Thursday, December 28, 2006

Florida's overbuilt condo market starts to fizzle
Like I said, I am holding off on pronouncing the housing bust over.

Developers have pulled the plug on some of Miami's most anticipated condominium developments, a sign the city's sizzling, speculator-driven condo market -- where prices of many apartments doubled or tripled in a few brief years -- has finally chilled.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

BREITBART.COM - Sales of New Homes Post Gain in November
That's a bit of good news, but after all the evidence of a slump in the housing market I'm holding off on believing that things have turned around.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New Jersey Real Estate Report » Free speech or HOA rules?
Here's a weblog post on the Twin Rivers case, which is scheduled to be argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court on January 4, 2007. Thanks' to Fred Pilot for the link.

And for those who want to keep track of the case, here's the info on the case from the court website:

A-118/122-05 Comm. For a Better Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers Homeowners’ Assoc. et al. (59,230)
Do the State Constitution’s Speech and Assembly clauses apply to limit the authority of a homeowners’ association, and if so, under what circumstances?
Certification granted 4/28/06
Argued: Scheduled for 1/4/07
Decided:

Monday, December 25, 2006

'Mistake' costs family its home at The Springs - Orlando Sentinel :
Here is a heartwarming story of judicial compassion, link forwarded by Fred Pilot via the HOAs Yahoo group:

SANFORD -- Because of someone else's mistake, Sharon Rousey lost her Longwood home at a courthouse auction two weeks ago over $1,200 in unpaid homeowners association dues. On Wednesday, she tried to persuade a judge to give it back. He refused. That means Rousey, 48, a single mom who is raising two disabled teenagers on a fixed income, must now pack up her belongings and get out...Rousey bought the 2,400-square-foot town house in The Springs, a gated community near Wekiwa Springs State Park, in May 2005. The home, though, came with a surprise: She would belong to two homeowners associations and, thus, had to pay two sets of dues, one for The Springs and another for Glenwood Village, the town-house neighborhood. She fell behind on both, according to court records...In November, Rousey thought she had solved her problems: Goodbye Foreclosure Inc., a Winter Park company that buys distressed properties, agreed to buy her house before the auction. It would pay off her homeowners association dues as well as her mortgage and leave her with about $115,000 in cash. But company Vice President Aaron Herschberg sent a check to an association -- the wrong one, it turned out -- and assumed the auction would be called off. It wasn't. On Dec. 5, an Apopka company that buys foreclosed property agreed to pay $113,500. Mark Lippman, Rousey's attorney, estimated the market value of her town house at $275,000 to $300,000.

Birth of Jesus Christ
Just a reminder about the religious significance of Christmas. Merry Christmas, and enjoy the presents, family and friends, football games, egg nog, and whatever else makes the day special. I hope we can also spend a few moments pondering the significance of the birth of Jesus Christ over two thousand years ago.
What is it about Obama? - Los Angeles Times
Fred Pilot found this nugget.

Early this month, at the invitation of Rick Warren, Obama spoke to a hall full of conservative Christian evangelical activists gathered at Saddleback Church in Orange County. Warren, author of the bestseller "The Purpose Driven Life," is among the most successful and popular preachers in the world. Saddleback is his city on a hill, a sprawling campus set above the smooth, clean boulevards of the most suburban of places. His is the kind of congregation where Warren's joke about the authoritarian rule of suburban homeowners associations brings a knowing laugh.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Bizaromas - Frederick Meekins
Nancy Levy sent this link to an essay that compares Christmas in an HOA to Bizarro world from the Superman comics, where everything is dysfunctional. That's an analogy I hadn't thought of before, but now that he mentions it...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

HOMEOWNERS KEEP FILING – AND WINNING – STATE AND FEDERAL CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUITS

The following was sent to me by Marjorie Murray of the Center for California Homeowner Association Law, which is where the link above will take you. This is a piece from their newsletter, which you can subscribe to by going to their web site and following the "Press Room/Newsletter" link on the left side of the page. I do not have any independent knowledge of the case described below, so if you have any inquiries direct them to Marjorie or the attorneys involved in the case.

