Due to Inclement Weather, the Fairfax Public Access Offices have been closed this past week. This Show was first aired on MARCH 7, 2020.
Just when I thought that nothing in the condo/HOA world could ever shock or surprise me someone comes up with something that leaves me scratching my head and wondering if the entire world has gone stark raving mad. Is this just the latest out of the CAI book of allowing their members to increase their income without having to do much? Is it something that is happening just locally or is it more widespread than I realize? Where do condos/managers get their authority or is this a new trend that you should watch out for? I’d like to hear from you on this.
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline is a non practicing attorney, author of the book “The Dark Side” and a popular guest on the show. As usual Caroline likes to look at the big picture, see what is going on nationally, analyze the underlying reasons and causes and to provide us with a scenario that ties many aspects together. Today we talk about choirs, songs and general incivility and focus on the big picture. But we also talk about parking in condos and something that I have learned about 2 condos in Northern Virginia 20 miles apart. My daughter and grandson who recently moved back up from Florida rent condos, both have Florida license plates on their cars and both have been denied parking permits in their respective condos because of it. I have yet to find the authority for this practice. Have they been tasked by the State to enforce state statutes? County ordinances? What difference does it make to the condo where their license plates are from? They rent, pay exorbitant monthly rents but yet they are denied parking passes. In one case for the tenant, my grandson whose car was towed to the tune of $350. In my daughter’s case, she can park in her driveway but no permits for guests. I have not been able to visit either one of them because of the draconian parking rules and practices. Caroline and I talk about this and Caroline shares her thoughts on this situation.
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?
Words have meanings and the word community generally imparts a sense of belonging. People in a community tend to have something in common. They come from similar backgrounds, are generally in the same socioeconomic group, perhaps share hobbies and interests. They have something that binds them together. In the good old days, before “communities” were designed and force-fed on Americans, the sense of community evolved naturally. Neighbors were friends who helped and looked out for each other. They took in a child who might have inadvertently been locked out, picked up packages for neighbors or retrieved a trash can that was blown down the street by the wind. In this brave new world of controlled living, the sense of community is no longer communal but rather a gathering of people who delight is spying on their neighbors. Now a child who is locked out might get rescued by the police, mail is left out and the association is called to report a stray trash can.
Ileana Johnson joins us On The Commons this week. Ileana is an American by choice and a Romanian by birth. She is a freelance journalist, an author, a speaker and a radio commentator. She also maintains a blog. Ileana and her husband currently live in a Homeowner Association in Virginia where inspections are conducted regularly to ensure that no blade of grass exceeds the allowable length and that all things visible on the property conform to some rather vague standard. Creativity and individuality are highly frowned upon. Ileana tells us about life in her 300 square foot apartment in Communist Romania and draws some parallels between Communist Romania and HOAs, American Style. Sometimes it is hard to find much difference.
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.
In memory ofJill Schweitzer, a valiant warrior in the property rights battle for transparency and honest. Jill lost her life on October 25, 2016. Here is a show from July 2014
“If it hurts, it must be good for you”. Remember that one? Fortunately we got smart and realized that if it hurt it really was not good for us. Along the same lines of thinking is the other oft repeated canard which is that homeowner associations protect property values. “If your HOA makes you miserable and physically ill, is abusive, is grossly mismanaged, is secretive, etc. etc. etc., it is OK because it protects your property values.” This makes about as much sense as “if it hurts, it’s good for you.” Despite the fact that the “protected property values” claim is totally unsubstantiated, we hear it over and over again.
Maybe it is time to get smart and to stop being so gullible. Next time you are told HOAs protect property values, insist on tangible proof. Preventing a neighbor from painting their front door red is not acceptable and it really doesn’t prove anything.
