How do you suppose the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” would have ended had the town’s people been prohibited from yelling that the emperor was naked? The emperor was being robbed, lied to, made a fool of and convinced that he was indeed wearing beautiful new clothes, clothes that he could not see. Afraid of admitting he couldn’t see them he went along with their deception. Fortunately the thieves were not able to brainwash everyone and the truth did get out. These days it is so much easier to convince large groups of people by broadcasting the lies and then controlling free speech. It can be as simple as controlling words or preventing people from gathering or even setting up websites and enforcing much of that through the courts.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah is the host, prolific author and owner of the Independent American Communities, a must read blog if you want to keep up with what’s going on in HOA land. Two of her recent blogs dealt with a couple of my pet peeves, the much abused and often ignored 1st Amendment in HOAs and whether or not HOAs, as some people would have us believe, are here to stay. We’ll talk to Deborah about a 10 year lawsuit dealing with an owner’s right to free speech. In an effort to prevent the homeowner in this association from yelling that the emperor was naked, any excuse will do, they headed to court. In this case the creative argument was a trademark infringement. And then I ask Deborah whether or not we will ever be free of HOAs. She had some very interesting facts and comments.
I have never much liked the idea of mandatory membership homeowner associations. The concept of binding private real property to a hodgepodge of real estate owned by a third party, maintained and controlled by a motley crew of individuals with no expertise in the art of management has always seemed counterintuitive to me. That the model is not working is no real surprise. What galls me the most though is the idea that a handful of owners and hired managers are allowed to fine the owners. This is a power that is often used as a bully tool and abused. The fines can lead to the loss of a home and their financial security.
Frank Short joins us On The Commons. Frank, an attorney and a popular repeat guest of the show, discusses fines in HOAs and Condominiums. He explains why we have fines and who benefits from the fines. Over the years there have been a number of court cases about fines. He discuses those cases, explains what the courts considered and tells us how they ruled. He also explains the constitutional connections. This is an excellent show from the archives. For those being fined by their HOAs for whatever reason, this show is a must for the owner and their attorneys.
“It’s a contract” they say. “You agreed” they insist. They accuse you of reneging on your promise. And before you know it, you are being evicted from your home for some senseless reason. There is so much wrong with this HOA concept, I don’t know where to begin to list even half of the problems. One of the biggest injustices is the imbalance of power. If, as proponents of HOAs insist that it is a “contract”, then how come both parties to the contract don’t have the same enforcement abilities ? When the association, be it a condo, coop or HOA fails to provide the services they are paid to provide, the only recourse available to the owner is to try to find an attorney, go to court and hope to get a judge who understands the issues.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill is a Texas attorney who knows and understands the issues and the laws involving home and condo associations. He is a frequent guest On The Commons and is one of a handful of attorneys who will represent the owners. We talk about the huge imbalance in the abilities of the homeowners to enforce the “contract”. We have both spoken to so many homeowners who have found themselves homeless because they got tired of paying for services they were not getting. We discuss the duties and obligations of both parties. It might not surprise you to learn that there is also an imbalance in the duties and obligations of the parties as well. You’ll have to tune in.
The benefit of making mistakes should be that we learn from them and – hopefully- avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. So how come we never seem to learn from the mistake of imposing a 4th layer of government on housing consumers? This extra layer of government has no oversight, no separation of powers, no constitutional restraints and total and complete disregard for individual and property rights. Could the answer be that it really is not a mistake?
Caroline Douglas is back by popular demand, On the Commons . Caroline has a Juris Doctor, she has written a law treatise called The Dark Side and is about to teach the material from her book in several college courses in Baltimore, Maryland. Never having been personally caught in the abuses of an HOA gone off the rails, and never having litigated property association cases, she forces us to look outside the box we have put ourselves in. Tune in for a slightly different show.
I find it ironic that we spend the first 18 – 22 years of our lives learning how to be adults and to make decisions that will affect us and our lives only to end up in an HOA, feeling like we did in when we were in kindergarten. “Eat your vegetables”, “Wash your hands”, “Pick up your toys”, “Go to bed” and if you don’t behave, it is “time out” or “NO TV”. Only as an adult, supposedly having been taught how to make the right decisions, in an HOA it tends to be, “Your blinds are the wrong shade of white”, “You have an unapproved garden hose”, “no cars in the driveway”, “Too many roses in your yard” OR ELSE, “fines” “foreclosures”. and other nasty penalties hurled in our direction.