-------------------
SACRAMENTO -- Working through Fair Housing agencies, legal aid groups and private attorneys, homeowners keep filing civil rights lawsuits against their associations – and winning.
In June, the estate of David Donnell settled with Snowshoe Springs Association (Calaveras County) for an undisclosed amount approved by the U.S. District Court Eastern District in Sacramento [Case # CIV S-01-1953 MCE KJM.].
Disabled by lifelong health problems, including epilepsy, Donnell sued Snowshoe in federal court after it tried to foreclose on his home in order to collect about $1200 in late assessments. [Sacramento Bee, Jan 14, 2001.] The board refused his offer – made publicly – to pay his debt in installments.
With the help of Sentinel Fair Housing, Donnell later petitioned the board formally under Fair Housing laws to be allowed to pay in installments. Still the board refused. The board later claimed foreclosure was the only way to force him to pay. The association had no foreclosure policy in place, when it tried to seize his cabin, built by his parents 40 years ago. The Donnell foreclosure would have been Snowshoe’s first.
The Bee article generated the pro bono services of Roseville attorney, Michael L. Johnson, who stopped the foreclosure. Donnell later sued the Association, several board members as individuals, one homeowner not on the board, association attorney, Curtis Sproul, and his law firm Genshlea Chediak & Sproul for trying to seize his home in a nonjudicial foreclosure. KGS Community Services, the debt collection firm hired by Snowshoe and owned by Sproul’s ex-wife, was not named in the suit.
A chief cause of action in the suit was that the defendants violated civil rights statutes by refusing to grant Donnell’s request to pay in installments and then moving to foreclose when it had no policy to foreclose. After the suit was filed, the SSA board adopted a foreclosure policy.
But before his case could come to trial, Donnell died from his disabilities in September 2005 in a Calaveras County hospital. Snowshoe attorneys moved quickly to get the case dismissed. However, Federal Judge Morrison England granted the petition of Donnell’s sisters to let the suit against Snowshoe forward on behalf of his estate.
On the eve of trial, Snowshoe settled out of court in a confidential agreement approved by Judge England. At Snowshoe’s annual meeting in July, property manager Mark Redding said, “The settlement didn’t cost us anything.” However, sources close to the case estimate that, in addition to the settlement money paid to Donnell’s estate, the insurance company alone paid an estimated $250,000 in legal fees to litigate the case. Whether the costs result is higher insurance premiums to Snowshoe – and higher assessments to homeowners -- is unclear. – end --

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Taco Bell uses self-serving polls, too

About 1 in 3 frequent fast-food customers say they plan to eat less often at Taco Bell — or not at all — as a result of the chain's recent E. coli outbreak, according to a national poll done for USA TODAY...Taco Bell President Greg Creed declined in a phone interview to comment on Sandelman's findings. He said Taco Bell has been doing its own polling since the outbreak and that 94% of people who describe themselves as Taco Bell eaters have a "positive" view of the brand; 82% believe the food is "safe."
________________________
What does this have to do with common interest housing? I am often asked about the significance of the Zogby and Gallup polls commissioned by the Community Associations Institute that report general satisfaction with HOAs. I think there are polls, and there are polls. If you work hard enough to get data supporting a particular position, and you ask the questions carefully enough, you can get the data you are looking for. But that isn't social science in my book.

I drove past the local Taco Bell at lunchtime, and there were four cars in the lot. What's my point? Commissioned polls be damned. Taco Bell customers have a choice and they are voting with their feet. It would nice if new home buyers weren't forced into HOAs and condos so we could see what they really want.
Ho, ho, ho.

Suzette Kelo's holiday greeting card to the City of New London
NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) -- The woman at the center of a national battle over property rights has sent some not-so-joyous tidings to people involved in taking her house to make way for private development. Susette Kelo's holiday cards feature a snowy image of her pink house and a message that reads, in part, "Your houses, your homes, your family, your friends. May they live in misery that never ends. I curse you all. May you rot in hell. To each of you I send this spell." The cards were conceived and produced by a friend of Kelo's and sent to city officials and members of New London's development agency. Kelo said she also considered sending the cards to five U.S. Supreme Court justices who ruled in June 2005 that New London had the right to take homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood to make way for a riverfront project slated to include condominiums, a hotel and office space.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

2005 Tar Heel of the Year - Self-Help's Martin Eakes
Here's a story about the man who started Self Help Credit Union, which in turn created the Center for Responsible Lending. And CRL did the study referenced below. Sounds like quite a fellow.
Report Reveals 2.2 Million Borrowers Face Foreclosure on Subprime Home Loans: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance

You can download the pdf of this report at the CRL website, linked in this snippet. It makes for some scary reading, especially when you look the tables. The West will be hit very hard if the data and analysis are correct, and my quick review of the study tells me it appears to be a solid piece of work.

