Sometimes it takes a tragedy to make us realize we have been ignoring the elephant sitting right in front of us in the middle of a tiny room. For years many of my guests On The Commons have warned us that we are not saving enough in our association reserve accounts. Having served on the board of directors of my HOA and having served briefly on the finance committee, I knew we had a reserve account that was healthy. I did not want to deal with a special assessment. Weren’t we like all other other residential associations across the country? I have always advocated making sure residential associations fund their reserves. Imagine my shock and surprise when my listeners let me know, in no uncertain terms, just how wrong I was. Their concern was that there was no one guarding the cookie jar. Too much money has been embezzled from HOAs. A very valid problem. Some industry members were unaware that this was going on and seemed genuinely shocked when I brought it up. How could they possibly not know?
Julio Robaina, a former Florida Legislator, joins us On The Commons. Julio had promised that he would always protect the rights of home and condo owners and he has kept his promise. When the Surfside condo collapsed, Julio’s former colleagues asked him if this is about what he was warning them? You shouldn’t have to lose so many people to prove you knew what you were talking about. Following the tragic collapse, Julio is working with the legislature, coming up with legislation that would prevent a repeat performance and allay any fears home and condo owners typically have about leaving bags of money on the table, unattended. Julio joins us and explains his new legislation. I LOVE it. I think he has covered all the bases. When Julio’s bill is enacted as written and not stripped of important points, it should serve as a model to be adopted and enacted throughout the rest of the country. Since we will not be able to clone him for every state, we, the home and condo owners, will have to do the heavy lifting. Tune in to today’s show, you will be inspired to have the same bill in your state.
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 homeowner association 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 kontrolled, where threats and sanctions are the norm and where fear seems to rule the day. Joining us On The Commons this week is Harry Flagle. 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.
What a concept! Build homeowner associations to give municipal governments a sneaky underhanded way of collecting what amounts to free tax money. This sleight of hand is also known as double taxation. It works very nicely for local governments – not so well for the homeowners involved. Developers increase density thus increasing profit margins. Housing consumers are told that this scheme will protect property values and allow them to enjoy greater control over their immediate surroundings. To add insult to injury, real governments have adopted a hands off approach, claiming it is a civic matter. State legislators have enacted legislation empowering associations while special interest groups reap the benefits.
While the carnage continues, those in a position to prevent these atrocities have front row seats to the modern day Gladiator Games.
Julio Robaina joins us On The Commons. Julio is a former Florida State Representative who, during his term, toured the State with a task force talking to home and condo owners. The stories he heard from the owners convinced him that something had to be done to stop horrors. He introduced legislation that would provide oversight through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but subsequent legislative tinkering and bureaucratic red tape has all but rendered the program useless. Not one to give up, Julio, who I nicknamed “The Energizer Bunny” years ago, went straight from the State House into property management where he is still working with the homeowners to put a stop to fraud and embezzlement and to ensure fair elections. He and his partner have a web page detailing all the problems and the issues, naming names and streaming news clips. And while the stories are about Florida, these stories are replicated nationwide. And the Energizer Bunny is still fighting!
It is getting almost impossible to get through an entire day without being accosted by bad news. Sometimes there really is nothing we can do about it. Natural disasters are out of our hands. Try stopping a tsunami, a hurricane or an earthquake. You can’t. Chances of people losing their homes in any of those scenarios are pretty good. But other “disasters” are preventable. I am thinking of the seemingly daily reports of condo and homeowner association fraud, embezzlement, theft, mismanagement and abuse that can also result in the loss of peoples’ homes. These are man made disasters, enabled by the government. Instead of protecting their constituents against these wrongdoings, or redesigning the HOA and condo concept structurally to prevent the abuses, they mandate them and turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the problems. They facetiously mock you for having “agreed” to the “rules”.
Jose Pazos joins us On The Commons. Jose, an award winning community manager in Florida, is not cut from the same cloth as many of his colleagues throughout the country. Jose and his business partners, own a management company with a difference. Transparency and accessibility seem to be high on their list of ” must haves” for their homeowner clients. We’ll find out how they do that. (it really is quite simple). We talk about laws that are unique to Florida and how those laws enable the taking of private units from their rightful owners. We will also find out about the many ways owners and associations are robbed and swindled out of their assets and rights. We’ll hear all about his idea for a condo fraud task force, how it would work and how it would be funded. We also find out why he considers himself the “condo police”. In his spare time, Jose also maintains a web page called Condo Receiver. If more people in the condo and HOA business had the integrity and honesty of Jose, we might actually get through a day every now and again with having to read about bad news.
