Regular listeners often hear me refer to American housing as being made of cardboard and scotch tape. It is not just housing that is no longer built to last, everything else tends to fall apart and need to be repaired or replaced much too soon and far too often. While people agree with me, the explanation I get is that it is cheaper to make junk than it is to build things that will be around, functional and in one piece for awhile. But how cost effective is it? Are we destined to continually play “catch up” juggling our budgets to patch and prop things up?
John Sellers joins us On The Commons. John has a degree in aeronautical engineering and a background in finance. When he moved to Arizona he ran into the flawed concept of residential associations. Taking a step back and looking at the really big picture he identified some of the problems and came up with a few ideas on how to avoid building the “junk” in the first place, especially when it comes to infrastructure. John, along with his colleagues, founded the Yavapai Regional Capital . We’ll talk to John, get some of the details, find out how we can build infrastructure that might have a chance of lasting, how to finance it and whether there is a place for modern technology in the future of the world we live in. This was one of the most fascinating and eye opening interviews I have had. You won’t want to miss it.
It is said that “a chain is as strong as its weakest link”. We all know what a chain looks like, therefore it is easy to visualize and understand. Replace the chain with something that is abstract, like a right or ownership, you know what they are and can describe what they mean but you can’t visualize them. Then apply the concept of a weak link and imagine how it would erode the rights you have. Except now the link isn’t a single item but rather a whole host of things merrily chipping away at your rights and property.
Tom Deweese joins us On The Commons. Tom is the founder and president of the Virginia based American Policy Center, a speaker, a passionate advocate for property rights and an author. Tom has written several books, his newest book, Sustainable: The War on Free Enterprise, Private Property and Individuals. In a clear and easy to understand way, he explains how, we have lost rights and freedoms over the years. In order to put things in context I ask Tom why property rights matter If you thought it is so you can paint your from door any color you choose, that’s the least of it. Click on the link for a free, downloadable pamphlet, tune in to the show and hear Tom discuss some the issues, read the book and decide to do your bit to salvage what is left of your and your children’s rights.
That the system is rigged in favor of the corporation in residential associations is irrefutable. Housing consumers are required to sign a “take it or leave it” contract when they buy a house, without knowing or understanding what they are getting into. Then, when things head south, as they are wont to do, the homeowners are described, by the HOA industry as horrible, irresponsible people for failing to abide by the provisions in the supposed contract that they allegedly agreed to. Even attorneys are left scratching their heads trying to decipher the mountain of legalese designed to strip homeowners of rights and property.
Bill Davis joins us On The Commons. Bill, a Texas attorney is one of a handful of attorneys across the country who represents homeowners in HOAs. Unlike the “experts in HOA law” who typically represent associations and have an inherent conflict of interest when it comes to working for the owner, Bill has no ties to the industry nor does he owe allegiance to the corporations that govern these developments. We talk to Bill about one of the most heinous powers associations have been given by misguided legislators, the power to FINE their neighbors seemingly for no other reason other than they happen to be in a bad mood. More than one court has found fines to be an unconstitutional delegation of a police power, however the very people who benefit the most from this practice have convinced legislators that it is constitutionally permissible to “sign away your rights”. Yes, it goes back to that contract I was talking about. Listen to some of the tools homeowners may have when it comes to fighting the abuses of the unfair practice of arbitrarily punishing a neighbor.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” When confronted with anything that “sounds too good to be true”, don’t take it at face value, instead do a little digging to get the details. One of these golden gems in the land of residential associations is Alternate Dispute Resolution, or ADR. Proponents would have us believe arbitration and mediation are cheaper, quicker and better than going to court. It sounds too good to be true so I did a little digging, and several years ago wrote a paper on my findings which is on my web site. You can read it here. But there is so much more.
As time goes on and more and more people fall in the trap of giving up their right to go to court, some pretty unsavory details have come to light. Mediation is used pretty extensively in neighborhood association wars which usually include a confidentiality clause, in other words, a gag order. I have always opposed this.
Robin Lent joins us On The Commons. Robin, a Texas homeowner got tangled up in a battle with her association 10 years ago, went to a court ordered mediation and after an exhausting session, when she was ready to drop, signed an agreement that included a confidentiality clause. The terms of the settlement are sealed so we will NOT be discussing them BUT for the details of the mediation process, and the fall out of the gag order, you will have to tune in. It was a huge eye opener for me and I learned so much from this show. So, you think you want to go to arbitration? Please tune in.
How do you fix something that is so horribly broken, something that was built on a foundation of lies and misinformation and something that is so anti owner? You can’t. For the past several decades homeowners, legislators, academics, health professionals and yes, even the homeowners themselves, have suggested ways weeks and mini fixes, all they have accomplished is made the whole process more burdensome and complicated. Maybe it is time to take a step back, analyze the issues and the reasons for the conflicts and tackle the real reasons for the feuds instead of just trying to make them more palatable.
