Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Feds fighting to keep Las Vegas HOA fraud files secret

"Federal prosecutors are fighting to keep secret the mass of evidence in the long-running investigation into the scheme to take over and defraud homeowners associations. Lawyers with the Justice Department’s Fraud Section in Washington filed court papers late last week opposing the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s request to dissolve two protective orders that withhold documents in the high-profile case from the public. Attorney Maggie McLetchie, representing the newspaper, argued in court filings June 9 that the public has a right to see the evidence, most of which has long ago been turned over to defense lawyers. With most of the 42 convicted defendants sentenced, the epic case is essentially over."
Kind of makes you wonder what they don't want the public to see, doesn't it?  Permit me to do a bit of speculating. I have no special inside knowledge of any of this, but I have read the press coverage carefully, particularly Jeff German's exceptional reporting for the Review-Journal. 
When the scandal first became public, a number of story lines popped up briefly in the press and then were submerged as the prosecution went forward and the focus shifted to the way the case was unfolding, day to day.  I think these unresolved story lines are why the Review-Journal is after the records, and that may be why the DOJ is fighting to keep them secret.  For example:
1.  Did anybody in the justice system--prosecutors or judges, perhaps--tip off the fraudsters about what was happening inside the investigation?  There were stories suggesting that this may have happened.
2. Why did the DC office of the DOJ take the case away from the local US Attorney's office?  Why did the private attorney who blew the whistle on all this have to do his own investigation and present it to the government gift-wrapped in order for anything to happen?
3. Was this ring--with 42 convictions--not the whole operation? Were there other people involved who didn't get prosecuted?  
4.  Was this ring linked to organized crime at a higher level, as in what we call here in Chicago "The Outfit"?  There were suggestions of that in the press early on, but that angle was not pursued in the DOJ's case.
5. Are there other HOAs and other HOA vendors in Las Vegas or nearby where the same sorts of things are going on, but without prosecution or even investigation?  What turned up in the investigation regarding how prevalent HOA takeover by contractors, and sweetheart deals, really are, in Vegas and elsewhere?
So I hope and trust that the court will open up this investigation so we can have answers to these and maybe other questions.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Man Who Created The Pink Plastic Lawn Flamingo Dies : The Two-Way : NPR

Man Who Created The Pink Plastic Lawn Flamingo Dies : The Two-Way : NPR

"If you've got a plastic pink flamingo on your lawn, give it a pat on the back. The man who designed the lawn art, Donald Featherstone, has died. He was 79."


That's quite a legacy. The symbol of the homeowners' rights movements, too.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dying woman who turned her yard into a giant SANDBOX so she didn't have to mow the lawn threatened with jail if she does not clean it up


"A Missouri woman who says she has about six months to live has been threatened with jail time and fines if she does not remove the sand in the front yard of her home.
Georgianna Reid has lived in her home in Brookside, Kansas City, for more than 33 years, but covered the front of the house with 80 tonnes of sand three years ago, in an operation that cost her $4,000.

'I would say I'm putting in the largest litter box in the world,' said Reid of her unusual approach to landscaping last year.

But the local council and her neighbors don't see it as the beach-like oasis Reid does/Reid received a letter from the city that said she has 10 days to remove the sand from her yard or she will face up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, KSHB reported.'I called the city, I asked permission, not once but twice,' Reid told the network.She said she gave the yard a facelift because she had grown tired of mowing and watering it."

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3136072/Dying-woman-turned-yard-giant-SANDBOX-didn-t-mow-lawn-threatened-jail-does-not-clean-up.html#ixzz3dvDOX57P
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Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3136072/Dying-woman-turned-yard-giant-SANDBOX-didn-t-mow-lawn-threatened-jail-does-not-clean-up.html#ixzz3dvDOX57P 
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook"
She says she'll take the sand out of the yard as ordered, but she's going to replace it with asphalt. Prepare for Round Two...

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Israel conference on residential private governmnet

I just got back from the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, Israel, (known as IDC Herzliya) where I attended a conference on private communities and presented a paper. It was a wonderful experience in many ways, because I made new friends, learned a great deal about  what is happening with common interest housing in other nations, and visited Israel for the first time. You can read about it by following the link below. We are producing a book from all the papers we wrote, and there will be more research to come after that.  These were mostly lawyers and law professors, which is a different network than the urban planners, geographers, and social scientists who populate the other international network of private government scholars I'm associated with.

Here are a few notes:  Insolvency of condominium associations is a significant  problem in other nations--it isn't just a US problem.  And owners are ultimately liable for the debts of their associations in other nations, not just the US.  Most US condo and HOA owners don't know they are potentially on the hook for their associations debts, by the way.  In Spain, everybody has to rotate as a BOD member, like it or not.