Jill Schweitzer joins us On The Commons. Jill is a Real Estate Broker in Scottsdale, Arizona where there are a lot of mandatory membership HOAs and condominiums. She is concerned about all the problems in these controlled properties and has taken it upon herself to try to understand what is going on. She actually put pen to paper and did the math. She tracked and analyzed property values in 10 condo projects in Scottsdale over a period of 10 years. Her findings are on her website hoasavers.com It might come as no surprise that contrary to protecting property values, HOAs can actually devalue property. Tune in, we’ll talk to Jill about a myriad of problems that seem to be part and parcel of HOAs, find out why she decided to look into HOAs and what she is planning on doing to protect her clients’ property.
The earliest deed restricted communities were exclusionary and were honest enough to admit the reason of their existence. It wasn’t until we got to the mass production of these neighborhoods that we see the entire HOA house of cards was built on a foundation of deceit. It started as a way of allowing local municipal governments to collect “free” tax money while the homeowners ended up paying twice for the same services. At one point Declarations started off by saying, “The purpose of this association is to protect property values”. Unable to substantiate that claim, I don’t think they include that statement any more. But the “purpose for HOAs” was out there. And once you start off by telling a lie, more and more lies will have to be told to cover up for the first one. And of course, every lie will need some form of enforcement mechanism.
Dismantling this house of cards before the entire system collapses and millions of people are hurt financially and emotionally is a tough job. It is, however, something that will need to be done.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, an attorney in Texas, switched his practice to representing homeowners and consumers. And having made that switch, he has been very busy ever since. I love listening to his stories about some of his cases. I am not sure if the “interesting” cases just naturally gravitate towards him or if Bill has a natural talent for zeroing in on the absurdities of HOAs, board members and the attorneys and managers who spend their time propping them up. I always enjoy talking to Bill and listening to his theories and his stories and this interview is no exception.
This is a rebroadcast of a show first recorded in 2014 but the case is still ongoing.
When the scene is set for fraud and abuse, the crooks, criminals and villains will come by the droves. Residential associations, be they condos, homeowner associations or cooperatives, where membership is mandatory, the power and authority is in the hands of a few and there is an enormous industry that feeds off these housing schemes and more importantly, the owners have been left pretty much defenseless, is an open invitation to all those who conspire to do wrong. Just how much corruption goes on every day is unknown. Even in Las Vegas when it became apparent in 2008 that the FBI was investigating wrong doings by board members, managers and HOA industry attorneys, the full extent of what went on is is still largely unknown.
Nevada State Senator Mike Schneider joins us On the Commons this week. Senator Mike, as he is known to his constituents, joins us to talk about the FBI investigation that became apparent in 2008 and is still ongoing. The problems and the scams are incredible, ranging from election fraud to construction defect lawsuits. There have been many indictments, many sentences handed down and many more mysteries and unanswered questions that still hound this situation. There are sealed records, gag orders, four alleged suicides, at least one attorney beaten to a pulp, kneecaps smashed with a baseball bat and left for dead, stark naked on the streets of his neighborhood. As Mike says, “dead men can’t talk”. Were they suicides? And if they were, what could be so bad that it is preferable to take ones own life than face the consequences? It also begs the questions of why sealed records and gag orders? What else are they hiding? And just how pervasive are these practices? We all know that that what goes on in Las Vegas really doesn’t stay there and that the same things is being replicates across the country. The FBI just hasn’t managed to get to them all. Will they or will everyone else simply get away with it while our legislators blindly ignore the problems?
From an early age, we give children coloring books and a box of crayons and teach them to “color inside the lines”. We also “help” them pick the right colors. Pink elephants? Oh my! Blue hair? You can’t do that! Here is a nice bright yellow crayon instead.
When my daughter was little I used to buy her un-coloring coloring books. These books consisted of stories with just a few lines, or part of a drawing and encouraged children to complete the picture and add to the story before coloring it. Looking back I wonder if those coloring books contributed to my daughter’s rebellious nature? I also whether we are training our children, from a very early age, to “conform to accepted norms”? If we won’t encourage our children to think outside the box, will they be able to do just that as adults or will they continue to stay safely within the lines?
