we also have a voice in this game?
We are told that homeowner associations are here to stay. I am not convinced that is the case. However, until we come to terms with the fact that what we are dealing with is a flawed concept, one that goes against everything we hold dear, we will stubbornly insist on trying to make them work. The fact that after a half century of fiddling with the legal structure, proposing bills to either try to make them more owner friendly or empower them even more, all we seem to accomplish is to create an even bigger headache for ourselves at a much greater expense.
Frank Short joins us On the Commons for his annual St. Patrick’s Day round up of Virginia homeowner and condo association bills. There were loads of them this year. Some were proposed legislative fixes inspired by, or requested by angry or wronged owners and introduced by helpful legislators while many others seek to increase the powers of the associations. Whether any of the owner friendly bills would actually fix many of the major problems that plague these mandatory membership residential associations is doubtful. We’ll talk about the bills, what they would, or could have done. But at the end of the day, we never really address the need for so many laws to prop up a really bad idea instead of asking whether there is any value in the HOA concept for the owners. Maybe one day we’ll actually get there.
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.
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?
We’ve all heard how an alleged debt of a mere handful of dollars can balloon into a king’s ransom at the hands of an HOA and their attorneys. And no, I am not talking about investments for the homeowners. And certainly not about the empty (read bogus) promises of protected and enhanced property values. Sometimes these debts are due to a legitimate assessment that was missed for some reason. And all too often the “debt” is due to a fine imposed by the association for violating a recorded covenant, a silly rule that was conjured up on the spur of the moment or, increasingly, because the transgression in question violated someones esthetic sensibilities. In other words there is no rhyme or reason for the ensuing war among the neighbors. Notwithstanding all the accompanying sanctimony that attempts to validate these outrageous fees, penalties, charges and surcharges, they are solely for the benefit of the industry that feeds at the trough of the owners. For years the homeowners’ pleas for statutory relief and protection from these abuses have fallen on deaf ears. State legislators have failed to enact legislation to end these practices.
David Kahne joins us On the Commons. David is an attorney in Houston, Texas. His practice includes representing homeowners who find themselves on the receiving end of the malice that is increasingly common in residential associations. In addition to working with individual homeowners, David is an advocate for the rights of property owners. He has worked with legislators and advocacy groups in Texas and around the country. He testifies at the Texas State legislature for increased protections for the owners. We talk to David about this year’s legislative activities and the need for the proposed legislation. We also talk about a swimming pool case in Spring, Texas. A young couple put in a pool in their backyard and to protect their toddlers and the neighborhood children, they erected a fence around the pool. And the objection was? Well, tune in, David will explain it.
Imagine the resulting destruction if a classroom full of kindergartners had been given boxes of matches and told to play with fire. No safety instructions, no oversight, no plans to prevent the inevitable mayhem and chaos, just the blanket permission for children to play with fire. Now I know what you are thinking, no sane and rational person would ever do anything that reckless and stupid. OK, so maybe we don’t actually give a room full of 5 year old boxes of matches but can you see much of a difference between that scenario and what is happening in condo and homeowner associations across the country? How about state legislatures?
Frank Short joins us On The Commons. Frank, a long time friend, a government attorney and a popular guest on the show follows proposed legislation and explains how these laws, if enacted, would work in real life. We focus on just one of those bad bills today and talk about a towing bill that was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates earlier this year. Unfortunately this bill survived and went on to become the law while its companion bill in the Virginia Senate failed. Keep that picture of 5 year olds with their boxes of matches in mind as you consider the ramifications of how this new law will affect consumers, voters, taxpayers and anyone else caught in the web that has been spun by legislators. Maybe it is time to recognize that our elected officials can’t be trusted any more than any other predator when it comes to protecting their constituents. Is it time to take away the matchboxes from the “little ones” and start providing some desperately needed adult supervision?
I am beginning to think that any lie will do. As long as no one looks too closely, as long as the lie sounds plausible, as long as it is delivered with a straight face, it is good to go. You really do not have to go too much farther than the lies that are told when selling HOAs. Just think of the ones that are routinely used to make surrendering sovereignty of our homes sound like such an honor and you will understand what I mean. A few buzzwords that need no explanation readily come to mind; “carefree living”, “protecting property values” and “democracy up close and personal”.
Such a deal! You give up the right to decide what to plant in your front yard in return for having a say in what happens in the community.
So how does that work?
Marjorie Murray joins us On The Commons. Marjorie is the founder and president of the Center for California Homeowner Association Law. Over the years she and the Center for California Law have tirelessly tracked legislation and have worked with like minded groups and legislators to ensure that homeowner friendly laws are enacted. They have educated law makers about the hidden dangers and pitfalls of proposed bills that would benefit the HOA industry to the detriment of the owners and have fought valiantly to defeat them when they have come up. One such bill that reared its ugly head in California this year was AB1799 The bill was introduced and explained as a cost saving measure for associations. On the surface it may sound like a great idea BUT WAIT A MINUTE, what would it really do? And just how well would this new law, had it passed, square with the “Democracy up close and personal” benefit to HOA living we are promised? Marjorie explains in detail what this bill would have done and gives some solid tips on how to find, and fight, these bills when they are introduced in a State Capitol near you. You know they are coming to your neck of the woods. She also gives some good advice on how to expose the, um, shall we we say, untruths in the claims? You’ll want to tune in and never underestimate the importance of letting your legislators hear from you.
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.
Right from the very beginning there were problems in mandatory membership Homeowner Associations. No matter how creative the spin or how big the lies about the illusive benefits of HOA living, the sad truth is, the problems were always there. Every effort to “fix” them resulted in bigger problems and even more headaches. They, in turn, led to bigger and more unconscionable abuses by the HOAs against their own homeowners. Every subsequent “fix” simply exacerbated the problems. And contrary to what the advocates of controlled living would have us believe, none of the horror stories are “isolated incidents”. Every state grapples with the same problems every year and every year new laws are proposed, argued over, some enacted, many of the good ones passed over and a year later we are all back trying to “fix” the same problems, yet again.
After four decades of this charade, you’d think we’d learn, wouldn’t you?
Frank Short joins us On The Commons. Frank is an attorney with an Irish wit, a strong sense of right and wrong and a very keen understanding of the HOA laws and the inherent issues. He has been around long enough to have a rich supply of HOA stories. Frank joins us for our annual St. Patrick’s Day round-up of HOA bills that have been introduced in Virginia. We look at the bills, talk about what they will do and whether or not they will help homeowners. We also talk about some very good proposed legislation in Illinois. And to keep it interesting and fun, Frank regales us with actual tales from the HOA trenches.