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.
In the 1930’s, City dwellers resorted to using this balcony-cage contraption as a way of allowing their children to be outside.
The special interests have a way of convincing us to embrace something that is so horribly wrong and really bad for us. One of those trends happens to be something called “new urbanism”. The idea is that the suburbs are bad and contribute to sprawl and to be good citizens, we all need to abandon our desire for space and ownership. To sell us this concept, in addition to using blatant brainwashing tactics, pretty words and terms are liberally used to describe new urbanism. Words and phrases like – smart growth – walkable communities – pedestrian friendly communities. Don’t those words conjure up warm and fuzzy images of happy places? Developers, municipal governments and other interested groups and agencies would like to take us back to “the good old days”. Back to the days before Americans fled crowded and congested urban centers in search of space and the ability to provide healthier lives for our kids. As you allow your mind to picture the good old days remember the old adage; “A picture is worth 1000 words” and check out the photo included in this promo.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney, is well versed in all things HOA. Having been on the front lines of defending his property and himself from all the usual legal and moral problems that define communal living he also is one of a handful of attorneys who will represent homeowners against their residential associations. We talk about the time when Americans migrated to the suburbs in search of what many refer to as the “American dream”. Along the way they encountered the concept of corporate housing with forced membership and all the inherent problems and horrors associated with it. Join us as we take a look back in time, look at the pictures and ask yourselves, notwithstanding all the pretty words, if this is really what you want.
Taking us back to the “good old days” where neighborhoods were walkable but not so pedestrian friendly.
In the movie, Wait Until Dark, Audrey Hepburn played the role of a blind woman who was alone in her house when some “bad guys” broke in. She sensed they were in her house but she could not see them. It was a pretty terrifying scene. But it is the same scenario that repeats itself every day in the hundreds of thousands of HOAs across the country. Homeowners are subjected to the same terrifying situations that Audrey Hepburn’s character was experiencing. So much of what is being done to individual homeowners, or as the HOA industry so cavalierly puts it, ” isolated incidents” is being done under cover of darkness. Neighbors are kept in the dark or don’t want to get involved for fear of becoming yet another neighborhood “isolated incident”. Sometimes the only way to deal with the abuses is to shine a bright light on the situation and in this case, the light is the press. On the rare occasions when a media outlet decides to tell their readers about a homeowner who is being abused, the bright light the news article or the TV story shines on the ‘bad guys” puts enough pressure on the HOA to start acting and behaving like mature, responsible adults. But, getting the attention of the media is a battle on to itself.
Ward Lucas joins us On The Commons. Ward is an award winning print, TV and radio journalist who, over his career has covered stories of war while fighting his own 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.
Audrey Hepburn in a scene from Wait Until Dark. This is how many homeowners live in their HOAs.
Respect, honor, honesty, decency, justice, manners – all have been buried in the past. Once characteristics of civilized citizens they seem to have been delegated to an age gone by as we barge ahead, like a herd of cattle, headlong into the turbulent future. There was a time when children were taught to be polite, to respect their neighbors, to be honest and truthful. It was unthinkable for decent and honorable people to mistreat each other, abuse neighbor’s rights, bully and harass them just because they wanted to be the big gorilla in the neighborhood. Nowadays if Sam the Man across the street decides his neighbor spent too much time crossing a private driveway, Sam the Man, and his brood of thugs, find it perfectly acceptable to chastise and penalize the neighbor. There are fines, followed by threatening letters from their attorneys and finally foreclosure to get rid of undesirable neighbors. The unthinkable has become common place.
But in this brave new world we have created, we always have the courts, don’t we?