Bill Davis, for whom boxes and lines just don’t exist, joins us On The Commons. From the day Bill, a Texas attorney, switched his practice to representing homeowners in HOAs, he has been busy with some of the most interesting cases. We talk to him about several of his cases, marvel at the incredible gall some “neighbors” have, listen to some of the crazy and whacky stuff that goes on in HOAs. Through it all we hear stories of real people, find humor and horror. Bill entertains us and instructs us. He explains the legal issues, talks about Texas law and points out the nuances. And by refusing to stay inside the lines drawn by the HOA industry, he manages to come up with some unique and creative strategies to protect his clients’ property and their rights. Be sure to tune in and listen to the show and if any of the cases Bill discusses sound a little too familiar, make sure your attorney also listens in.
There is a rumor that condominiums are carefree living at their best. No lawns to mow, no snow to shovel (in areas where it snows) no maintenance, all an owner has to do is pick up the phone, call the manager or a friendly board member, report a problem and poof, as if by magic, the problem is taken care of. Right? Well, if you believe that I have bridge to sell you. No one tells you about your responsibilities as an owner or the hours “volunteers” donate to the association. There are other misconceptions associated with condo living, carefree living is the least of them.
Don DeBat joins us On The Commons this week. Don is a long time reporter, a newspaper columnist who has written hundreds of newspaper columns on condominium and homeowner association living. He is a Pulitzer Prize nominee for a series he wrote on shoddy home repairs, He has authored a number of books, including co-authoring “Escaping Condo Jail: Navigating the Risks and Surviving the Perils of the “Carefree Community Lifestyle” with Sara Benson. The multi talented DeBat wrote the press release for the new homeowner satisfaction survey conducted recently by the Coalition for Community Housing Policy in the Public Interest (CHPPI) We talk to Don about his career as a Real Estate reporter, his research for his latest book and we find out how he managed to get his nickname, Batman. Tune in for a fun interview.
The peeps are rebelling! Finally! No longer do homeowners believe that uniformity and conformity enhance property values. Nor do they believe that a homeowners associations creates “community”. They are tired of living in fear and refuse to be silenced any longer. With every negative story about HOAs that hit the media, hundreds and thousands of people have been commenting. Oh, I admit, a handful still repeat the inane sound bites like “you agreed”, “if you don’t like it, move”. Agreed to what? Being abused and losing your home? What idiot would do something like that? Move? Where to? Their comments make no more sense now than they ever did. By far most of the comments are pro homeowner and passionately anti HOA. Are you listening, CAI?
And did you ever think that an HOA could actually do some good?It’s ingenious! Keep reading and tune in to the show.
Nancy Hentschel joins us On The Commons this week. Nancy and her husband live in a large Homeowners association of single family homes in Texas. A few weeks ago they finally bought a couple of dinosaurs they fell in love with over a year ago. Once the dynamic dino duo took up residence in New Territory, something quite remarkable happened. Predictably they heard from the association but they also heard from their neighbors. As Nancy said, she met more of her neighbors than she had in all the years they have lived there. They not only came to the house but they wrote all over the internet. Some of the comments were short and to the point, “keep the dinos. Please, oh please”. “I think this is really cool, I wish they were my neighbors” and “Putting the neighbor in the neighborhood, one big claw at a time.” But there is more. Thanks to Nancy’s ingenuity and generosity, what started out as an expression of individuality, is doing some real good. The dinosaurs are moving around the neighborhood and checking out other front yards. For a $50 donation to any charity of their choice, all her New Territory neighbors can host the dynamic duo for 3 days before they move on to another yard. With approximately 5000 homes in New Territory, the dino walkabout can do some serious good. Cheers to the Hentschel’s, their “authentic community”, a neighborhood that refuses to be silenced and a couple of prehistoric creatures who have come back to show us the error of our ways. What fun!