A new Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) study reveals that 2.2 million American households will lose their homes and as much as $164 billion due to foreclosures in the subprime mortgage market. Titled, "Losing Ground: Foreclosures in the Subprime Market and Their Cost to Homeowners," the CRL study is the first comprehensive, nationwide review of millions of subprime mortgages originated from 1998 through the third quarter of 2006. CRL's research suggests that risky lending practices have triggered the worst foreclosure crisis in the modern mortgage market, projecting that one out of five (19.4%) subprime loans issued during 2005-2006 will fail...Trouble in the overall subprime market spells trouble for African American and Latino families across the country. Although white families receive more subprime loans overall, African Americans and Latinos receive a higher proportion of high-cost loans than any other group, a fact consistently verified annually by data lenders submit under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). "Losing Ground" estimates that 8 to 10 percent of all African American and Latino families who received a home loan in 2005 will be affected by subprime foreclosures.


Suburban sprawl may create heavier kids - Yahoo! News

Using data from a national health survey, researchers found that teenagers living in sprawling suburbs were more than twice as likely to be overweight as teens in more compact urban areas. The findings echo those of a 2003 study by the same researchers that focused on U.S. adults. The researchers believe the same factors may be driving the link between suburban living and teenagers' weight -- the major one being reliance on cars. "In a sprawling suburb, you can do very little on foot," said lead study author Dr. Reid Ewing of the University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth Education and Research.


-------------
Fred Pilot wants to create a new planned community where you have to walk to work and school. How to enforce it, I wonder? Maybe the CC&Rs?
Fighting for oversight - baltimoresun.com
Thanks to Fred Pilot for this:

Seeking to address complaints about abuses in Maryland's growing number of homeowners and condominium associations, a state task force is calling for greater local oversight of these quasi-governmental bodies, which essentially tax their residents to take care of swimming pools, playgrounds, trash pickup and other community services...But the panel balked at calling for greater state enforcement of existing condo and homeowners association laws, for making the laws uniform across housing types or for establishing a "bill of rights" for residents of such communities. "It's a start, but it falls way short of where advocates for residents wanted to go," said Alexander Hekimian, a task force member. The president of a townhouse association in Columbia, he said he has long advocated for greater accountability in associations, including the Columbia Association, which essentially governs a community of nearly 100,000 people in Howard County. Hekimian contended that the task force was stacked with association representatives and "passed the buck" on addressing abuses by leaving enforcement largely up to local governments. He had drafted a two-page "bill of rights" for residents similar to one backed nationally by AARP. But he said the task force was unwilling even to endorse the concept, much less his language.



Wednesday, December 13, 2006

From American Homeowners Resource Center: JUDGE PUBLICLY ADMONISHED FOR COMMENTS
This is quite a story and I'd recommend reading the whole thing, but here's a sample:

James M. Brooks is a superior court judge in Santa Ana, Orange County, California. He started as a municipal court judge in 1987, and was moved to the superior court in 1998.On November 29, 2006, the Commission on Judicial Performance issued a Public Admonishment - one of the Commission's highest sanctions. In deciding to make the Admonishment public, the Commission noted that he had been disciplined for similar conduct before. This was in response to a complaint filed by Arnold McMahon against Brooks...In the other case, Palacio del Mar Homeowners Association v McMahon, the Commission found that Brooks made statements to the McMahons that were "sarcastic, demeaning and intimidating." Arnold McMahon was explaining to Brooks that he had not been able to attend a deposition because at 3.30a.m. in the morning, he experienced intense pressure in his chest. After his doctor discovered an abnormality in his EKG, the doctor sent him to hospital, where he was admitted to the cardiac unit with a suspected heart attack. Brook's response was: "Gee. I wonder what's going to happen when we put you in jail, Mr. McMahon. Your little ticker might stop, you think?" To Elizabeth McMahon, Brooks stated that if she did not show up for her deposition, "it will be [$]10,000 payable to the court. I'd mention jail but it might give her heart attack."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Just got back from the National League of Cities conference
Tracy Gordon of PPIC and I did a presentation on CIDs and cities, mderated by Kevin Frazell. It was fascinating to hear the audience questions, because they confirmed a number of things that I had said in my presentation. First, many people confirmed that cities are mandating CIDs in new housing. We heard this from delegates from several states. Second, many confirmed that as the developments age and need major fixes that they can't afford, the HOAs come to the cities for help that may not be forthcoming. Third, a number of attendees also confirmed that there are plenty of defunct CIDs around, where the BOD is nonexistent, no dues are being collected, and problems are being created for local government.

