Is it all about power or is money really at the root of all evil? Or is it a combination of both? I am of course taking about this notion of a fourth layer of government or, as they are more commonly referred to, mandatory membership homeowner associations. Whatever the reason for their proliferation, consumer choice is not one of them and consumer acceptance is a myth. Municipal mandates ensure a steady stream of tax free dollars flowing into the public coffers while power hungry board members are always on hand to enforce alleged rules and regulations. Let’s not forget the special interests behind the scenes orchestrating everything. For them it is definitely power, money and greed. So what is a homeowner to do once the honeymoon with their new house is over? They usually hit the internet and start searching for a friendly voice out there and the they do, they are like to find my guest.
Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons. Ward is an award winning TV anchor from Denver, Colorado who has the wonderful ability to see the humor in so many things including his own battles with his HOA. Now retired as an anchor, the heart of a journalist still beats hard in him. He first wrote a book called “Neighbors at War; The creepy case against your homeowners association. That was followed by a blog by the same name where he talks about some of the daily disasters in associations to grab the headlines. His second book is more of a personal story that allows the reader to glimpse the family life that has to be the reason for his wonderful sense of humor. Even the title is fun, “Get this Mother Published. The wacky world of a recovering army brat family”. And for all his fans, stay tuned because book 3 is in the works. We’ll talk about the books, his web site, some of the stories from his Neighbors at War book but mostly about what is happening in HOA land across the country. Tune in as we wander around the whacky world of controlled living, American Style.
Storytelling has always been an important and effective way of getting a point across. HOAs are a very rich source for stories. How better to warn housing consumers of the abuses that could be lurking right around the corner from that perfect house that feels so very much like home if you can’t tell your story? But stories, for the sake of a story is not enough, it has to be believable and the story teller has to be credible and that entails a little work.
Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons. Ward, now retired, is an Emmy winning TV anchor, investigative reporter and story teller “par excellence”. He is also a published author. His first book, “Neighbors at War”, is, as you might guess, all about the abuses and sheer insanity that is so common in HOA controlled neighborhoods. He has just published his third book, “Sometimes ya Gotta Ride the Elephant” where he takes us through his journey as an investigative reporter and TV anchor and lets us into the secrets of how he managed to get the full story for his reports, without leaving any loose ends. It’s a fun read with several lessons for us budding story tellers. All three of his books are available on his website, Ward Lucas.com
I seem to zip through life at breakneck speeds, taking most things for granted and never really thinking about the reason we do things any particular way. Oh, once in a while I ask myself, “What were they ever thinking?” when I run into something a little strange. However, when things are working well the farthest thought is to wonder why it works. It is so much easier to start looking at things that don’t make sense and figure out how to improve it.
And for a show whose sole focus is property rights, that was a little short sighted. How can we protect ownership and rights without knowing how to properly define the property in question? That is one those things most of us have always taken for granted.
Kenneth Ditkowsky joins us On The Commons. Ken is an attorney in Chicago who, when he was fresh out of law school, full of self confidence and a can-do attitude found himself on the ground floor of redefining property boundaries and ultimately changing skylines in cities across the country. Maybe even the world? We’ll talk to Ken about the Prudential Building, the first high rise in Chicago and the hundreds of pages of legal speak explaining the ownership structure. Ken and his partner accepted the challenge and simplified it, reducing the document down to a more manageable size. n the process they paved the way for high-rise residential buildings to be built and ultimately changing the face of the Chicago. We’ll talk about all the things most of us take for granted and never give a second thought to. We’ll learn about different ways to determine the legal boundaries of a piece of property and find out what happens when mother nature decides to ” shift” the things we take for granted. I was spellbound as I listened to Ken. Tune in for a fascinating show.
Years ago, I asked Linc Cummins why he and his colleagues pushed the idea of HOAs so hard. What was their incentive and what were they thinking? Linc is one of the three founders of CAI so he has been involved with building HOAs from the very beginning. His answer surprised me. He explained that we were becoming a more transient society and as we moved from one place to the next, we left behind friends and family and in the process lost our support systems. He said he envisioned creating a “community” where people worked together, helped each other, became a family and formed that support network. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the exact opposite seems to have happened. Far from working together as a community, the HOA has created different classes of people, those with power and authority and those without. Rather than community, we have “war zones” and instead of a network of support, we have a divided group of people living in a dysfunctional development.
Neil Brooks joins us On the Commons. Neil could be the poster child of what happens when this gang of neighborhood thugs band together against one of their neighbors. Except Neil is one of many poster children across the country who have suffered unspeakable harm in a system with no checks and balances. Instead of creating a sense of family who would support each other, Neil’s neighbors ganged up against him. We learn about Neil’s disability and find out why he was not able to find the peace and quiet he needed to recuperate. The problems with his neighbors exacerbated his medical problems. He is currently facing a fairly grim future. We talk about his experiences in particular and the problems in HOAs in general. Can HOAs ever become the nurturing extended community Linc and friends envisioned all those years ago or are they destined to be dysfunctional enclaves to be avoided at all costs?
Gone are the days when being a property owner meant having dominion over your property. With the imposition of mandatory membership residential associations and the restrictive covenants that are attached to the deed, homeowners have lost some of the most basic and fundamental rights of the use and enjoyment of their homes. Those restrictions range from something as basic and mundane as a choice of plants, to the approved shade of white for the interior window blinds to something a little more serious like having a fence to keep children and pets safe and even to having children and pets at all.
