Not too long ago a friend sent me a link for a video and recommended I watch it. I did. I was shocked and horrified when I realized I was looking at a homeowners’ association. As far as I could see, there was no rhyme or reason to have an HOA in this bucolic part of the country. I have since learned that the property owners in this otherwise peaceful setting each own hundreds of acres of land accessible by dirt roads.
We’ve allowed ourselves to be fooled into believing municipal governments just don’t have the money to provide the services real estate tax dollars are supposed to pay for, therefore HOAs are a necessity to provide those services. Not that I believe that for a moment but if I did, try as I might, I could not find any reason to justify the imposition of an HOA on this particular neighborhood. Check out the video and please let me know if an HOA makes sense to you. I am convinced we have lost all sense of reality and sanity in this country.
Mary Ann Fordyce joins us On The Commons. Mary Ann has a chicken business in a rural community in Texas, where many of her neighbors are also business people, several have livestock and there is at least one other chicken businesses owner as well. Not surprisingly this chicken owner was a board member who sold Mary Ann her first chickens and got her started on her business. And for awhile, all was well. But then life in this peaceful corner of the country changed. We’ll talk to Mary Ann and get some of the details of why her dreams came crashing down and how she lost first one house and is now hanging on, trying to protect the second house she and her husband bought, from being foreclosed on. I’ll ask her what purpose her HOA serves and how it protects her when her closest neighbor is a mile away. I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear what happened to the only common area these property owners had. Maybe the fate of that park is the answer to why an HOA was even part of this neighborhood? Check out Mary Ann’s web site Blue Star Ranch . This lady is determined to help educate housing consumers about the perils of HOAs.
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.
We’ve all heard the ridiculous explanations about the horror and abuses of HOAs. “It’s ALL your fault, condo and homeowners, because you agreed”. And that begs the question of why any sane and rational person who fully understands all the ramifications of association living would ever agree to the lopsided powers against them? Do housing consumers really understand that the notion of an HOA contract is as fake as they come? In a contract both parties are pretty much on an equal footing. They agree, in the case of an HOA, to pay a certain sum of money on a monthly/quarterly or annual basis in return for certain services and benefits. So far sounds OK, right? But in the event of a breach in the contract the HOA has seemingly limitless powers to enforce their perception of the breach of the fake contract while the owner is left with nothing more than the right to hire an attorney and go to court. The association? Well, they can fine you and take your house away without ever going to court. Seems fair, right? No, I didn’t think so either. What happens when you exercise your 1st Amendment Right to Free Speech and decide to tell your story? Does that offer you any leverage? Can you prevent someone else from getting caught in the same house of horrors? Well, that’s where more and more homeowners these days are running into something called a gag order. You can’t talk about what you have endured and how the courts sided against you even further tipping the scales of justice in favor of the association.
John Cowherd join us On The Commons this week. John is an attorney in Northern Virginia who represents homeowners caught in the web of HOA horrors. Surprise, surprise, he knows the laws pertaining to condos and HOAs in Virginia. Something not many attorneys understand. John is a blogger where he writes about all things related to real estate, including HOAs. His blog is called Words of Conveyance. We talk to John about his recent blog titled Are Legal Remedies of Owners and HOAs Equitable? We talk about the associations right to fine, why they like that power and what an owner can do to protect him or herself. We also talk about court imposed gag orders to prevent any information about the cases from ever seeing the light of day. Perhaps we ought to remind them of the Louis Brandeis quote: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”
In the civilized world a crime is a crime is a crime and will be treated as a crime. Tax payers believe that their tax dollars protect them from ALL crimes and criminals. Call the police, file a report and leave it in their capable hands. In general that is true. But when enormous sums of money are embezzled from condo coffers, why then does it become a “civil matter” and up to the condo owners to hire attorneys and investigate the theft? Why aren’t all crimes treated equally? And why do we need laws making the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars a crime? These thefts could lead to the loss of people’s homes and their largest assets but they are swept under the rug. The criminals get away with it and the victims are left helplessly to try to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Jan Bergemann joins us On The Commons. Jan is a homeowner, an owner advocate and the founder and president of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice. As an advocate who has seen the abuses and the horrors that occur routinely in residential associations he has an intimate understanding of how and why such hideously outrageous abuses occur. We’ll talk to Jan about a new law that just took affect in Florida – HB 1237 – dubbed, of all things, “the Condo Crime bill”. The bill has many moving parts and addresses a number of insane situations that are so commonplace in condos and homeowner associations but would raise more than eyebrows in a civilized, sane society. We go through some of the parts to understand why it was necessary to include them. Some don’t require much imagination like attorneys may not represent BOTH the HOA and its management company. Picture that one in a court of law – arguing both sides of the case! Any cartoonists want to tackle that one?
Representing both sides – a client on the right and one on the left, which one will generate more money in the future? Morality and the truth is always sacrificed.
First you scare them, then you promise to protect them and then you own them. Once that is accomplished, perpetrating the biggest consumer scam is a piece of cake. Buying a few state legislators’ assistance, creating a very lucrative stream of “free” income for the municipalities, paving the way for developers to increase their profit margins exponentially seals the deal. And that is how simple it has been to force housing consumers into HOAs where they can be robbed of their homes, their wealth and health and their peace of mind. The lies that have been repeated over the decades to scare prospective homeowners appear to have become universally accepted truths. After all, if you keep hearing the same thing over and over again, if must be true, right? However, the one thing that is true is that non HOA controlled housing is almost nonexistent in most of the country. So being told that the house you are buying is in a mandatory membership homeowner association is no surprise.