We’ve all heard the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!”. It makes sense and sounds easy enough but what if life hands us more than mere lemons? What happens when life comes at us full force, out of the clear blue and knocks us for a loop? And that can be especially true if we live in one of the nation’s hundreds of thousands mandatory Homeowner associations. How do we make lemonade out if that mess? And that is especially true when one of the absolute big taboos is HOAs is “LEMONADE STANDS” ? Even children trying to be helpful and mature beyond their years have found themselves in the crosshairs of a rather stupid HOA. What to do?
Dr. Wes Rocki, MD, PHD joins us On The Commons. Wes is a retired physician who has been working in alternative medicine for a while. Much of his focus has been on self-healing which is something that is sorely needed in every life and especially in what resembles battle zones in our neighborhoods. We talk to Wes about our natural and normal reactions to finding ourselves being attacked and in harm’s way. We find out how to protect ourselves or, at a minimum, how to react and even how to put our opponents off balance. We touch a little on “fear” which is a big part of how we are controlled and put at a disadvantage. We talk about how we react and can take charge of at least part of the situation. You will want some of Wes’ advice in your survival tool kit.
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.
Bruised, abused, mocked, harassed, dejected and frustrated, homeowners in HOAs have tried to fight back. They have been sued, fined, ridiculed, outgunned and left standing alone in a sea of their neighbors, homeowners like themselves too terrified to even talk to them lest they find themselves in the crosshairs of the HOA. Over the years I have talked to and witnessed some of these homeowners as they start an organization to fight the injustices of HOAs only to end up fighting amongst themselves. Their vision of taming the HOA monster evaporating into thin air. Could part of the problem be the lack of teamwork? Are they listening to each other or shouting over each other? Is the key to real reform as simple as listening?
John McGuire joins us On The Commons. John, a Virginia delegate has one of the most amazing and inspiring personal stories I have yet to come across. When all the odds seemed to be against him, John fought and earned one of the coveted spots as a Navy Seal, despite being told he couldn’t do it. Later he defied the odds again and survived a life threatening accident, learned to walk and to write his name – again. Incredibly none of what he went through in life convinced him he couldn’t do something. Being told he couldn’t do something was the impetus he needed to prove them wrong. John strongly believes in teamwork and like every good leader, gives credit to his team. I heard about John when he managed to help resolve a 20 year HOA horror story. We’ll get to know John personally and learn about his philosophy, talk about the problems in HOAs and start looking at different ways of dealing with the problems millions of American homeowners face nationwide.
In a free and civilized society there is the expectation that the citizens have rights, including the right to be treated fairly. However fairness seems to be one of the first casualties in mandatory membership residential associations. Gone are all the safeguards put in place by the Constitution. Gone is the notion of checks and balances and the idea that in the event of a dispute there will be a fair and just outcome. Is this just an HOA problem or does it affect other institutions?
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline has a law degree, and is passionate about the law. She is an author and a professor in Maryland and is always willing to share her knowledge, expertise and ideas with us. She is very well aware of the what can happen when the safety nets fail to ensure fairness. We’ll talk about the meaning and need for law. We also learn about a 30 year old case, how that was handled in court and what has happened in the Pam Smart case. How can we ensure fairness in this world?
Claiming to be a 5th generation land owner, Philip Thompson said, “I will do whatever it takes to help preserve the countryside we call home”. The countryside he calls home is in Fauquier County, Virginia about an hour outside Washington DC. He inherited much of the land in the countryside he called home, then proceeded to place a large tract into a conservation easement managed by the Piedmont Environmental Council, (PEC). Much like the Declarations in residential associations, the easements restrict the use of the property. Much like a residential association, power is given to the administrator. And we all know that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”(Lord Acton) regardless of who has it.
Dr. Bonner Cohen joins us On The Commons. Dr. Cohen is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research. He also serves as senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. He is an author, has spoken at conferences, appears on TV and radio. Dr. Cohen, a friend of Martha Boneta, has been following the horrors and abuses taking place in Liberty Farms. He wrote an article about the latest round of lawsuits. We find just what Mr. Thompson meant when he said he would do “whatever it takes…” .
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. 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.