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!
When I look at the very sorry state of housing in the US, I often wonder how we got to where we are. However, I don’t have to think too hard about it because the fingerprints of dysfunction are everywhere. In the country that describes itself as the freest, the biggest, the richest and the best, how can something as simple and basic as the right to homeownership be fraught with so many pitfalls? How can America’s homeowners be subject to such unfettered powers by special interests?
Julio Robaina joins us On The Commons. Julio, a former State Representative in Florida vowed to do everything in his power to protect the rights of owners in Florida’s many condominiums. He headed up a task force, traveled the state and listened to the stories of complete and utter abuses by management companies, board members and industry attorneys. What he heard changed him profoundly. During his term in office he championed legislation that ensured some rights were protected but like all laws, they were changed. As the current co-owner of a management company, he is still working on getting the existing laws enforced. Protecting owners from fraud, embezzlement and ensuring fair elections in condominiums. We talk about all of this and also discuss the bigger picture of communal living with commingled assets, liabilities, responsibilities in a world apparently shrouded in secrecy.
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.