Tracy's work is really excellent, and you can get it from the PPIC website. She has the best data on California CIDs available, and she is a very even-handed and responsible researcher. She envisions HOAs and cities gradually working out a functional relationship. I tend to be more pessimistic, because there are so many problems with HOA finances and leadership, but I think she has a point. It is important to keep in mind that in the long run most of the time people find a way to muddle through. But on the other hand, remember the Savings and Loan industry?
MercuryNews.com | 12/10/2006 | Droves say goodbye to Golden State
Fred Pilot sent this along. I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago. I saw nothing but yuppies, homeless people, tourists, and dogs (the residents of San Francisco have an average of 6.3 dogs, if my sampling is accurate). There are no kids in the city, except the ones the tourists bring. It costs a bazillion dollars to rent or buy anything you can live in. And now, forget about San Francisco--it costs a fortune to live even in San Bernardino. So for the first time in memory, people are getting out of California.

Between 2004 and 2005, the migration flow into California from the other 49 states started flowing the other way. Data from the state Department of Finance shows that, for the first time this decade, more people left California in 2005 for another state than the number who moved in. Mary Heim, a finance department demographer, says this particular kind of outflow will continue for the foreseeable future. Unlike the tens of thousands who left Silicon Valley following the tech bust earlier this decade, the new migration is about the quest for something besides a job: a better quality of life at a lower cost of living.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

12 million suburbanites live in poverty - Yahoo! News
Fred Pilot sent this link to a story that is buried in the newspapers as well. I have a couple of reactions. First, can we finally have an end to the leftist academics and politicians insisting that cities are full of poor people and suburbs are places of affluence and whiteness? It turns out that now a majority of the nation's poor live in the suburbs, which happen to be place of enormous economic and racial diversity. Second, as Fred notes, what does this suggest about the future of CIDs? I have been arguing for years (and will be arguing at the National League of Cities conference in Reno, where I'm headed today) that we need to watch out for a fiscal crisis in CIDs, as buildings and infrastructure wear out and the reserves are not there, nor is the insurance coverage, nor the construction defect litigation, and therefore not even the bank loan, to pay for repairing and replacing it. Now, add this story to the mix. There are the poor, and also the house-poor. Most of the new housing in suburbs is in CIDs, including loads of former cheesy apartment buildings that are now slightly less cheesy condominiums. Many programs have pushed a lot of relatively low income people into these buildings as first time owners. They, especially, may not have the revenue to do the upkeep and major repairs on these older condo conversion buildings. Tick, tick, tick...

The suburban poor outnumbered their inner-city counterparts for the first time last year, with more than 12 million suburban residents living in poverty, according to a study of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas released Thursday. "Economies are regional now," said Alan Berube, who co-wrote the report for the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "Where you see increases in city poverty, in almost every metropolitan area, you also see increases in suburban poverty."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Article - News - Leisure World must open its records
This is an interesting turn of events to which I was alerted by the ever-alert Fred Pilot. Leisure World, which is a giant common interest community, is run by Golden Rain Foundation, a non-profit corporation. Residents ask to see corporate records under the David-Stirling Act that regulates CIDs. The corporation says it is not a CID, is not governed by the Act, and doesn't have to release the records. Lawsuit happens. Judge says: oh, yes, you are a CID.

Nice try at avoiding accountability under the law, but no cigar.

...residents argued that Golden Rain was a homeowners association, a type of common interest development. Golden Rain argued that it was a nonprofit corporation and not a common interest development. Consequently, officials said they were not legally obligated to release records to residents. Although Golden Rain voluntarily made public many of its financial records, the residents who sued said they wanted a legal right to access the documents.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Flag-raising raises a fuss at Lino Lakes condo
Fred Pilot sent this along. The flagpole seems to be in the common area, which creates some fairly obvious problems.