Reporters are finally getting bold enough to start reporting the horror stories that keep cropping up in homeowner associations across the country. Sometimes they even get the facts straight. The stories are frequently as ridiculous as reporting crying babies to the HOA, to fining owners for having unapproved garden hoses in their yards or having the wrong shade of white blinds in their widows. These stories will make you scratch your head and wonder if absolutely everyone is so ridiculous and out of touch with reality to believe that these are important issues. Occasionally the headlines will promise a meatier story, one that we should be aware of that could affect us all. The many embezzlement stories that result in special assessments that we read about would fall into that category. But if you really want to know what is happening “behind the HOA closed doors”, where do you go?
Nila Ridings joins us On The Commons. Nila is an HOA homeowner in Kansas where life is nowhere near as rosy as she expected it to be when she bought her house. She has since done her homework, been active in the legislative arena, lobbied to get homeowner rights codified in Kansas and has shared her knowledge and insights with owners caught in the crosshairs of their associations. She is a frequent blogger on Ward Lucas’ Neighbors at war. And if one wants to find the unreported stories, one asks Nila. I did just that. We all hear the silly stories, the “too many rose bushes”, the costly ones about driveways having to be torn out because they are 2 inches wider than the approved plans, but which stories does she hear too often for comfort? Which stories tug at her heartstrings the most? Her number one story is not one the media reports on often but should.
Violence is alive and well in residential America. So is bullying. And so are the feelings of helplessness, loneliness and frustration that countless American homeowners face on a daily basis. Quite a few of these stories do make the headlines but many more of them never see the light of day. We’ve heard from homeowners who were beaten up during meetings for asking questions, we’ve heard about the elderly being shoved and pushed by the bullies in charge, we’ve heard about pets being poisoned and shot, we’ve heard about owners and guests being terrorized by cars on the streets of their developments. We’ve heard about the stresses of association living get to the point where death is preferable. There have been more suicides and attempted suicides in residential America than we can even begin to imagine.
What is it about this version of the American Dream that causes so much violence, stress and pain for the members? And why is the real government so oblivious to these problems?
Jerry Berg joins us On The Commons. Jerry is a Kansas condo owner who has experienced first hand some of the violence that seems to be prevalent in America’s over almost half a million mandatory membership condos and homeowner associations. We’ll talk to Jerry and find out what led to the violent confrontation that put him in the hospital after being beaten up with a crowbar and put the manager in jail, at least briefly. We’ll also find out why, after several years, nothing has been resolved and the cases are ongoing. We’ll learn how the bullying in his particular association caused two of his neighbors to commit suicide.
Homeowner associations are so confounding, confusing and complicated they can be difficult to understand. Proponents of HOAs will have us believe associations are “democracy up close and personal”, that they offer homeowners greater control over their immediate surroundings, that unlike local municipal governments who are more removed, members of an HOA actually have a say in how they live in their neighborhood. Sounds so pleasant, doesn’t it?
Well, homeowner associations are, and can be, very contradictory. What the sales pitch above does not tell you about life in this Pleasant Paradise is that far from being democracy up close and personal, homeowners really have no say in how the association is run, how their money is spent or anything else. The board might have a say or a voice and the only recourse the homeowners have to a bad board is to “vote the bums out”. The other bit of nonsense is that to ensure things are run well it is important to hire licensed professionals to manage you, the owners and your assets.
And of course, the greatest canard of all is that HOAs protect property values.
Joining us On The Commons this week is Nevada State Senator Mike Schneider. Mike has worked with homeowners over the years, has introduced legislation to provide more balance between the actual homeowners and their associations and has, over the years, been available to join us. He has watched as the FBI raided dozens of Las Vegas businesses, confiscating mountains of documents, boxes of paperwork and van loads of records. The investigation is ongoing. Four of the key players in this drama are dead, several attorneys, managers, contractors and other licensed professionals have entered plea agreements with the state. Now that the trial appears to be imminent there is another twist to this multi year drama, defense attorneys are being asked to sign confidentiality statements promising not to make evidence available. We’ll talk to Mike about the hijacked elections, the fraud and the BILLIONS of dollars siphoned out of Las Vegas HOAs by friendly licensed professionals. One answer that will not be forthcoming is just how all this has protected property values.