Monday, June 08, 2015

How the rise of gated spaces like swimming pools can quietly perpetuate racial tension - The Washington Post

How the rise of gated spaces like swimming pools can quietly perpetuate racial tension - The Washington Post

This horrible McKinney, Texas, incident, with a cop brutalizing and menacing black kids while white people saunter around and manhandle the teenagers themselves, is instructive.  It is no accident that it happened in an HOA, nor was it an accident that Trayvon Martin was shot to death by "neighborhood watch volunteer" George Zimmerman in an HOA. These associations first became popular in the US as a way to enforce contractual bans on selling homes to African-Americans. And after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 banned separate but equal public accommodations, private swimming pools became available (for only the white residents) in your local HOA. The boom in HOAs began in the years immediately following the Brown decision, and one factor was that the real estate industry decided this was a way they could continue making money peddling racial segregation. There were other factors, but segregation was, and still is, one of the reasons so many white people want to live in private and especially gated communities.

"As Yoni Appelbaum points out over at The Atlantic, this context is particularly freighted: For decades, swimming pools in America have been sites of racial exclusion. Many of the fights to desegregate communities and public resources in the 1950s were waged over access to swimming pools. And the way they're used to this day still reflects a sweeping trend — more subtle in its exclusion but no less pervasive — that arose from that era. As public resources were desegregated in American cities, communities increasingly found ways to privatize them. In McKinney on Saturday, the black teens were not using a public pool. They were swimming, rather, in the communal pool of a private community in the predominantly white part of town where civic resources like parks and pools are funded directly by homeowners."

Thursday, June 04, 2015

VT woman builds 60-foot by 24-foot 'screen' to block view of neighbor's home | Local News - WPTZ Home

VT woman builds 60-foot by 24-foot 'screen' to block view of neighbor's home | Local News - WPTZ Home

This is a new one: fabric privacy screens for homes. It's only a matter of time before they come to Privatopia and join flagpoles, flags, swingsets, clothelines and treehouses as the latest battlefront between the HOA commissars and inmates.

'Naughty Neighbors' face HOA lawsuit in Parker County


So it turns out that a swingers club operating out of a 4000 square foot home in a gated community is a business, according to this HOA.
The suit argues that the late-night parties are business operations because charges of up $75 per couple are listed on advertisements for the events.
HOA policy doesn't allow for businesses within the neighborhood. Specifically, the petition states that Carter is "...operating a business in violation of the Covenants which has become obnoxious, offensive, an annoyance, and a nuisance to the neighborhood, which is also a violation of the Covenants."
Other neighbors who spoke with News 8 but asked not be identified also expressed concern about the nature of the parties, and about the noise and clientele driving through the neighborhood late at night.
It wasn't immediately clear if the operation violates any county ordinance.
The lawsuit asks for an injunction, as well as attorney's fees and unspecified damages.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Vendors Flood Market with HOA Super-Lien Services | News

Vendors Flood Market with HOA Super-Lien Services | News

"Laws that give homeowners association debts "super lien" priority over all other claims have been a long-standing threat to servicers. But it wasn't until a pair of recent court rulings came out in favor of HOAs that industry vendors started to look at their existing data and technology to develop products for servicers to manage these risks. There are super lien laws on the books in 21 states, plus Washington, D.C. Historically, they've rarely been invoked, but when they are, the results can be devastating for mortgage debt holders. In a Nevada case ruled on last year, the first-lien mortgage holder lost its claim to an $885,000 debt because of $6,000 in delinquent HOA dues. "That gave everybody the awareness that this is not something that they should take lightly," said Ann Song, vice president of REO management for LRES, an industry vendor that recently launched HOA lien services for originators, servicers and investors...Vendors that have flooded the market with super lien-related products include Black Knight Financial Services, CoreLogic and LRES, as well as a partnership that incorporates services from MMREM and Equifax. The vendors all say their services can identify properties subject to super-lien laws and check for active HOA liens. LRES and MMREM will also help servicers negotiate HOA lien disputes. (The two vendors are both REO management companies, while LRES also has an appraisal services unit.)"


Superlien statutes give HOA/condo association liens for unpaid assessments priority over the first mortgage, at least in some amount. They vary from state to state.  The idea is to protect the association from having its entire lien wiped out when the bank forecloses on the first mortgage and there is nothing left over to pay the association for unpaid assessments prior to the foreclosure.  The solvency of community associations hit the radar screen of policy makers since the crash of 2008. Foreclosures wrecked a lot of homeowners' lives and also left an enormous number of associations in terrible financial shape.