Jonathan Friedrich joins us On The Commons. When he retired, Jonathan left New York in search of lower property taxes and moved to Las Vegas, Nevada where he bought a house that needed a lot of work. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work. When he bought the house he was given an HOA disclosure package which contained a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions commonly known as CC&Rs. Jonathan’s concern was getting away from crippling property taxes and not so much HOAs. His focus was fixing the house he had just bought and making it habitable. He also became involved in his new community. And that’s when the imperfections of his association and association living in general started rising to the top. He dealt with all the usual insanity that seems to go along with HOAs which not so surprisingly led to the court house. After 5 long years in court, Jonathan won his case. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details and to truly appreciate the win one has to hear the details of his story, in his own words. The twists, the turns, the lies, the misrepresentations made along the way should alert consumers of what to look for and where to look when buying a house. There may be more to come as Jonathan is not finished cleaning up the mess. Stay tuned.
They don’t build things like they used to. The Pyramids of Egypt have been around since approximately 2700 BC, that’s almost 5000 years. I wonder how much maintenance has been done on them over the centuries? Our cardboard and scotch tape buildings fail after a few years and will probably not be a source of amazement in a century. In fact, at this rate, most of them will not be still standing and that’s with maintenance. How times they are a changing!
Tyler Berding joins us On The Commons this week. Tyler is a founding partner of Berding and Weil, a law firm in California specializing in construction defect litigation and condominiums. He has long warned us of the perils we are facing by not being adequately funded for multi unit housing. Tyler also maintains a blog called, not surprisingly, Condo Issues. Tyler talks about a couple of recent tragic building failures in California that claimed the lives of several people. He explains why he believes these buildings are failing and what can be done about it. He also tells us about one bill he wrote that he thinks might help in the future. But at no time does he promise us that we will be building and living in anything that is remotely as well built as the Pyramids built by the ancient Egyptians. Take another listen.
Imagine the resulting destruction if a classroom full of kindergartners had been given boxes of matches and told to play with fire. No safety instructions, no oversight, no plans to prevent the inevitable mayhem and chaos, just the blanket permission for children to play with fire. Now I know what you are thinking, no sane and rational person would ever do anything that reckless and stupid. OK, so maybe we don’t actually give a room full of 5 year old boxes of matches but can you see much of a difference between that scenario and what is happening in condo and homeowner associations across the country? How about state legislatures?
Frank Short joins us On The Commons. Frank, a long time friend, a government attorney and a popular guest on the show follows proposed legislation and explains how these laws, if enacted, would work in real life. We focus on just one of those bad bills today and talk about a towing bill that was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates earlier this year. Unfortunately this bill survived and went on to become the law while its companion bill in the Virginia Senate failed. Keep that picture of 5 year olds with their boxes of matches in mind as you consider the ramifications of how this new law will affect consumers, voters, taxpayers and anyone else caught in the web that has been spun by legislators. Maybe it is time to recognize that our elected officials can’t be trusted any more than any other predator when it comes to protecting their constituents. Is it time to take away the matchboxes from the “little ones” and start providing some desperately needed adult supervision?
Homeowner and condo associations abuses have always been with us as long as HOAs and condos have existed. However, in the early days of this housing concept very few homeowners spoke out. They were embarrassed and believed they were at fault. They didn’t want their friends and family to know they had been sued, fined or ridiculed for such offensive crimes as painting their house the wrong shade of beige or having too many rose bushes in their yards. They were ostracized and isolated from they neighborhood and retreated within themselves, did not talk to their neighbors and quietly sold their homes and heads hung low, moved away. In those days it was still possible to find a home that was not saddled with the atrocities of an association, but as housing choices evaporate and HOA housing became the only viable option available to consumers, the voices are getting getting louder. More and more people caught in the web of residential associations are expressing their anger and their frustrations.
Judy, a homeowner joins us On The Commons. Judy is one of the many angry and frustrated homeowners who want to wrest control of their lives and homes back away from the special interests and the neighborhood thugs. After putting a lot of thought into the status quo, she looked at some of the problems and the issues homeowners face on a daily basis and came up with a long list of things she believes need to be done to return residential America back to a desirable place to live. We talk to Judy about her thoughts and her ideas. Many of them have been discussed before but some are new. She has a call to action for fellow owners and activists and a creative way of raising the much needed funds to fight back and protect our rights and our properties.
If I could draw I think I would write the HOA book as a series of cartoons because that’s how my mind tends to work. Many of those cartoons would be funny, others not so funny. But over the years never has there been a sumo wrestler in any of my imagined doodles or cartoons – until this interview. That’s when I started putting sumo wrestlers in the picture . But a gratuitous, enormous hulking, naked man in what appears to be a diaper, in the middle of a manicured, sterile, characterless, controlled residential association wasn’t quite connecting. So, I decided to read up on sumo wrestling and sumo wrestlers. And all of a sudden it was a perfect fit, diaper and all. I discovered, among other things, that although some of these massive men appear to be invincible, they have been toppled by smaller opponents. A sumo historian is quoted as saying he believes the circular ring was chosen to assist smaller fighters to slip away and that the sumo rules tends to root for the underdog.
If you find yourselves in the bullseye of an HOA battle, facing what may seem like a sumo wrestler, grin at the diaper and know that you can win.
Dr. Wes Rocki, MD, PhD joins us On The Commons. Retired from practicing conventional medicine, Wes now focusses on alternative medicine, including techniques on self help and self healing. He explains how we can empower ourselves to better handle any conflict. We talk about how we can step away, mentally and emotionally to get a better grasp of the situation. Wes gives us a lot of really good advice on how to not only survive being at the center of an HOA storm but how to survive emotionally, reframe the conflict, empower ourselves and win against that massive sumo wrestler in the ring with us. So many light bulbs went off during the course of this interview. Listen and be empowered. Well worth a second listen.
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.