World War II veteran Robert Goergen knows he's breaking the rules at his home in Lino Lakes, yet he vows to fight for his right to fly his beloved United States flag as it was meant to be flown -- high and free in the wind. At issue is the placement of a 15-foot flagpole that Goegen planted outside his condominium. Condo managers say the flag is flying on land that belongs to the association, not to him, and they're demanding that he remove the pole and fly the flag according to regulations.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Texas House of Representatives: Member Burt Solomons
Here's the legislator who introduced HR 222, referenced below. This is the ban on municipal mandating of CID construction.
TLO - 80(R) History for HB 222
This is the bill I referred to a few days ago that would do away with municipal mandates for HOAs, at least in Texas.
Judge rewards flagpole lawyer
Fred Pilot sent another account of the work of Attorney Barry Silver, who was awarded twice his usual fees for winning the appeal on behalf of Georg Andres. I think nothing could change the situation of CID owners faster than making the association pay the owner's attorney. As Silver puts it:

Silver got a temporary injunction that kept Andres' American flag flying and then won an appeal that reversed the rulings against Andres. As Silver made the case, he said, he saw a way to argue that the homeowners association should pick up the tab for his services. "In Florida, homeowners associations are used to running roughshod over the rights of their clients. And the reason they can do that is once they decide to go after one of their own homeowners, it's virtually impossible for a homeowner to find an attorney to represent them," Silver said, explaining the crux of his argument.Circuit Court Judge Edward Fine bought it, and as part of the decision awarded Silver twice his regular hourly fee, because of the risk involved in taking such a labor-intensive case without guarantee of payment.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

TCPalm: Judge awards legal fees to Jupiter man involved in flag flap

Latest events in the Georg Andres case, sent by Shu Bartholomew:

A Jupiter man fighting to fly the American flag on a pole on his property is claiming victory in a judge's decision to award his attorney legal fees. But the win for Boca Raton attorney Barry Silver's success in a foreclosure action appeal is part of a larger war between George Andres and his homeowner's association that isn't yet over.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Peace Wreath
Look what just came in over the transom. Thanks, Jim, for a fine piece of Peacemas poetry.

Every Loma at Lindaville liked Peace a lot
But the Grinch and his Cronies certainly DID NOT!
This Grinch hated Peace!
The whole Peacetime season!
Now please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason!
It could be perhaps he just liked to fight, or
Maybe his head was screwed on to the Right.
But we think the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

No matter the reason.
His heart or his head,
He felt really bad, and troubled instead.
The more the Grinch dwelled on the Peace Sign thing
the more he ached to stop the whole thing!
"I must stop this Peace Wreath from being,...but how!
"I know what I'll do, I won't stand this abuse"
He thunked to himself "All I need's an excuse"

He looked for an excuse to take the Wreath down.
But, since excuses are scarce there were none to be found.
Did that stop this ol' Grinch...?
NO! The Grinch simply said
"If I can't find an excuse I'll make one instead!"
He did better than that, he made a Big List,
and Right here they are, and some we have missed.



The Wreath may offend, or it might not be nice,
it might be for Pagans, who drink wine with ice!
Maybe it's code, all secret and sneaky,
Maybe these Loma's are just being cheeky!
Then he fired his cronies (who weren’t so uptight),
They said it’s not bad, but the Lights kept him up nights!
He puzzled and twisted and puzzled some more,
He listed excuses, till his Puzzler was sore.

Then finally his Puzzler hit on the Thing!
Maybe really this Wreath’s not such a bad Zing!
Maybe Peace to the World isn’t so bad,
Maybe Peace to the World, shouldn’t make him so Mad!
Imagine; a world where folks spoke up for Peace!
Like Lisa, the Loma, with her Peace Wreath!

And what happened then...?
In Lindaville they say
That the Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight
He could answer his phone and not hide all the night!
He stopped all his Trickzies, and called off his goons
...and he hung back the Wreath, by the light of the moon!


Jim Fuge
Southwest Colorado Peace and Justice Coalition
refuge@frontier.net
jimfuge@webtv.net
DenverPost.com - HOA surrenders on peace wreath
Thanks to Jim Bowers for pointing me to this. He also suggests a parallel to the big issue in the Twin Rivers case pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court: restriction of basic liberties by a private government. In the Colorado situation, the board members had the decency to resign. That's a good example for others, in my book.

