This show is a rebroadcast, but it is just as valid and timely today.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.”
Do you suppose Ralph was thinking about homeowner associations and the many petty municipal governments around with ridiculous rules, ordinances, and abusive enforcement mechanisms when he wrote that? His message seems to have fallen on deaf ears because these entities continue to make life miserable for their members and constituents.
Fortunately, more individuals are doing amazing things to make the world a better place, not for just one person but hundreds of people, despite their local governments.
Joining us On The Commons this week is Jason Helvenston. Jason and his wife, Jennifer, wanted to grow their food, but edible plants tend to require sun, and the sun happened to be in their front yard, so that’s where they planted their herbs and vegetables. However, the city council of Orlando, Florida, thought that grass would look normal, and so they did what petty governments do so well, they issued an ultimatum, “plant grass or else… we will fine you $500 a day!”. The Helverstons believe in protecting their right to plant whatever they want on their property, so they fought back, and they WON! You’ll have to listen to their story to realize that their garden is only the first step to opening our eyes and how they are making so many people “breathe easier.”
A home is a necessity although, the type of home can be the stuff of which dreams are made. So many people fantasize about the size, the style, the location of the house they hope to live in with their loved ones. They imagine the furniture, the number, and the size of the rooms they will have. Once they have visualized the house, they work on making their dream a reality. Bit by bit, they save money and assemble all the bits they will need to build the home of their dreams. But what happens once they make their dream home a reality. What happens if that home happens to be part of a mandatory membership residential association?
Nila Ridings joins us On The Commons and tells us about her home. In her case, her dream home, a townhouse, happened to be in a homeowners association. It was perfect for her as her monthly dues covered some outdoor maintenance she didn’t feel able to handle herself. She paid her dues diligently, but the maintenance she was paying for was never performed. The HOA’s negligence caused some severe problems. Nila then did the one thing a homeowner should never do, but it is the only thing they feel is within their control — she withheld her dues. If she is paying to have specific jobs done and the association is not performing its part, it makes perfect sense not to pay the dues. But the association has the ultimate power over the homeowners, and in this case, they exercised their power. What happened to Nila should never have happened, but sadly it happens too often. The courts were no help at all.
Please listen to Nila’s story, do not withhold your assessments, and if you want to make any legislative changes, start by making the associations more accountable to their members by performing the jobs they are paid to perform. Currently, it doesn’t appear there is any requirement for them to perform the jobs they are paid to do. Oh, I can hear the screams. Tune in to hear Nila’s story.
We are still on our quest to learn what new bills they are proposing across the country. None of the ones we have come across really help homeowners. Fortunately, some homeowners read the bills closely and take the time to comment on them, and then they show up to testify either for or against them. So this week, we get to meet a new Warrior in the fight.
Nancy Kozanecki joins us On The Commons. I heard a lot about Nancy and finally got to meet her on this edition of On The Commons. Nancy is the new director for HOA Reform Coalition of Texas and has been working with Beanie Adolph for awhile. She joins us to talk about legislation proposed by CAI in Texas. When I asked her to join us and tell us about the bills in question, she said, “Oh, they are gone.” She and David Kahn did a great job in Austin. No bad bills left loitering the halls of The Texas State Capitol.
She was gracious enough to come on to discuss the bills. Some were quite funny – only something an industry member would come up with. However, we do need to know them so we can watch out for them next year but rest assured, while they may be history in Texas, they might pop up in your state. After all, they can’t let a bad bill go to waste, can they?
Tune in, meet Nancy, enjoy the show, and you heard her, she said she would be back so stay tuned.
Here we go again, around and around trying to craft the perfect piece of legislation they tell us will fix all the problems that are part and parcel of a dysfunctional housing concept. These carefully chosen words and sentences will be swapped about and moved around like so many jigsaw pieces, eventually changing the original intent of the proposed law. At some point, it becomes apparent that our magnificent creation is, well, to put it mildly, totally incomprehensible and in desperate need of some serious help. They refer to this as “housekeeping” legislation. And that is the topic of this week’s show.
Joining us On The Commons this week, we have none other than our old friend, Jan Bergemann. Jan is the founder and President of the Florida-based Cyber Citizens for Justice. Having spent years following all the proposed legislative changes, he has become quite the expert. This year’s bills include a lot of what Jan calls “Housekeeping” bills. Having spent years running every proposed new law through the legislative sausage-making machine, who would have thought the time would come to do some heavy-duty house cleaning and, with luck, include some clarity to the mess. Tune in to hear Jan explain the proposed clarifications and how they will hopefully reduce the abuse.
You follow a case as it winds its way through the court system. It seems so simple, so cut and dried that you wonder why so much time, money and hostility is invested in such a petty argument. Why should it cost hundreds of thousands of hard earned dollars to figure out whether a homeowner in an association can have white roses instead of red ones? Or whether or not a condo owner is allowed to have a small American flag on his or her front porch or if a family can have a swing set in the backyard for their children? Why should these even be an issue? And why would anyone in their right mind care? And finally, after months of discovery, nasty letters, fines, bullying, isolation and abusive language, dividing up the neighborhood, name calling and other nastiness, the opinion from the judges is handed down deciding the case once and for all. This is it, this is the end of this road. The wise men and women of the legal system have spoken and you are left with your mouth hanging open, wondering what on earth just happened.
