Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Witness describes payoffs, rigging elections, in HOA fraud trial

http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/crime-courts/witness-describes-payoffs-rigging-elections-hoa-fraud-trial

I wonder what effect all this publicity will have on the market for condo and HOA properties. Do most people think it is another "isolated instance," or do they understand how fragile these associations are?

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Witnesses testify on roles in scheme to defraud homeowners associations | Las Vegas Review-Journal

Witnesses testify on roles in scheme to defraud homeowners associations | Las Vegas Review-Journal



"Ruvolo, 87, is one of four remaining defendants standing trial in federal court in the scheme, which prosecutors allege occurred between 2003 and 2009 and cost local HOAs millions of dollars. Myers, who pleaded guilty in 2012, died last year without being sentenced. The goal of the scheme, according to Lugo and other government witnesses, was to acquire properties at the larger condominium developments and then pack their HOA boards so that Benzer and Silver Lining Construction could obtain lucrative construction defect contracts. As many as 11 HOAs were targeted."



This massive corruption saga is Exhibit A that proves how fragile HOAs really are.  The over-reliance on owners' resources--money, time, energy, loyalty--and the under-regulation by state and local government makes them vulnerable not just to takeover, but to other types of fraud, theft, manipulation, and mismanagement.  Yet governments, and obviously developers and vendors, profit from them, so they will continue to proliferate, and so will the problems.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Fascinating line drawings of suburbia

http://www.citylab.com/design/2015/02/an-artists-dark-but-loving-graphic-ode-to-suburbia/386309/?utm_source=SFTwitter

This is an article about an artist whose ambivalent feelings about suburbia are reflected in his art.

Neighbor from hell nominations, part deux

From Mystery Reader comes this formidable candidate.  Was she spending too much time watching Fox News?  Stay tuned.

http://www.idahostatesman.com/2015/02/12/3642246_boise-woman-arrested-on-malicious.html?rh=1

"Marguerite Haragan, 58, pressed her foot into the throat of a Jewish woman while saying she'd "better accept Jesus," an Ada County prosecutor said during Haragan's arraignment Thursday. Haragan's verbal harassment of the woman - identified in court by her initials, "AG" - had been ongoing, including through phone calls, according to the prosecutor. But on Feb. 5, it reportedly escalated to violence.According to the prosecutor, AG reported that Haragan visited her home that day, banged on her front window and yelled that she'd "better believe in Jesus, and that she was not going to leave until she did." AG opened the door to take down Haragan's license plate number and ask Haragan to leave, the prosecutor said. Haragan then allegedly slapped AG in the face, pulled her hair, yanked her to the ground and began kicking her in the stomach and thighs. Haragan yelled that AG needed to believe in Jesus to stop the assault, the prosecutor said.  The prosecutor said Haragan pressed her foot into AG's neck and pulled her hair, causing a neck injury that still pains AG. "Eventually, the victim had to comply" to escape the attack, the prosecutor said.According to the charges against Haragan, she returned to AG's home Feb. 7 and scratched a phrase including the word "death" into her mailbox."




Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2015/02/12/3642246_boise-woman-arrested-on-malicious.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Turns out Americans don't want tiny homes after all

Which should come as a surprise to nobody.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/26/your-house-is-too-small_n_6762938.html

Many people aspire to being the neighbor from hell. Few achieve their objective.

But sometimes one bold individual rises above the crowd and rings the bell.  To wit, this individual:
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"A California man has become the neighbor from hell by plastering swastika-covered Israeli and American flags across the front of his home and refusing all demands he take them down.
The Sacramento homeowner also fashioned a soldier out of wood and green cloth and strung up a Palestinian flag above the house.
He calls it his art, neighbors say, and there's nothing the police will do about it."


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2969779/Neighbor-hell-decorates-home-swastika-covered-Israeli-American-flags-s-police-do.html#ixzz3SpPmqrRP
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook




http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2969779/Neighbor-hell-decorates-home-swastika-covered-Israeli-American-flags-s-police-do.html

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

HOA Hall of Shame inducts Aliante - www.ktnv.com

HOA Hall of Shame inducts Aliante - www.ktnv.com: North Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- It's a case of lost and not found. A homeowners association can't find a couple's money, and now, they could lose their home.

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears has the newest member of our HOA Hall of Shame.

"This is the home that God blessed my husband and I with that we are trying to hard to protect."

Tamela and Edward Ketchmore don't owe their homeowner's association a dime.

"We have never, ever missed a payment."

But their HOA doesn't see it that way.

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Apparently acceptable proof of payment is at the heart of this incident leading to the latest dishonor of a privatopian principality, Nevada sector. Film at 10 on KNTV, Las Vegas.

Study reveals common development pattern in ancient and modern cities

http://www.voicechronicle.com/201502-study-reveals-common-development-pattern-in-ancient-and-modern-cities

The main factor that has driven the rise of common interest housing is that it facilitates increasing population density, which is profitable and efficient for developers and cities.  Residents often become unhappy with these high-density shared ownership arrangements, but here's evidence that these patterns have persisted from ancient to modern times.

