Saturday, April 23, 2005

Housing's 800-Pound Gorilla: Homeowners associations are growing in numbers and power.

From Planning, the journal of the American Planning Association, a great article on HOAs with input from me, Bob Lang, Monica Caruso, Cliff Treese, Mike Schneider, and others.

Friday, April 22, 2005 - News - Birdbath Not Making Splash With Homeowners Association
When Allen Goldberg moved to Sun City Lincoln Hills from Santa Rosa, he brought with him his beloved birdbath. "I have had this birdbath approximately 22 years," Goldberg said. Goldberg promptly put it the birdbath in his front yard. That is when is problems started. He received a letter from his homeowners association that said the birdbath was the wrong color according to the covenants, conditions and regulations -- ironclad rules set by the homeowners associations.

I didn't know there was a right color for a birdbath. Thank goodness we have self-appointed neighborhood mandarins of taste to clarify these matters for the rest of us.
Builders' settlement nets homeowners $12 million

Somebody please remind me of all the good reasons why I stopped practicing construction defect law in California all those years ago?
Guardian | 900,000-year-old ice may destroy US case on Kyoto
As I keep saying, these scientists should watch the old SF movies. Carving a big block of ice out of Antarctica and thawing it out? Hello? The Thing? James Arness? John Carpenter remake? Anybody home?

I give up.
The New York Times: Restrictive Covenants Stubbornly Stay on the Books
Matoko Rich weighs in again with a solid piece on race restrictive covenants that remain in CC&Rs despite being unenforceable and contrary to public policy. Includes a quote from your humble servant, to wit:

Evan McKenzie, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has written about restrictive covenants in homeowner associations, said: "While the covenants are there, there is still room for people to think that although it cannot be legally enforced it is nonetheless a promise that they are morally obligated to keep. And that's an argument in my view for removing them."

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Burglars regret encounter with kickboxer
Another example of the ultimate in privatized security services, in action:
An intruder picked the wrong Auckland house to burgle when he was caught in the act and dealt a beating by a kickboxer and martial arts expert living there. Brook McRae, 23, delivered the blows after chasing two men through his father's Mt Roskill home early on Sunday morning.

Water from a school in the tiny village of Kipnuk has been judged the best-flavored in rural America...because it tastes like "nothing."

Kipnuk is 85 miles southwest of Bethel. Four miles inland from the Bering Sea, the 660 residents have no plumbing. Residents haul ice or collect rainwater from roof gutters. Judges concluded the school's water was the best because it tasted, smelled and looked like "nothing." "Water should have no taste to it. It should have no smell. It should be a clean, refreshing taste on the palate," said judge Gregory Bauer, executive chef for the Hyatt Regency in Washington, D.C., where the contest was held. "This one did," he said. "It was desirable."

This is a mark of municipal distinction that I hadn't encountered before, but I guess congratulations are in order. I've been to Bethel and a couple of the surrounding villages. As my old friend Tom Okpealuk used to say, "Bethel isn't the edge of the earth, but you can see it from there."
Orlando Weekly News: DON'T YOU BE OUR NEIGHBOR
For a unique variation on the familiar "happy face" graphic, follow the link--as found by Fred Pilot.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Yahoo! News - Mo. Man Spits Tobacco Juice in Jane Fonda's face
Now, this is contemptuous... - News - Juror Fined For Yawning In Court think your HOA board is unreasonable? Submitted for your consideration: Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Craig Veals and The Case of the Yawning Juror...