Scott Wircenske joins us On The Commons. Scott, a homeowner in Kansas asked the board of directors of Parkhill Manor HOA a rather embarrassing question: “where is our money?” . Homeowners who are members of any residential association are responsible for the financial health of the association as well as the condition of the common assets (liabilities?). The owners have a right to know what is going on and the board has a fiduciary duty to keep the owners informed. Scott’s board chose, instead, to withhold that information. For the past 8 years Scott has been involved in litigation, trying to work with the board as well as attempting to get legislation enacted to prevent the abuses. Scott shares his story with us and warns us of the pitfalls that he encountered.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org but you won’t want to miss this interview.
It is so easy to just accept as gospel what we read, hear and are told without actually thinking things through. One issue that is really rich in such non sequiturs is the whole concept of condo and homeowner associations. The reasons and explanations given about the benefits of these forced memberships are many and, as our president would say, FAKE NEWS. Think about it and try to understand how, allowing complete strangers full and total power over your home can protect your rights? How “agreeing” to finance every and any folly of this group of strangers can be a good thing? Oh, so you have met some of them and they seemed really nice? Maybe. But does that translate to them having the knowledge and common sense to make sane and sensible decisions regarding what you own and where you live? And did you really “agree” to all this?
Deborah Goonan joins us On The Commons. Deborah owns and maintains a very active and widely read blog called Independent American Communities. She tracks and writes about the many issues that happen on a daily basis in residential America. So many of the stories have heartbreaking consequences when individual homeowners have no idea and no say in what is happening in their communities or in their names. While the owners may have been kept in the dark, lied to and perhaps even targeted, they are, never the less, still on the hook for the many stupid decisions made by “those nice neighbors” who sit on the board. We talk to Deborah about some of the stories she has blogged about recently and learn about one incident where “penny wise” proved to be “pound foolish” and where one young man will bear the marks of a board’s poor judgement for the rest of his life. During our conversation, politics rears its ugly head and we learn why, when this concept, notwithstanding all the platitudes of the proponents of residential associations, are we still mass producing them and leading unsuspecting housing consumers into the lion’s den?
I hear from so many people who tell me they will NEVER, EVER buy in an HOA again. NOT EVER!!! However, finding a good old fashioned, stand alone house with no strings attached, no extra layer of government and no financial liability in case of mismanagement or other misdeeds, is getting to be as hard as finding a needle in a haystack in many parts of the country. Residential associations are such a lucrative business for local municipal governments who mandate them, developers who build them and lets not forget the special interests who milk them for all they’re worth. And the owners pay for all the junked up add ons to what was once respected as a private castle. And hammering in the final nail is your state representative. He or she has been bought and paid for by special interests.
Jan Bergemann joins us On The Commons. Jan is the founder and president of the Florida based Cyber Citizens for Justice. Jan has worked tirelessly for years trying to get legislation enacted to protect the rights of home and condo owners in Florida. With every homeowner friendly bill it has been a case of one step forward and several backward. This year is no exception. We’ll talk to Jan about one bill in particular that would allow HOAs to LEGALLY operate under cover of darkness. Really. We scratch our heads, wondering about the utter insanity of it all and ask why we allow it? Why are homeowners and citizens allowing the tail to wag the dog? When are we going to be able to differentiate between the truth and all the lies and when are we going to realize that we also have a voice in this game?
We are told that homeowner associations are here to stay. I am not convinced that is the case. However, until we come to terms with the fact that what we are dealing with is a flawed concept, one that goes against everything we hold dear, we will stubbornly insist on trying to make them work. The fact that after a half century of fiddling with the legal structure, proposing bills to either try to make them more owner friendly or empower them even more, all we seem to accomplish is to create an even bigger headache for ourselves at a much greater expense.
Frank Short joins us On the Commons for his annual St. Patrick’s Day round up of Virginia homeowner and condo association bills. There were loads of them this year. Some were proposed legislative fixes inspired by, or requested by angry or wronged owners and introduced by helpful legislators while many others seek to increase the powers of the associations. Whether any of the owner friendly bills would actually fix many of the major problems that plague these mandatory membership residential associations is doubtful. We’ll talk about the bills, what they would, or could have done. But at the end of the day, we never really address the need for so many laws to prop up a really bad idea instead of asking whether there is any value in the HOA concept for the owners. Maybe one day we’ll actually get there.
How do you define “civilization”? I understand it to describe people who are educated, cultured, have manners and are socially and morally advanced. The dictionary defines it as “an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached.” Some words that are used to define the opposite of civilization are decline, destruction, ignorance, rudeness, barbarism, primitiveness. What do you think best describes life in a residential association? And how, in a country that presents itself as the most civilized, the richest, the best and the freest can we force people to live in controlled housing developments where, in many cases, those in power are rude, barbaric, abusive, dictatorial and completely wild? And finally, how do homeowners deal with some of these atrocities?
John Paskert joins us On The Commons. John is a retired military psychological Operations officer. The tactics he learned while an active duty officer helped him even out the playing field somewhat in his homeowners association. Rather than allowing the ruder and more ignorant denizens in his neighborhood to frustrate and demoralize him, he remained civilized, did his homework, and fought back in very clever and subtle ways. He shares some of the lessons he learned operating in this new arena and also tells us some of his stories. I think the big lesson here is that there is more than one way to fight back. However, trying to become a truly civilized society, where respect and cooperation are the norm, should be our ultimate goal.