If people knew what they were getting into, would they still buy in an HOA? I was convinced that they wouldn’t, but I was wrong. Thirty years ago when I first became aware of HOAs and started to understand what we were dealing with, HOA mandates were already in place in Fairfax County and probably across the country as well. However, there were still pockets of older neighborhoods so some choices still existed. Now, even most of those older neighborhoods have been razed to the ground only to be replaced by some new faddish fantasy that will no doubt sound positively utopian but in practice be unworkable.
Shelly Marshall and Michael Marshall, PhD join me On The Commons. Shelly is an HOA Warrior. She is a prolific writer of self help books including a book on HOAs, what to look for and how to understand what you are getting into. Dr. Marshall, Shelly’s brother, is a Psychology Professor and practitioner. This dynamic duo have combined forces to answer the question; “Why can’t people hear us?”. Shelly warned Mike about the risks involved in buying a condo and told him to keep looking but that didn’t stop him. For awhile everything went well until one day when his utopian dream came crashing down. So why didn’t he listen? Why don’t people learn from other people’s stories? Mike and Shelly, along with Deborah Goonan, are working on a case study, doing some research with the intent of publishing a paper answering this question. In an easy to understand and simple way, Mike explains the psychology behind human nature. He and Shelly fill in with facts, stories and typical situations that take place every single day. This is a very exciting piece of research and a fascinating interview. For all those people who believe that “HOAs are here to stay,” are you listening?
Change is part of life. It always has been and always will be. Consider all the changes that have taken place over the last few decades and how those changes have affected our lives. Depending on how far back you want to go it is not too hard to see just how things have changed. Cars and roads made it possible for us to expand our world, expand our horizons and explore all the hidden wonders that were beyond our ability to walk to. Computers and cell phones have brought the world even closer and enabled us to see and know what goes on around the world. Another, not really celebrated change by the owners, is the imposition of mandatory membership residential associations like HOAs and Condos. Notwithstanding the fact that housing consumers, for the most part, dislike them, proponents of this regime are quick to say, “HOAs are here to stay”. But are they?
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah has a widely read blog called Independent American Communities . She is active on several social media sites and is a prolific writer. A recent blog of hers titled “Reality check: HOA managers face decline of their industry, like it or not.” caught my eye. I had to read it and when I did, I had to have her join us to talk about it. We talk about the changes, some industry stats and some of “the changes” currently taking place, especially in condominiums. Of course there are problems that simply can’t be ignored and we don’t. However there are so many more that need to be talked about, analyzed, discussed and put on the skyline that we will have to tackle them the next time we get together On The Commons. It is clear that change is inevitable, nothing is here to stay, and the more we try to control the natural flow of life, the bigger problems we will be creating. To find Deborah on her various social media sites, follow the links below.
I have never bought into the notion that Home Owner Associations are a necessity for any dwelling especially if it is free standing. And I am not sure you can convince me that there is any value added even in a high rise situation. Oh, I can hear the gasps out there! Take a deep breath! There certainly is no reason at all in a development where all the lots are measured in acres instead of inches, as they seem to be these days. All right, I exaggerate, maybe not inches but certainly feet. Probably the worst aspect of the current residential association model is the governance. It creates two classes of “neighbors” where some neighbors have authority over others. This in turn ensures that there will always be some form of conflict that provides lots of opportunities to enrich the legal profession.
Michael Pugh joins us On The Commons. Many years ago, Mike and his wife bought a large house on almost 6 acres of land in Virginia. And yes, there is a mandatory membership HOA. I suspect that is due to municipal mandates because there really is no rhyme or reason for imposing yet another layer of government on the residents. In fact there is every reason in the world not to have one. On the back 2 acres of the Pugh property that butts on to Tranquility Road, the developer put in a meadow. A little bit of nature before man interfered with it. For the last 27 years those 2 acres have been maintained as a meadow where the wildflowers grow and provide a refuge for the animals and insects and where the monarch butterflies are protected. It is indeed a tranquil haven, and had been until the HOA reared its ugly head and demanded that the meadow, that is only visible from the Pugh’s property, be mowed down. This battle, sadly, is headed to court. The Pughs are determined to protect their property rights, their meadow and the beautiful monarch butterflies that return to their meadow every year. And in case you are wondering, no, there is nothing in the governing documents prohibiting the meadow. It has always been there. And with a little luck and some common sense, it always will be.
The local paper did a story on the Pughs and their meadow called Meadow Must Go Says HOA. Doesn’t that say it all? There is also a video of the meadow in all its glory that you will want to watch.
Homeownership is not a new idea, it has been around a long time. For ages people have saved their money/got a mortgage bought a house and lived happily ever after. When did this sensible concept get replaced and why did we have to make such a complicated mess out of an otherwise simple and easy to understand part of life? Who benefits? Certainly not the housing consumers. And what exactly are we paying for when we fall in love with that perfect house and put our lifesavings on the table to buy the house? How much is that dream home REALLY costing us? Are we given a full break down of the costs, now and in the future? If not, should we be told before we turn our pockets inside out to get the keys to the house?
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney and one of only a handful of attorneys nationwide, who represents homeowners and consumers at odds with their HOAs. A frequent guest, Bill has an uncanny ability to get to the bottom of the problem and shed a slightly different light on issues that most of us have never thought about. We talk to Bill about how our understanding of property values, that carrot that is dangled in front of every homeowner to get them to give up rights, has changed the way we see property, property rights and property values. Concepts once easily understood but now ” subject to interpretation”. We also talk about true costs of buying a home and identify some of the hidden costs and how they affect our ongoing financial outlay. We have a lot of questions, a few answers and a piece of advice: “take off those rose colored glasses and get to the bottom of this housing mess”.