Caroline Douglas joins us On The Commons. Caroline, a former attorney, is well versed in the way the courts work. Not being one to turn a blind eye to a lot of the injustices around her, she became a whistleblower. However, since lawyers’ first loyalty is to the courts, Caroline could not alert the public to what really happens “behind closed doors” until she lost her law license. At that point she was able to exercise her First Amendment rights. So she wrote The Dark Side; a Law Treatise on Judging – with Memoir. The book is packed with information but on the show we can only scratch the surface of some of the things that routinely happen behind the scenes. We find out what and how we can protect our rights and we learn about some of the things that are done that are designed to frustrate and intimidate us. Once you know and understand what lies ahead, it is easier to navigate the murky waters of the justice system and come up with your defense and a plan of action. I always feel like I have been drinking from a fire hydrant and that we haven’t even made a dent in all we could learn from Caroline. If you want to contact her you can reach her at email@example.com
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. Share your stories on: From the HOA Trenches
In a grossly twisted misrepresentation of facts, homeowners in residential associations are told that their relationship with the association is a contractual one. They are told that “they agreed”. OK. Let’s assume this is correct (although I still maintain that no sane person would ever agree to the conditions in homeowner associations if they actually knew what they were getting into). The “contract” in this case says that the homeowner agrees to pay the corporate entity a certain sum of money either monthly, quarterly or annually and in return they will get certain services. Sounds straightforward enough, doesn’t it? The contract usually includes a list of remedies available to the HOA in the event the homeowner breaches his or her end of the bargain. However, there is no corresponding list of remedies available to the homeowner when the HOA fails to uphold its end of the contract. The only option they have is to hire an attorney and go to court. So why isn’t there a list of cheap remedies for the owners when they are not getting what they are paying for? Can they fine the HOA or withhold their assessments? Maybe that should be part of every “contract” that comes attached to a home.
John Cowherd joins us On The Commons. John is a Virginia attorney who represents owners who find themselves having to defend their rights in their associations. He is a blogger. He writes about current cases and court decisions affecting property owners in Virginia. His blog is called Words of Conveyance In his latest posting he writes about Lambert V. Sea Oats where the condo owner scores a victory in court. It’s a classic breach of contract case that involves a broken door jamb, of all silly things. It was the condo’s responsibility but they failed to live up to their end of the sacred contract. The condo owner, Martha Lambert, had to sue the condominium to collect the $500 she spent fixing the door jamb. And that’s when it starts getting interesting. We talk to John about the ins and outs of the case and start realizing that judges may be somewhat reluctant to award fees in the thousands of dollars to settle a $500 item. The case went up to the Virginia Supreme Court and was remanded to the lower courts who had awarded Martha only $350 of the approximately $9,000 in legal fees it has cost her. So, should these contracts be more equitable and provide remedies for the owners in the event the associations is in breach of the governing documents? What do you think?
There was a time when we believed that if something hurt it had to be good for us. We’re a lot smarter now and realize that pain is an indicator that something is wrong. We are also learning that not all pain is physical. Increasingly it is emotional and psychological and that is especially true in the case of the pain inflicted on owners by residential associations. Finally homeowners are refusing to accept the false assertion that HOAs protect property values. They are no longer willing to put up with the abuses common in residential associations just to protect the mythical notion that their property will be worth a dollar or two more if they spend thousands of dollars in medical bills. They know it is a lie. So why, they now ask, do we really need HOAs? Who really benefits from them?
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah is a prolific blogger and a tireless researcher. Her blog, Independent American Communities tracks all the latest trends and stories in America’s many forms of residential associations. Lately she has been writing about HOA members who are talking about disbanding the corporate structure of the neighborhood. We talk to Deborah about the growing number of homeowners looking into dissolving the corporation that is part and parcel of their neighborhood and returning it to the people who live there. She tells us that homeowners like their homes and their neighborhoods, they just can’t stand their HOAs and all that goes with them. In a recent blog about Walnut Grove, an Omaha neighborhood, she starts with a quote that reads: “The first step to getting what you want is having the courage to get rid of what you don’t want.” And that’s just what some homeowners are doing. They want their homes, their neighborhoods and to be left alone to live in peace and to get what they want they need to get rid of what they don’t want – the HOA.