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.
A house is just a house, four walls and a door to keep the outside out and the inside in. It is simply a place where people live. A home, on the other hand, is a place where our affections are centered, where, to use an old cliché, the heart is. Sadly, we have gone from acquiring a house and making it our home to living in what is now known as a “unit”. The Dictionary defines a unit as “one of many”. There is nothing special about a “unit”. Nothing unique, nothing to distinguish it from all the others.
Notwithstanding the outer changes of our dwelling units, we still need to have a nesting place, a place all our own, a place that reflects who we are, a place that is safe and a place where we escape the outside world, even if just for a short while. In the homeownerassociation world that is taking over residential America, the concept of a home is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. We now live in corporations where every aspect of daily life is controlled, where threats and sanctions are the norm and where fear seems to rule the day.
Harry Flagle joins us On The Commons. Harry is a multi-talented gent with a heart as big as they come. A composer and song writer, Harry wrote the lyrics and the music to our theme song, “One Way Ticket to Hell” and donated the song to the homeowners striving to maintain some semblance of sanity in their neighborhoods. He owns several patents and is an Emmy Award winner for some of his contributions to the film industry. We’ll ask Harry why he wrote One Way Ticket to Hell and what the reaction to the song has been and then we’ll join Harry on a delightful stroll down memory lane to a time when life was simpler and the unimaginable was possible.
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.
On The Commons begins its 20th year of broadcasting.
To celebrate we are rebroadcasting a show we often talk about. Tune in, you’ll love it just as much this time around.
Have you noticed how all sense flies out the window when an involuntary membership homeowners association is involved? All of a sudden we fear everything that is not part of that uniform look and feel of a controlled community. A different shade of blah can topple an entire neighborhood, an unapproved garden hose, dusty mailboxes, flags, rose bushes and pudgy pooches are all a threat to property values. An addition that doesn’t quite conform to the existing architectural guidelines will no doubt incite a riot, oh get real.
Maria and Sam Farran join us On The Commons this week. The Farrans weren’t about to believe all the nonsense they were told. They did their homework, knew the rules and the laws and decided to fight back. After years of court room drama, they won their cases and were awarded attorney fees and court costs. However, there was a snag. You see, in the process, their HOA ran out of money and went bankrupt. But there is a happy ending after all. As Maria says; “We used to be a corporation that ran a neighborhood, we are now a neighborhood that runs a corporation”. I won’t ruin it for you so tune in and find out how they got their money and what happened to the association. You’ll love it.
For years the bulk of information about this relatively new experiment in housing has come from the industry that has created it and gains from it. The sales pitch generally describes the concept of condominiums, homeowner associations and cooperatives in glowing terms, promising the owners an easy life where all their problems will be taken care of for them. Housing consumers are assured they will have greater control over their immediate environment, that this is “democracy up close and personal”, it is carefree living at its best, owners will have access to amenities that are beyond the financial reach of most Americans and of course the promise of protected and enhanced property values. We’ve all heard these promises and all know that nothing can be further from the truth.
But finally the tables are starting to turn. Academics, attorneys, psychologists, advocates and medical professionals are speaking out. And finally the truth about the effects of HOAs is being uncovered.
We’ll talk to Mike and Shelly about their case study, a crisis in a condo association on the gulf coast. In this case the condo owners were faced with massive renovations. The condo owners were facing having to get a loan in excess of 10 million dollars to make the repairs. Naturally the owners would be required to repay the loan. We’ll learn how the association communicated the problem to the owners and how the owners reacted. While we have seen many similar cases, they have all focused on the structural issues, and often when discussed by the HOA industry the blame has been put squarely on the shoulders of the owners. What is refreshingly enlightening about this paper is that the authors study the situation more from an interpersonal and normal communication perspective. Really happy to note that this dynamic trio are busy working on their next paper. It is high time to get the real story out.
Lord Acton said ” power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And if what is happening all around us is not proof that he was bang on target, I don’t know what is. I can list all the rights and freedoms Americans have lost and are losing at all levels but this week I want to focus on the most innocent and vulnerable among us – our children. Yes, they are being targeted by the bullies in HOAs and in local governments. For generations kids have been allowed to set up lemonade stands, make and sell lemonade to make some pocket money, help their parents meet their expenses, raise money for charity and even for neighbors. They have learned so much and, along the way practiced being responsible adults. But that’s not good enough.