"Researchers from the Santa Fe Institute and the University of Colorado Boulder have revealed that a common pattern of development and similar characteristics can be observed in ancient as well as modern cities. Large populations and dense areas are the features of modern cities, which were also exhibited by ancient cities. As per the new study, the inhabitants of ancient cities having bigger and denser settlements were more efficient. The study has been detailed in the journal PLOS ONE."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

HOA refuses to let woman charge her electric car

http://www.10news.com/news/hoa-refuses-to-let-woman-charge-electric-car

This reminds me of the San Diego area HOAs that told people they had to rebuild their houses with wood shake roof shingles, after the houses burned down because the wood shake shingles caught fire from flying sparks. By all means, let's not do anything intelligent!

Monica Sadler has passed away

http://www.qconline.com/obituaries/monica-sadler/article_aa78d5a3-18c8-526e-91f4-8fa77efda92f.html

My dear friend Monica Sadler died last week.  She was one of the most tenacious fighters for the rights of HOA and condo owners who has ever set foot in a courtroom. We fought a number of legal battles together and she didn't know the meaning of "quit."  She was also a true friend and one of the most considerate and giving people I have ever known.  I will miss her, and so will Shu Bartholomew and many other people who knew her.

Here is the obituary, and following that you will find a piece I wrote for the Cyber Citizens for Justice website about the case we took to the United States Supreme Court. If you want to read the petition for writ of certiorari, it is linked from the CCFJ page:



Monica J. Sadler, 58, of Moline, passed away Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, at her home.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 27, at Rafferty Funeral Home, 2111 1st St. A, Moline. Visitation will be 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the funeral home. Entombment will be at St. Mary's Cemetery, East Moline. Memorials can be made to the Rock Island County Humane Society.

Monica was born Oct. 22, 1956, in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of James and Betty Anderson. She married Jim Sadler on Feb. 15, 1986 in Tulsa, Okla.

Monica attended Calvary Church of the Quad Cities, Moline. She had a passion for gardening and fishing and loved her dogs, Tinker Bell, Tillie and Buddy. Monica had a heart of gold and never thought twice about helping a stranger. She loved being outdoors and was surrounded by wonderful friends and a loving family.

Survivors include her husband, Jim; son, Andrew (Amy) Sadler, Moline; mother, Betty Anderson, Sunrise Beach, Mo.; and sister, Donna Braddom, Dayton.

Condolences may be left at RaffertyFunerals.com.

http://www.ccfj.net/USSupremeCourtMJSadler.html

On Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District

PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI

The Story Behind Monica J. Sadler v. Illinois Commerce Commission
By Evan McKenzie
Published September 17, 2007