Are restrictive covenants and neighborhood Nazis the only threat to a property owner’s right to ownership?
Dr. Bonner Cohen joins us On The Commons this week. Dr. Cohen is a Senior Fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a position he has had since 2002. He is also a Senior Policy Analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow; and the author of The Green Wave. Dr. Cohen takes us on a trip down memory lane and reminds us of the advantages and opportunities we enjoyed in the past and compares them to the way we live today. He explains how and why, slowly, very slowly, rights, education, health, wealth and the way we live have been adversely affected. He very clearly helps us follow the laws, regulations and policies that have stripped us of things we once enjoyed and took for granted. The changes were gradual, the results were by design and we never noticed them until they were here. Is it too late or can we wrest control of our world back from the special interests?
There is a huge difference between the way businesses and governments operate. Businesses typically keep their eye on the bottom line and minimize unnecessary expenses. If there is a cost effective way of doing something, they’ll find it and use it. Governments, on the other hand, only seem to care about the size of their departments. The more staff they have, the greater their budgets and the higher their salaries. To help get to that point they rely on regulations, red tape and more staff to oversee useless rules. And the money to pay for all this waste? No worries, just raise taxes. I knew all that so when I first encountered HOAs and was told that certain services were provided “privately” the only thing I found alarming was that the taxes were 3 times as high as they had been where I had come from where everything was included, in fact the HOA assessments were higher than my property taxes had been.
My long held beliefs about the efficiency and cost effectiveness of businesses began to unravel as I watched a “privatized government” at work. These creations of the special interests enjoyed all the benefits of the unaccountable governments while masquerading as efficient businesses. This new model was forced on owners in residential associations, be they condos, co-ops, HOAs or any of the newer concoctions that seem to creep into our daily vocabulary. It embodies all the worst characteristics of both businesses and governments.
Chuck Welsh joins us On The Commons. Chuck, an avid boater, a US Naval Officer for a number of years and a former developer bought a brand new pre-construction condo in a gated development in Florida. The design for the property came complete with plans for a marina. The entire project sounded like it was designed with Chuck in mind. A beautiful unit, amazing views, room for his boat and the promise of a carefree lifestyle with property values soaring through the roof. Isn’t that what we are all promised? Regular listeners and readers of this blog know that when it comes to housing in the US, things are never quite as smooth or problem free as one might expect. Sadly that was the case with Chuck’s ideal condo. All the elements of his dream home were there – in a dream – the problem was that the nightmares started when Chuck woke up. We’ll talk to Chuck about what happened that led to 10 years of his life that was far from “carefree” and his condo – well, even with an upswing in property values, ended up costing him a lot of money, not to mention being dragged through the courts for four years. And that private marina that was the icing on his cake? Well, that didn’t work out so well either. Tune in for all the details as well as a fascinating discussion on the future of privatized residential governments.
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.
The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the Mediterranean South co-operative building in Fort Lee, New Jersey violated an owner’s right to free speech by prohibiting him from distributing campaign literature when he ran for a seat on the board. The co-op had a house rule that prohibited owners from distributing written material, the reason given is to “preserve the residents’ quiet enjoyment of their units and to cut down on paper pollution”. But, as we know, what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander because when the board distributed their diatribes, quiet enjoyment was never a consideration and apparently, unlike all other paper, the board’s missives did not pollute. On a somewhat humorous note, (or is it ironic?), the board included the following sentence in one of their leaflets; “Can you imagine the disaster that would befall upon Med South and all of us if this group of selfish people ever got control of the Med South Board?”
Robert Dublirer joins us On The Commons. Rob is a former New York Prosecutor, so well versed in the law and quite comfortable in a court of law so after years of having his rights trampled on and being lied to, he decided to put his knowledge and skills to work. He sued the Mediterranean South co-op to protect his right to communicate with his neighbors. The rules and regulations adopted by the board include some of the most restrictive gag orders on what the owners are allowed to talk about and discuss. Join us as Rob fills us in on all his battles from the time he moved in and was not given a handicapped parking space to ending up, not only protecting his rights, but also arguing for the rights of his fellow New Jersey HOA denizens.
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.
If you are reading this promo or tuning into On The Commons regularly, chances are you have had a nasty surprise or two when you bought your HOA burdened house. I often hear homeowners tell me they will never buy in an HOA again for as long as they live. Do you suppose they would have felt that way had they known what they were getting themselves into? Would a 2 or 3 inch stack of legal papers prepared them for life as usual in an HOA? Do you feel you were you given all the necessary and pertinent documents about the association before closing escrow? Did you have enough time to read and understand the contents of the package? Were there any red flags? What would you tell a friend and/or a relative who is house hunting to look for? What do you think should be included in a disclosure package that is not included now?
John Cowherd joins us On The Commons. John, an attorney in Virginia, is one of a handful of attorneys across the country who represents homeowners in disputes with their HOAs. John is also interested in educating the public about HOAs and condominiums. He has a widely read and discussed blog called Words of Conveyance where he writes about cases, legislation, and how stories that have made the headlines might affect associations. We talk to John about the Virginia Disclosure laws and whether they are doing an adequate job of informing potential buyers of what they can expect if they buy in the HOA. We also talk about whether the 72 hours buyers are given is enough time to read through the package and make a decision of whether to not to cancel the purchase. He gives us a lot of food for thought.