LOS ANGELES -- A juror was cited for contempt and fined $1,000 by a judge for yawning loudly while awaiting questioning in an attempted murder trial. The fine later was reduced to $100.The yawn came after the man, identified as Juror No. 2386 in an April 1 court transcript, had been sitting in a courtroom for two days as part of jury selection. "You yawned rather audibly there. As a matter of fact, it was to the point that it was contemptuous," Superior Court Judge Craig Veals said. "I'm sorry, but I'm really bored," the juror said. "I'm sorry?" the judge responded. When the juror repeated his statement, he was admonished by the judge for having a "lousy" attitude. "Your boredom just cost you $1,000 I'm finding you in contempt," Veals said. "Are you quite so bored now?"
After a good number of years of being a trial attorney, I have an unalterable opinion that the judicial system too often treats ordinary people--parties, jurors, and witnesses--like dirt. One example of this is the endless waiting around while attorneys play games. The juror had been sitting there for two days during jury selection, with nothing to do except listen to lawyers ask the same questions of prospective jurors over and over. He yawned. The judge got mad. The juror apologized and told the obvious truth: he was bored. For this, a citizen doing his civic duty gets fined by the judge. Maybe there is more to the story than appears here, such as the volume of the yawn. Maybe it was a highly public yawn, uttered at high volume with intent to disrupt. Maybe the apology was obviously insincere and the emphasais was on the "I'm bored!" part, which could have been disrespectful. On the other hand, it is possible that the judge displayed a lapse in his own judicial temperament. And maybe he was letting the voir dire go on too long. I don't know. Based on this account...O'Reilly Factor, where are you? Let's get to the bottom of this incident. Fair and balanced...
Reports blasts state condo agency on handling of complaints
The state's condominium owners aren't being served by the agency that is supposed to watch out for them, according to a newly released report by the Legislature's watchdog agency. State officials on Tuesday lauded the yearlong investigation, which said the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums & Mobile Homes takes too long to act on complaints filed by condo owners and needs to take stronger action against boards that violate condo law. The state Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability also said the division should more frequently use mediation instead of more-costly arbitration to resolve disputes between owners and boards. "It explains what we have known all along, that there are major problems in the [division] that need to be addressed immediately," said state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, who chaired the committee last year that resulted in the investigation.

Monday, April 18, 2005

CAI Fast Tracks - 04/18/2005--Bankruptcy Legislation Will Help Associations Collect Assessments

Here's an announcement from the Community Associations Institute. If you scroll down you get to this:

Legislation Will Help Associations Collect Assessments

After eight years of battles on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed bankruptcy reform legislation. The new law will go into effect 180 days after President Bush signs the bill into law—which is expected to happen in the next couple of weeks. The legislation contains CAI language permitting community associations to collect post-petition assessments, meaning associations will be able to collect assessments after a homeowner files for bankruptcy. We will provide members with the effective date of the new law and comprehensive information in the near future.

I confess that I did not know this was in the bankruptcy bill. It seems to be a significant change and one that the activists might find distressing.
'Mad Max' Fan Convoy Ends in Arrests

SAN ANTONIO - Eleven "Mad Max" fans of were arrested after alarming motorists as they made their way to a movie marathon in a theatrical convoy in which they surrounded a tanker truck armed with fake machine guns...One of the organizers of the convoy, Chris Fenner, said the arrests were unfair. He said he didn't know why anyone would have confused the costumed crew recreating a scene from "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" - set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland - with a real threat. "I honestly don't know how that could be, because 'Road Warrior' was so over the top," he said.

You have to hand it to Chris Fenner and friends. They know how to have a good time. But I think even in Texas this is probably illegal.

Capital Improvements
Associations seek taxing authority for new buyers

Local community associations are asking members to modif their covenants so they can tax new homeowners for capital improvements. Both Brandermill and Woodlake have those questions on their ballots to be decided by members later this month. Hampton Park already allows it. As planned communities age, community boards are finding an ever increasing cost to repair and replace playgrounds, athletic fields, community signs, bike paths and other amenities. “It allows new residents to contribute to the existing amenities,” said Gene Grecheck, Woodlake’s VP. “At 20 years old, Woodlake needs more capital improvements. Increasing our assessments would be too much of a burden on the residents.” Woodlake residents now pay $360 annually in assessments. This year new homebuyers would pay that amount at closing for the capitalization fee.
As Fred Pilot points out, here we have HOAs acting like cities. Cities pass along costs to new homeowners by imposing fees on developers. HOAs are now getting into the act...
Virginia: Property taxes spur state constitutional debate Condo prices are soaring quickly and construction is frenzied. But is it too much, too fast? (4/25/05)
If you saw CNN's Open House on Saturday, you heard the segment on the real estate bubble issue. Here's an article Fred Pilot forwarded that takes it up specifically regarding condos, which are the first to get hit when there is a real estate downturn:

Condomania is back.While the nation has been focusing on the white-hot single-family-home market, condos have been staging a pretty impressive run-up of their own. The median price of an existing condo in the United States jumped 17 percent in 2004 to $193,600, compared with a gain of 8.3 percent to $184,100 for a single-family dwelling. And that was the fourth year in a row that condos, co-ops, and townhouses have increased in value faster than their single-family counterparts. Some 15 years ago, homeowners feared that condo values wouldn't hold, but today, says Bruce Karatz, CEO of Los Angeles-based KB Home, "People are a lot more confident these days that the value of a condo is solid." Maybe too confident. With prices climbing so high, so fast, and with new construction moving at such a frenzied pace, some experts warn that the sizzling condo market--indeed, the entire real-estate market--could start to fizzle.
Earth?s gravity may lure deadly asteroid - Britain - Times Online
All this HOA stuff may not matter so much after all...

Sunday, April 17, 2005 - News - Iowa Community Goes All-Organic
DES MOINES, Iowa -- It's official: Maharishi Vedic City has gone all natural. The town of about 200 in southeast Iowa has become what some experts believe is the first all-organic city in the country. The city council has voted to ban the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers within the city limits. City Attorney Maureen Wynne said residents in the city already use all-organic methods so the council's vote only formalized a practice that was already in place. Wynne said the ban covers everything from lawns and shrubs on both residential and commercial properties. The ban follows earlier action to grow and sell only organic foods within the city limits.
Maharishi Vedic City...just your typical Iowa small town. Nothing strange going on here. The city has its own web page at, where it lists all the Vedic functions of the city, including Vedic architecture, agriculture, economy, and "Vedic Defense: Founded to become a “lighthouse of peace” for America and the world. The City is working to establish a permanent group of peace-creating experts whose daily practice of Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation™ and Yogic Flying techniques will promote coherent national and world consciousness and thereby prevent any negativity from arising in America or in the family of nations."

I bet the Pentagon wishes they had some of those Yogic Flying Techniques.
Yahoo! News - County Tells Condo Residents To Get Out
Subtle headline, don't you think?

Residents of a 543-unit Miami Beach condominium are being kicked out of their homes today. At 10 a.m. the city is cutting off power to the Castle Beach Club. Some residents didn't receive notification that they would have to leave until Thursday afternoon, when they saw bright orange stickers posted on the building, informing them that the structure was unsafe. Other residents got the word Thursday when Miami Beach police knocked on their doors, telling them the county's building department had condemned the Castle Beach Club due to an electrical problem, which created a problem for all units. Some residents are upset with the board of directors, claiming it has been using monthly association fees to renovate a portion of the building that is a hotel.

Downstate neighborhoods: Built by association; Groups unite residents, concerns

Thanks to Fred Pilot for this. I keep pointing out that municipalities are a major force behind the spread of HOAs, and not just in the Sunbelt. Here's another example, this one from Delaware:

Kent County Planning Director Michael J. Petit de Mange said the county's interest in homeowner associations is to have a legal entity maintaining common property, such as open space, playgrounds, stormwater ponds, clubhouses or other items a developer provides. In June 2003, Kent County changed its subdivision code to make sure developers provide for perpetual ownership and maintenance of common space or stormwater ponds. The developer can either maintain ownership or provide for the establishment of a legal entity such as a homeowners association, a community open space trust or a maintenance corporation. Mr. Petit de Mange said development projects through the '90s proposed homeowners associations, but many never formed or possibly failed. "Trying to form one after the fact is extremely difficult," he said.