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.
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.
We can all make a mistake but when we intentionally seek to mislead, it is called a lie. Habitual liars have no credibility and without credibility they really have nothing. Who is going to believe them? But when it comes to sales, intentionally misleading the public should, and at one point did, have consequences. At least when it comes to property, which is always an emotional decision. A false statement about the property can sway a decision one way or the other. It is imperative that consumers are given all the TRUE facts and allowed to make an educated decision as to whether to proceed with the purchase or not.
And what happens when the ads are misleading?
Martha Boneta joins us On The Commons. Martha, many of you know, realized her childhood dream of becoming a farmer when she and her family bought Liberty Farms in Paris, Virginia. At the time of the sale the farm was dilapidated and in desperate need of a lot of tender loving care. A patriot and someone who loves the land and Virginia and tirelessly posts photos of her beloved Commonwealth on her Facebook page, the physical condition of the farm was less important than the purported historic significance of the farm. The emotional hook for Martha was the allegation that Stonewall Jackson bivouacked on the land that was now part of the farm. For someone who loves her country as much as she does, no other farm anywhere was as precious as Liberty Farm. So she bought it, cleaned it up, fixed it up and turned it into a little corner of heaven on earth. At least when it comes to the condition of the farm. But heaven was still a long, long way away. Join us as we catch up with Martha and life on Liberty Farm.
Increasingly in America homeowners are treated like incompetent idiots who are incapable of managing their own lives and their homes. Members of the HOA industry have gone as far as to equate the owners as “children who do not know what is good for them”. Naturally they are more than happy to make all our important decisions for us- and leave us with the bill! To add insult to injury, the false advertising and misinformation that, under most other circumstances, would be punishable by law, is swept under the rug and ignored. Unit owners in homeowner and condo associations are often ridiculed, harassed and penalized for demanding transparency or even questioning the actions of the association. Their duty is to not ask why but to pay up and shut up.
Well, times they are a changing. Slowly but surely more and more talented people have had enough and are starting to move mountains, one stone at a time!
John Sellers joins us On The Commons this week. John has worked in the banking industry for years and knows just where to look for any irregularities. So when things just didn’t smell quite right, he put his talents to work and started digging. What he discovered is quite incredible. Not only are the people who are supposed to be protecting your rights turning a blind eye to all the shenanigans going on behind closed doors, but they are also using YOUR tax dollars to cover up some missing funds in HOA banks. John continued digging and was told to “get a hobby”. Fortunately for us, he took that advice to heart, expanded his search criteria and started a blog called ArizonaHOA where he intends to not only share information but to also gather information from other homeowners. He estimates there have been 3,000 court cases involving HOAs in Arizona. Chances are those did not happen because associations were doing such a wonderful job, as proponents of HOAs would have you believe. Tune in, it is an eye opening interview.
History can show us where we came from and how we got here. History is just as valuable when looking at the evolution of residential associations. While design and structure have played significant roles in their growth, so have enabling legislation and lack of choice. But what about the future? Wouldn’t history be a good tool to help us prevent the same mistakes that have led to the creation of some of the most harmful housing choices? If we look through our crystal balls what do we see? What is in store for American homeowners? Will sanity, respect and dignity make a comeback or have property owners lost the right to sovereignty over their own homes?
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney and frequent guest on the show, represents homeowners. Along the way he has encountered some of the most interesting, weird and bizarre situations associated with the wacky world of controlled living. Many of his cases and stories highlight the incredible absurdity of this form of housing. In addition to taking on clients, he is a frequent commentator on many public forums, discussing all things related to HOAs. He shares some thoughts about the new White Paper put out by CAI. We’ll find out if they are looking through the same crystal ball that Bill consulted.
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. Condo Receiver is a treasure trove of stories and a must see for anyone who wants to understand just how bad things can get in residential America. And while the stories are about Florida, these stories are replicated nationwide. And the Energizer Bunny is still fighting!