A Pagosa Springs subdivision may have some peace again after a homeowners' association threatened to fine a resident for putting up a Christmas wreath shaped like a peace sign. But the Loma Linda subdivision is now scrambling to assemble a new association board after the three members resigned today. The directors of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association apologized Monday to Lisa Jensen and Bill Trimarco for threatening to fine the couple $25 a day if they didn't remove their lighted wreath. The wreath had been characterized as a divisive symbol that violated the subdivision rules against displaying signs or advertisements.

American Chronicle: Pretty Fascist Communism
Thanks to Nancy Levy for sending the link to this amazing piece of writing by Nancy Levant, who links HOA living to a transformation of American society, as we become a society "prettified" by elites:

It seems that America the nation has undergone a facelift. It’s out with the old - the tried and true – and in with all that is new, licensed, inspected, controlled, manipulated, and mandated by “renewal” projects, environmental “sustainability,” “associations,” and by the “appointments” of “regional” intellectuals. It is amazing how America has transformed – and all at the insistence of American elites who are, themselves, led by international/financial governors...Just look at all the new and pretty homeowner association communities. Nice walkways, landscaping, uniform paint, brick, and stone jobs, and all the rules to keep things “nice” from the propensity of the human being to individualize his living quarters. Please! The rich know far better how to decorate and maintain quality living. We need not concern ourselves with yards, exterior maintenance, or controlling our behaviors and choices. “They” know far better how to manage our lives, and they provide us with beautifully printed rule books (not booklets, mind you, but books) on how to be proper “community” dwellers. And they also maintain our “common” areas and even plant and maintain our flowers and bushes – the one’s they select to beautify our “community.” All very pretty and nice – and all across America we see that uniformity is best for “the people,” and this uniformity must be maintained.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Freshly Baked Handouts Forbidden in Fairfax - washingtonpost.com
I have this feeling that local governments are starting to emulate HOAs. Here's an example. Fairfax County is wall to wall HOAs. And now this exercise in stupidity:

The casserole has been canned. Under a tough new Fairfax County policy, residents can no longer donate food prepared in their homes or a church kitchen -- be it a tuna casserole, sandwiches or even a batch of cookies -- unless the kitchen is approved by the county, health officials said yesterday. They said the crackdown on home-cooked meals is aimed at preventing food poisoning among homeless people...."We're very aware that a number of homeless people eat out of dumpsters, and mom's pot roast has got to be healthier than that," said Jim Brigl, chief executive of Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services. "But that doesn't meet the code."



Article - News - It's good to be a supervisor
Fred Pilot sent this amazing story from the Orange County Register about the lavish pay and perks bestowed on Orange County Board of Supervisors. And all the HOA residents get to chip in for this extravagance, along with paying through the nose to their HOA for private infrastructure and services that the County and municipalities don't provide for them. How long before the double taxation initiative movement gets going?

Imagine a job where you earn about $200,000 a year – a package that includes $59,000 in benefits, a $600 monthly car allowance and all the free gas you can guzzle.

You get a staff of at least six people, an annual operating budget of about $800,000, 12 paid holidays and a BlackBerry.

This same job offers you two free parking spots in a covered, secure garage. You also get a semi-private elevator – used by just you and four other people – to whisk you up and drop you at the back door of your large, fifth-floor office.

Oh, and you can take on a few other side jobs that will pay you stipends of several thousand more a year. And you don't have to pay Social Security taxes.

Inca justice system eyed by Morales may use whipping - World - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper
I wonder how long it will take for some HOAs to adopt this approach?