Dangling a carrot in front of homeowners to force them to give up their rights.
The song, “Both sides now” has been on my mind a lot since talking to my guest. Reading the lyrics, I understand why. The lyrics pretty much sum up the gist of this interview. I always find it interesting that when it comes to housing, two people can look at the same problems and issues and come with a different point of view, sort of like the lyrics in the song that keeps playing over and over in my mind. Angel hair, ice cream castles and feather canyons are in the clouds but then the clouds only block the sun and rain and snow on everyone. Maybe it is time to look at condos and HOAs from “both sides now”.
Vicki MacHale joins us On The Commons. Vicki is the co-owner of Ark Management in California with 23 years experience under her belt. She has seen lots of clouds, especially when it comes to the way HOAs and condos are managed and has written about her thoughts and observations. In a recent article titled Emissaries of Change She has also written a letter to Governor Jerry Brown about her concerns for underfunded associations and the largely inadequate legislation that is mainly a knee jerk reaction to a headline grabbing incident. Vicki and I both agree on the problems and the issues but we do tend to look at “both sides” in this interview. I learned some things from my chat with Vicki and believe it is time for all concerned to come together and look at “both sides now”.
Individual freedom, along with personal and private property rights have been eroding gradually over the last few decades. This is especially true for homeowners in mandatory membership residential associations. What is particularly galling about all this is that homeowners are told they knowingly and willingly gave up these rights – they ” agreed” and some go so far as to add “so stop your wining!” This is a total misrepresentation of the facts. No sane person in the world would agree to subject themselves to double taxation and the unfettered abuses of an industry gone wild. The harm that can be done to families, the health and welfare of the citizens and especially the children living in HOAs can easily be demonstrated by this story.
Bobbie Goolsby joins us On The Commons. Bobbie, a loving grandmother bought her granddaughter, Emma, now 6 years old, a pink playhouse. This playhouse is Emma’s safe space, it is her world. It is where she goes to feel safe, to get her therapy, to relax, to unwind and to mend and try to get better. It is what every home should be. This is something Emma understands. It is a concept that the neighborhood HOA does not appear to understand. Calling it a “metal shed” they demand it be removed immediately or face a court battle. This, despite the fact that the homeowners were assured, BEFORE buying their home, that the playhouse would not be a problem.
In a candid and heartfelt interview Bobbie tells us about Emma and how they almost lost her. What she means to the family and the joy this precious, friendly and outgoing child brings them.
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 however, is the idea that a handful of owners and hired managers are allowed to fine the owners. This practice does get very personal. People have been fined for some of the most ridiculous things. A few examples include having a dusty roof and mailbox, a cracked flowerpot on the front porch, an “unapproved” garden hose in the yard, and “unapproved object” in a flowerpot (small US flag), talking to neighbors on front porch of ones own home, interior window blinds the wrong shade of white, a pet that exceeds the allowed weight limit, unapproved number of rose bushes, trash cans visible from the street. The list goes on and on. All as ridiculous as these examples. Fining is a power that is often used as a bully tool and abused and should be STOPPED. Fines can lead to the loss of a home through foreclosure and the loss of an owner’s 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.
Residential America has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. Gone are the days when housing consumers bought a house or a plot of land and were lords of their mansions, kings or queens of their castles, where their word was law – within the confines of their property, of course. Increasingly living in residential America is more complicated, more restrictive and more expensive. Do American homeowners know and understand how and why their lives and homes have changed?
Donna Fossum joins us On The Commons. Donna is an attorney, a long time resident and condo owner in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. She was a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, a former member of the Alexandria Planning Commission and a one time candidate for City Council. Donna, with her analytical background, has written the most comprehensive and complete report on the changing residential communities. After a lot of research, Donna discovers what is essentially two cities in one, divided more or less equally by the east side and the west side of the City of Alexandria.
She explains how this shift resulted in double taxation for approximately half of the homeowners in Alexandria. But probably one of the most eye opening discoveries she made was the differences in the political process and participation by the citizens of the two different halves of the city. Tune in and hear her talk about all the issues that significantly affect the way we live in America today and read her report, Fossum Files . While her research and analysis centered on Alexandria, the same issues and resulting problems exist across the country.
I keep thinking that there really must be a breaking point. A point where American housing consumers start digging a little deeper and looking beyond the frills and the pretty upgrades in a house they are considering buying. I hope they start looking for construction inspection reports (if such a thing exists and if not it might be a good idea to turn around and RUN as far away as possible). They should also find out whether or not there is a mandatory, involuntary membership requirement in a homeowners association. An upgraded backsplash in the kitchen is not going to make up for a house that is poorly constructed, starts falling down around them and is run and managed by people they would be better off never having met. The quality of their lives in such a place could very well become material for a horror story.
But, you think, the courts are always there to sort it all out, aren’t they? Tune in. It is time to take those rose colored glasses off and take steps to prevent yourself from getting trapped in a real live horror movie.
Nila Ridings joins us On The Commons. Nila could be the poster child for what happens when the HOA seemingly has a personal vendetta against a member. Her story starts many years ago when her driveway started sinking and got lower than the garage floor, causing problems in her house. There were other construction problems that the HOA chose not to replace on her property, citing inadequate funds as the reason. Miraculously they found the money to make the repairs on other homes in the development. He request for access to the financial records of the HOA was, predictably, denied even though this is a basic right of the members. To understand the twists and turns in her story and the road that led to years worth of very costly litigation and the loss of her house, you will have to tune in and hear Nila explain it and then to find out that at the end of the day, she was even denied her day in court. Over the years Nila has used the knowledge she has gained from her own battles to help others who find themselves in a war for their home, their rights and their sanity while fighting for her own home. Her story might help you loosen your grip on those rose colored glasses you have.
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.