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.
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 hate using the word community when talking about HOAs. “Community” infers a sense of belonging, of having similar goals and interests and a way of communicating together to further those interests. In an HOA the ties that bind everyone go much deeper than simply sharing the same goals. Like it or not, the private fortunes of the entire neighborhood are at risk. It is incumbent on everyone in the neighborhood to know exactly how much is in the collective kitty and where the money is kept. I can’t imagine a single governing document that would deny a homeowner the right to inspect the books and records. Nor can I imagine any governing document prohibiting the members of the association from “communicating” with other members of the so called “community”. Unfortunately the unimaginable is all too common place.
Mark dos Santos joins us On The Commons. Mark owns several homes in different associations in different states. For the most part there are no major problems that he is aware of. So based on his experiences with the problem free HOAs he probably would never have stepped back to take a look at the big picture. But that one problem was an eye opener.
He started doing a little digging and didn’t particularly like what he discovered. Firsr of all, the lack of transparency made his job so much tougher. He got to thinking about it and dug a little deeper. He started looking online and discovered he wasn’t alone. He started a blog called South Carolina Homeowner’s Forum to share his findings and “communicate” with others in South Carolina. Mark has a better chance of building a true “community” with his blog than his HOA does.
In the very early days you could count the number of private communities with restrictive covenants on the fingers of one hand. In those days housing consumers had to search a home in a restricted development because that is what they wanted. But that was then. Once local municipalities realized they could greatly increase the size of their fiefdoms, increase their tax base without having to provide the services those taxes were designed to pay for, and developers were able to increase density, building more units on less land, the landscape in residential America changed dramatically. The age of cookie cutter and mini units was born. Then they multiplied like rabbits. Everywhere you go and everywhere you look you see the same designs, the same plants, the same colors, the same everything. On the surface they look boring but take a closer look and you will soon realize that the outer shell is a facade. The real story of housing American style, takes place behind those beige, bland, plastic walls.
Rodney Gray joins us On The Commons. Rodney went into acting before enrolling in college where he majored in film. But it wasn’t until he went to visit his mother in Texas that he was introduced to the concept of Homeowner Associations and witnessed the abuses that are part and parcel of everyday life in HOAs. He was informed that the real government could not get involved in protecting the homeowners in his mother’s development because that was a “civil matter”. But when he was threatened by a real police officer at a homeowner meeting the lines between what was a civil matter and what the real government could do became quite blurred. And that’s when his passion for making films and his strong sense of moral justice came together. Going a little beyond what one sees on the surface of HOAs, Rodney put on his investigative reporter’s hat, rounded up some friends and spent several years traveling around interviewing people and filming in HOAs. The result is his documentary, The HOAX The HOAX is making the rounds of film festivals and exposing the underside of Privatopia, as Prof. Evan McKenzie calls them. We’ll talk to Rodney and find out what it took to make the documentary and how the viewers have been reacting to it.
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.
This is a rebroadcast of a show first recorded in 2014 but the case is still ongoing.
When the scene is set for fraud and abuse, the crooks, criminals and villains will come by the droves. Residential associations, be they condos, homeowner associations or cooperatives, where membership is mandatory, the power and authority is in the hands of a few and there is an enormous industry that feeds off these housing schemes and more importantly, the owners have been left pretty much defenseless, is an open invitation to all those who conspire to do wrong. Just how much corruption goes on every day is unknown. Even in Las Vegas when it became apparent in 2008 that the FBI was investigating wrong doings by board members, managers and HOA industry attorneys, the full extent of what went on is is still largely unknown.
Nevada State Senator Mike Schneider joins us On the Commons this week. Senator Mike, as he is known to his constituents, joins us to talk about the FBI investigation that became apparent in 2008 and is still ongoing. The problems and the scams are incredible, ranging from election fraud to construction defect lawsuits. There have been many indictments, many sentences handed down and many more mysteries and unanswered questions that still hound this situation. There are sealed records, gag orders, four alleged suicides, at least one attorney beaten to a pulp, kneecaps smashed with a baseball bat and left for dead, stark naked on the streets of his neighborhood. As Mike says, “dead men can’t talk”. Were they suicides? And if they were, what could be so bad that it is preferable to take ones own life than face the consequences? It also begs the questions of why sealed records and gag orders? What else are they hiding? And just how pervasive are these practices? We all know that that what goes on in Las Vegas really doesn’t stay there and that the same things is being replicates across the country. The FBI just hasn’t managed to get to them all. Will they or will everyone else simply get away with it while our legislators blindly ignore the problems?
From an early age, we give children coloring books and a box of crayons and teach them to “color inside the lines”. We also “help” them pick the right colors. Pink elephants? Oh my! Blue hair? You can’t do that! Here is a nice bright yellow crayon instead.
When my daughter was little I used to buy her un-coloring coloring books. These books consisted of stories with just a few lines, or part of a drawing and encouraged children to complete the picture and add to the story before coloring it. Looking back I wonder if those coloring books contributed to my daughter’s rebellious nature? I also whether we are training our children, from a very early age, to “conform to accepted norms”? If we won’t encourage our children to think outside the box, will they be able to do just that as adults or will they continue to stay safely within the lines?
Bill Davis, for whom boxes and lines just don’t exist, joins us On The Commons. From the day Bill, a Texas attorney, switched his practice to representing homeowners in HOAs, he has been busy with some of the most interesting cases. We talk to him about several of his cases, marvel at the incredible gall some “neighbors” have, listen to some of the crazy and whacky stuff that goes on in HOAs. Through it all we hear stories of real people, find humor and horror. Bill entertains us and instructs us. He explains the legal issues, talks about Texas law and points out the nuances. And by refusing to stay inside the lines drawn by the HOA industry, he manages to come up with some unique and creative strategies to protect his clients’ property and their rights. Be sure to tune in and listen to the show and if any of the cases Bill discusses sound a little too familiar, make sure your attorney also listens in.