THE HAGUE -- Bolivian President Evo Morales, on a state visit to the Netherlands, said he is searching for a new model of democracy that could include reviving the ancient tradition of whipping petty criminals as an alternative to jail.
"When I was a kid I was punished several times, being whipped and lashed," the leftist president said Monday in a speech to an audience of businessmen and government officials from both Bolivia and the Netherlands.
On Architecture: The suburbs don't have to be boring
Nancy Levy forwarded this piece about how to make suburbs good places to live and raise families, and also "interesting," like big cities. Here's one of the suggestions:

"Encourage eccentricity. The single most positive thing suburban neighborhoods could do for themselves is to throw out every one of the CC&Rs (conditions, covenants and restrictions in legalese) that relate to architecture and landscaping. Residents have a legitimate interest in protecting property values by insisting on reasonable maintenance standards -- fences shouldn't rot, paint shouldn't decay and junk cars shouldn't be left to decompose in driveways. But the rules that restrict colors, alterations and additions keep suburban neighborhoods from reflecting the increasing diversity and individuality of the people who live in them."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

BREITBART.COM - Existing Home Sales Rise, Prices Fall
Sales of existing homes posted a tiny increase in October, the first gain in eight months, but the median price of homes sold last month fell by a record amount. The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that existing home sales edged up 0.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.24 million. It marked the first sales increase since February. However, the median, or midpoint, price for a home sold dropped to $221,000 in October, a decline of 3.5 percent from a year ago. That was the biggest year-over-year price decline on record. It marked the third straight month that home prices have fallen compared to the same period a year ago, the longest stretch of such declines on record.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Homeowner associations can be very good or very bad
That is the philosophical headline of the recent story about HOAs. I'm quoted if you read down far enough.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Now, here's a law to reckon with...
Here's some language from Texas' HB222, called to my attention by the ever alert Fred Pilot and circulating around the newsgroups. It's nice to see this acknowledgement of the fact that municipalities in many states are mandating the creation of HOAs as a condition of allowing construction.

"Sec. 212.002. RULES
...A municipality may not adopt a rule that requires the creation of a property owners' association as a condition of approving a plat."
Colo. subdivision bans wreath peace sign - Yahoo! News
Thanks to Fred Pilot for this sample of holiday spirit, HOA style. There is a photo of the offending wreath. Anti-Iraq protest, symbol of Satan, or just a Hippie Holiday? You be the judge.

DENVER - A homeowners association in southwestern Colorado has threatened to fine a resident $25 a day until she removes a Christmas wreath with a peace sign that some say is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

trialog zeitschrift für stadtplanung frameset-datei
From Elisabeth Peyroux comes the announcement of this new issue of the journal Trialog, which is about "Controlling Urban Space. The Rise of New Actors." That includes all the friendly little neighborhood HOAs and other "new actors."
Don't try defending your home against an intruder in Canada
The basic rule seems to be: beat up a burglar and you go to jail.
Died: H. Donald Wilson, 82; Developed LexisNexis - washingtonpost.com
Three guesses where he died:
a) At a football game
b) Climbing Mount Everest
c) In front of his computer
Nov. 23, 2006- City panel OKs preferred plant list...
...in order to become more like an HOA?
Thanks to Fred Pilot for this link. By "plant," they mean the vegetation sort, not the nuclear kind. Actually, some of this is common sense as they are trying to keep out invasive species. Kudzu, anybody?
Beth Grimm doesn't like the AARP Homeowner Bill of Rights
Thanks to Fred Pilot for the link to this piece by California attorney Beth Grimm.
HOAs Gone Wild - Part 2 | HOA Nut House
Here is part two of the broadcast linked below.
HOAs Gone Wild - Part 1 | HOA Nut House
Check out this local news broadcast from Texas, linked from HOA News Network and sent to me by a bunch of people (thanks to Shu, Fred, and Beanie). When the local newscast is onto your game, you aren't fooling a whole lot of people.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Home Sales Fall in 38 States, Data Shows The feeble U.S. housing market showed more frailty in October when home sales plummeted in 38 states, hitting Nevada, Arizona, Florida and California particularly hard, government data showed on Monday.