How would you feel if you had to pay a water bill every month, but your property was not even connected to the water system, and your CC&Rs said you didn’t have to pay for water until that connection was made?
This is the situation that faced Monica Sadler and thousands of other owners at the Oak Run development in eastern Illinois .  It had been going on in Oak Run for over 25 years when, in 2005, Aqua Illinois filed a request with the Illinois Commerce Commission to raise the water rates in Oak Run, including the charge for “availability” of water to thousands of lots that weren’t even connected to Aqua’s water system.
You may be asking yourself, “Didn’t the HOA object to this rate increase?”  The Oak Run Property Owners’ Association challenged various aspects of the proposed increases.  But they didn’t raise the basic unfairness of forcing people to pay charges that appeared to be prohibited by the terms of the covenants—especially when they weren’t even receiving any water.  The board of directors of ORPOA was controlled by people who had homes in Oak Run with water meters, not “availability” customers who owned undeveloped lots.
As soon as she understood the situation and realized that the ORPOA wasn’t going to protect the interests of availability customers, Monica took it upon herself to go to Springfield and point out to the ICC that there were contractual provisions in the CC&Rs prohibiting the availability charges. An ICC employee suggested that she raise this issue by intervening in the ongoing rate proceeding. 
All by herself, Monica began to review the 6000 page electronic record of the rate proceeding and research the rules for intervening in an administrative action.  Soon she had a Petition to Intervene on file in the rate increase proceeding before the ICC.  In the petition, she made it clear that her reason for intervening was to introduce in evidence the CC&Rs and ask the ICC to rule that the availability charges were a violation of the terms of these contracts.
The Administrative Law Judge eventually granted her Petition to Intervene.  But in the same order, he marked the record of the proceeding “heard and taken” two days before the date of her intervention. That meant that, while Monica was now a party to the proceeding, she could not present any evidence.  The contracts would not be allowed into the record.
Of course, this frustrated the entire purpose of her intervention. She was in the action, but she couldn’t prove the claims that were her reason for intervening.  She filed motions to challenge this ruling. She cited sections of Illinois law that required the utility to introduce all relevant contracts, that allowed the Administrative Law Judge to request that such evidence be produced, and that required all rate setting proceedings to be fair to consumers.  She also argued that these proposed rate increases violated the constitutional rights of availability customers.  The U.S. Constitution prohibits states from impairing the terms of private contracts, and from depriving people of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.  She raised “contract clause” and due process claims before the ICC. 
Every claim that she raised was denied.  The Administrative Law Judge ruled that she had intervened too late in the proceeding, and that hearing evidence and argument from both sides on the contract claims would take too much time.   Acting on his rulings, the Illinois Commerce Commission raised water rates in Oak Run, including the availability charges.
Monica then retained my services, and we appealed from this ruling to the Illinois Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District.   We raised a variety of issues of Illinois administrative law and also, of course, the constitutional claims of impairment of contract and due process of law that had never been considered by the ICC because Monica was not allowed to place the contracts in evidence.
The appellate court ruled against us, and accepted the argument that the ALJ had discretion to rule that it was too late to hear more evidence.  But, amazingly, the court also held that Monica had not even raised the constitutional claims before the ICC.  In a petition for rehearing, we pointed out with infinite specificity the exact locations in the record where she raised these claims. She had even gone so far as to quote the entire text of the contract clause, word for word, in motions before the Administrative Law Judge, and all this was in the record of the administrative proceeding.
The petition for rehearing was denied.  We then petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court for leave to appeal. That, too, was denied.  The Illinois Supreme Court has the power to decide which cases it is going to hear, and it declined to hear this one without ruling on the merits one way or the other.
The only avenue left was the United States Supreme Court. 
Consider the position Monica found herself in.  She had by this time asked the Administrative Law Judge, the Illinois Commerce Commission, the appellate court, and now the Illinois Supreme Court just to read and consider the contracts that appeared to prohibit the availability charges that people had been paying for decades. She had tried to get these agencies of state government to at least consider that these charges violated the contracts and constitutional rights of thousands of Oak Run residents.  But every arm of state government had refused even to hear that claim.  The rate proceeding was like a railroad train speeding down the tracks, and it seemed that a statutory and constitutional claim brought by a single property owner was not going to be allowed to stand in its path. 
Monica decided that she wanted to petition the Supreme Court for a Writ of Certiorari, and we have done so.  We argue in the petition that the ICC and the Illinois courts have violated Monica’s rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.  We contend that the state has misinterpreted its own administrative law rules in order to avoid having to consider an important federal constitutional claim. 
We know that the Supreme Court receives almost 10,000 petitions every year and ends up granting full review with briefing and oral argument to fewer than 80 of them. Another 100 or so will be summarily decided without oral argument. The rest will just be denied review, without explanation.  Petitioning the Supreme Court is always a long shot, no matter who you are.  The Supreme Court has enormous discretion to hear whatever cases it chooses.  The Court does this by having law clerks read the petitions and make recommendations to the justices, and then the justices take a vote. It takes four votes out of nine for the Court to review a case.  The decision to review a case is not based on whether an error appears to have been committed, because the Supreme Court is not in the business of correcting errors by lower courts. The Supreme Court is a policy making court.  The decision to take up a case is based on the importance of the issue to four members of the Court.   We have tried to convince the Court that this case matters, because the Court should protect the rights of individuals who dare to stand up to a powerful utility company, a powerful state agency, and a powerful state court.
We know that the odds are long. But Monica is one of those rare people who are guided by a strong sense of right and wrong.  She refuses to accept injustice if there is any way to fight it.  Most of all, she stands up for other people who are victims of injustice and for whatever reason are not able to stand up for themselves.  And her view of this situation is that thousands of Oak Run owners, without their knowledge or understanding, have been gouged for decades by a regulated utility company, in violation of their contracts and their constitutional rights. 
Their homeowner association is not going to represent their interests or defend their rights. Neither are the state regulators or the Illinois courts.  So, Monica has petitioned the highest court in the nation to correct what she sees as a massive injustice. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Reform the condominium

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/17/opinion/reform-the-condominium.html?_r=1

This op-ed by urban planning professor Matthew Lasner follows on the hells of a series the New York times published on a bizarre trend in the condo market:  very rich people, some with shady backgrounds, buying condos in NYC behind shell companies so nobody knows who they are.  Even the condo association doesn't know who the owners are. And the city has been subsidizing this trend because they want more rich people having their pied a terre in New York City. There's a lot more wrong with the condo model than this op-ed describes, but for a short piece it is excellent.
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"FROM New York to Miami, from South Padre Island, Tex., to Park City, Utah, the American condominium has become the hot new investment for global capital. In Manhattan, the trend is so pronounced that a whole new category of real estate has emerged around the southern edges of Central Park: supertall, ultraluxury buildings, with more than half of the homes being sold to anonymous buyers (some perhaps looking to stash ill-gotten gains) who rarely, if ever, occupy them. The city, meanwhile, struggles to produce sufficient housing for those who do live here."