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah has a blog called Independent American Communities where she blogs about everything that is happening in America’s HOA controlled neighborhoods and also the non HOA controlled communities. But as we learn today, it is not just HOAs that behave like thugs and seem to exist solely to “enforce, enforce, enforce”. Local real governments seem to have jumped on the bandwagon and will apparently do anything to increase their revenue, even at the expense of children. We’ll talk to Deborah about two states, Texas and Colorado, that have enacted legislation allowing children under 18 to have lemonade stands without having to get a municipal permit to do so. Can you imagine forcing a 5 or 6 or even an 11 year old to pay outrageous fees for a permit and then FINING the child if they neglected to get one? These two states appear to be role models because other states are also contemplating legislatively allowing children to be children, including New York. The other piece of good news I have for you is that Country Time, makers of lemonade have set up a Lemon Ade, for a brief period of time they will pay for fines incurred for setting up a lemonade stand as well as permits paid for – with proof, of course.
So proud of the children who are standing up for their rights. Be sure to watch 8 year old Branson Burton’s testimony in front of the Texas committee on State Affairs. Kids like Branson give me hope that all is not lost.
The mere existence of a homeowners association does not mean that the HOA has limitless power and authority and can do everything and anything it wants. Unfortunately that notion seems to be widely accepted. I’ve heard board members say, “we are the board and can do anything we want” and their attorneys respond, You are not on solid legal foundation but homeowners don’t assert their rights so go ahead….. So what is a homeowner who is caught in this insane web to do?
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney who represents homeowners against their homeowners associations tends to run into some of the strangest cases. Today’s discussion is about one such case and underscores the importance of homeowners doing their own research. We’ll talk about one association that may, or may not have the power and authority to do anything it feels like doing. In this case the homeowner chose to assert his legal rights and in the process uncovered some interesting facts about the association.
This interview was recorded and broadcast earlier.
Byron Hanke is largely credited with being the grandfather of what we often refer to as “homeowner associations”. But this concept of homeownership includes condominiums, co-ooperatives as well as fee simple single family homes. As I started looking at the bigger picture of HOAs, I wondered about the origins of the concept. I called Byron Hanke several times and talked to him on the phone. He never agreed to be interviewed but was generous with his time when it came to talking one on one. In October of 1999 I got a call from Lincoln Cummins, one of the three founders of CAI and its second President, inviting me to a summit to be held at at Anne and Byron’s house in a place called “Scientists Cliffs” in Maryland. Scientists Cliffs served as a model for HOAs.
Lincoln Cummings joins us On The Commons this week. Linc has been involved from the very beginning so has a unique perspective. He takes us on a trip down memory lane to the very early days of association housing, introduces us to the people involved and talks a little about the thoughts and plans they had. We’ll find out whether or not their ideas materialized as imagined or whether some things went astray. We’ll also ask Linc, hindsight being 20/20, if he could go back to the very beginning, would he do anything differently.
Why do some HOA horror stories grab the headlines, go viral, get written up in news outlets around the world, discussed on radio shows and highlighted on local and national TV shows while others, equally horrible, get ignored? We never seem to learn as the stories repeat themselves, over and over and over again. Flag flaps, children play equipment in private backyards that seem to irk some of the less tolerant in the ‘hood, non conforming trashcans, unapproved garden hoses, bird feeders, discrimination, discrimination and more discrimination against anyone who does not conform to some secret acceptable standard. There are hundreds of these stories every single day yet we only ever hear about a tiny handful of them. Why?
Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons this week. Ward is an award winning print, TV and radio journalist who, over his career have covered stories of war while fighting a war to protect his property in a homeowners association. His experience and expertise were put to great use when he wrote Neighbors at War, the Creepy case Against your Homeowners Association. The term ” Neighbors at War” has caught on and is used often in HOA stories. Ward also maintains a blog by the same name. All his posts give an estimated reading time. We’ll find out why. We’ll also ask him how to capture the attention of the mainstream media and what we, as homeowners with all sorts of different backgrounds, can do to become more effective communicators. I always have fun talking to Ward so tune in and join in the fun. Oh, and as an added bonus, we’ll hear all about his latest book, due out soon.