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline has a law degree although she is no longer a practicing attorney. She has seen the dark side of the legal profession and decided to blow the whistle on what happens “behind the scenes”. In an 800 page book called “The Dark Side: a law treatise on judging – with memoir” she explains it all and gives us clues to look for so we are not caught off guard. In a fascinating interview she walks us through what goes on behind the scenes and how and why some of these off the wall decisions are reached. Caroline has witnessed these irregularities both as a practicing attorney and a litigant caught in this legal “chamber of horrors”. You can reach Caroline at email@example.com but you won’t want to miss this interview.
An often cited benefit for residential associations used to be that they allowed the members greater control over their immediate surroundings. The other bonus they were promised was that collectively they would gain political clout. At least that was the sales pitch, along with the ever present promise of enhanced property values. It all sounded wonderful and in a perverse sense sounded sort of logical. But as we have learned over the years not everything works the way it is supposed to. In fact in the case of residential associations, the opposite is true. Not only don’t the members have control over their immediate surroundings but have lost sovereignty over their own private spaces. The existence of an HOA or Condo association is infinitely more intrusive and tyrannical than a neighborhood where the residents are on their own and allegedly have no control.
Jonathan Dessaules joins us On The Commons. Jon is an attorney in Phoenix, Arizona. As part of his practice he represents homeowners against their associations. He is one of a handful of attorneys nationwide who will only represent the owners and not straddle the fence hopping over to the HOA side when they feel like it. Currently his is in a class of his own in Arizona. He also has a blog where he discusses HOA issues and gives general guidance. It’s a great page to check out for quick guidance on some of the more common issues facing homeowners. We talk to Jon about all the usual HOA issues common to all American homeowners but we also talk about a long and protracted case that he recently won. His clients own a unit in an upscale condominium where the fees are in excess of $1,000/month. The condo shut the key card down, impeding access to the private unit and banned the use of the amenities until the owners forfeited a right they had. So much for having greater control of your immediate surroundings in a residential association.
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 at www.ileanajohnson.com. 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.
Do you wonder how legislators pass bills into law and what they think when they vote for some of these bills? Maybe we will get a peek into how all this nonsense comes up.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons this week. Deborah is the owner and author of the Independent American Communities Blog. She covers everything to do with Condos, homeowner associations, and any other form of association-governed dwelling.
At this time of year, when homeowners try the get laws passed that would protect their rights and their property, they find themselves competing with the industry lobbyists who are pushing for laws that would strip the owners of even more rights and property. And with coronavirus running rampant, they have a perfect excuse to propose absurd legislation. Debbie is going to go through a list of bills under discussion by legislators across the country.
A word to the wise, your voting rights are at risk. The assertion is that YOU, the homeowners, have the right to change your governing documents, the changes are binding, and you voted for the changes. But what was the actual outcome of the election? What if everyone you talk to voted against the proposed changes, and they all passed with flying colors, and NO HOMEOWNER is allowed to see the ballots? What if the homeowners are stuck with all sorts of additional fees and amendments they never wanted, and legislators blame the pandemic for it. Tune in for an eye-opening discussion on how your rights are disappearing right under your nose while the ballots are a secret. That is democracy up close and personal!
It amazes me that when legislators pass laws that are harmful and damaging to their constituents, and when you ask them what they are thinking—they have absolutely no idea. They do not understand what the law means or does. Not surprisingly, some people benefit from making sure these harmful laws are on the books. I don’t suppose you’d be shocked if we discovered that CAI is the mastermind behind this law. Nor would you be surprised that California homeowners once had a right to ensure that a homeowner election is accurate and ensure the process is ethical. Would you be shocked to learn that California homeowners once had a right to ensure there was no monkeying around with the votes?
But in California, homeowners are no longer allowed to watch the vote count. The people who benefit are the only ones allowed to count the ballots, make sure everything is on the up-and-up and announce the results. The allegedly unethical treasurer wins in a landslide. A special assessment is unanimously approved. An unpopular amendment to the Declaration flies through, and the homeowners are not allowed to check the votes. You understand how this works. Fortunately for Californians, the Center for California Homeowner Association Law is watching and reacting.
Marjorie Murray joins us On the Commons and explains what happens. While this show is of particular interest to California homeowners, it is equally important for all residential association owners because the same industry members will take the same laws and get them passed in every state in the country. And if you have the intestinal fortitude to explain to your legislators what they are doing, maybe we’ll get some of them to think before they vote. Good luck, but do try. Marjory Murray can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week Able helped me untangle all the glitches with my Constant Contact account, and as soon as my message went out, I got a call from my good friend Jan Bergemann with more support. I love all the help we get from each other. I am keeping my fingers crossed that all will work with no problem today. And there is an excellent reason for that because you see this show with my good friend Dr. Wes Rocki is all about working together.
Dr. Wes Rocki joins us On The Commons this week, and he continues educating us on how to use our resources and inner energy to heal ourselves and keep us well. Conversations with Wes are always fascinating. This one is no exception. He says things like we are social creatures. Hard to argue with that. But then he adds, “We are all walking each other home.” By this, I understand that we are all in this together, and we need each other’s help.
Although we didn’t discuss how this affects HOA residents, the message is the same. We should be walking each other home, looking out for each other, and making sure our neighbors are OK. During a pandemic like this, we should be making sure our neighbors are OK and not worrying about how long they left their garage doors open or when they put their trash cans out. That is not a healthy way to live. Thank you, Wes, for teaching us to “walk each other home.” That is a great way to go back to a kinder, gentler lifestyle.