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And by a strange coincidence, these are four states where the new housing stock is almost entirely common interest housing.
Appearance on "On the Commons"
It was fun talking with Shu Bartholomew Saturday afternoon on her radio program, , "On the Commons." That follows on the heels of speaking at the inaugural conference of Marjorie Murray's new organization,Center for California Homeowner Association Law, which I think is performing a great service to the CID owners in California. But all this generated the predictable round of outrage from the HOA abolitionists. Anybody who proposes any realistic reform to make life a little better in HOAs gets attacked by the same cadre of abolitionists, who claim to hate everything about HOA living but apparently choose to live in them anyway. I suggest that measures should be taken to make sure that HOAs remain solvent, and the usual folks vent their spleen. They want to de-fund all the HOAs so they collapse. But as I was explaining, that just leads to court-appointed receivers, court-ordered special assessments, and owners who have to pay up anyway. The question these "let them go belly-up" folks should be made to answer is this: "Which causes more unhappiness in a homeowners life: (a) being told to paint their door a different color; or (b) being ordered to pay $20,000 within 30 days, because their HOA has debts but no money?" If you really care about the millions of people who live in HOAs (versus just having an issue to self-righteously pontificate about), you want those owners to be protected against massive financial liability. That would mean supporting measures that keep these associations from becoming insolvent. Unlike the savings and loan crisis, where the billions of dollars in depositor losses were protected by federal depository insurance, CID owners are on their own.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

'Lockdown' rules keep immigrants' kids from playing outside - Los Angeles Times
In case you think HOAs are repressive, how about these apartment owners?

The weary mother of three, wearing hand-me-down sweatpants and a faded T-shirt, nearly dropped the basket of clothes when she saw the notice on the aging apartment complex laundry door in Santa Ana. The thick capital letters seemed to speak directly to her: "ALL CHILDREN WILL NO LONGER BE ALLOWED TO PLAY OUTSIDE … " Maria Gomez, 33, scurried back to her two-bedroom apartment and her three children, ages 7, 9 and 13, with the news. Her mind flashed back to when her last landlord evicted the family for breaking similar rules. Gomez, like thousands of others across Southern California, lives in an apartment complex that caters to large immigrant families and bans children from playing on apartment grounds. Landlords impose fines and even evict tenants whose children play outside. Even though such punishments often violate housing laws, tenants say they feel powerless to complain for fear of losing their apartment or — in some cases — having their illegal immigration status exposed.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

US town bars foreign flags in swipe at immigrants | US News | Reuters.com
The town is Pahrump, Nevada, home of Art Bell, the radio talk show host who emobied the conspiracy theory/paranormal fad of the 1990s. I wonder what Art thinks of this.
Radburn residents sue homeowners association
Got a link to this from Fred Pilot but it wouldn't work, so I found my own. Hope this one is good. Seems the model for American planned communities, Radburn, is undergoing some political strife. The Progressive Era political scientists who set it up are probably turning over in their graves, because they gave it what they believed was the ultimate form of quasi-municipal government. Here's a bit of the story:

FAIR LAWN -- A group of residents in the Radburn section of the borough are suing their homeowners association, seeking to change the way elections in the neighborhood are handled.

The lawsuit, filed this week in state Superior Court in Hackensack, stems from an ongoing dispute among Radburn residents over appointments to the nine-member board of trustees that governs the historic neighborhood of 650 homes.
San Mateo Daily JournalBelmont is set to make history by becoming the first city in the nation to ban smoking on its streets and almost everywhere else.
The Belmont City Council voted unanimously last night to pursue a strict law that will prohibit smoking anywhere in the city except for single-family detached residences. Smoking on the street, in a park and even in one’s car will become illegal and police would have the option of handing out tickets if they catch someone.


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So I guess the plan is for cities to ban smoking in public and apartment buildings, and then the condo associations ban smoking in condos, and the HOAs ban smoking in all the planned developments, and all the nicotine addicts will be competing for the remaining housing stock built before the 1970s. Is that about the size of it? Maybe the path to riches in real estate is buying up old single family homes and selling them to smokers.
cbs4denver.com - HOA Bans Couple From Smoking In Their Home
Fred Pilot sent this link. This parallels the smoking bans that are popping up in cities.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Click2Houston.com - Local 2 Investigates - Homeowner's Association Uses Chopper To Find Violations
Here's a bit from the story:
How far can a homeowner's association go in Texas? One expert says she's never seen tactics like this. When I met this family two years ago, they said they moved out here to Magnolia because the billboards said they could enjoy their horses. Now they could lose it all and they blame a vendetta and an HOA willing to spy on them from above.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Did you know there was an International Maintenance Code?
Shu Bartholomew alerted me to this. This is scary. Can you envision UN inspectors measuring your front lawn? I see Hans Blix searching my garage for shotgun shells (but not finding them because they were on top of the refrigerator).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Where have I been?
I haven't abandoned this blog, and I thank all the correspondents who have been sending me items all these weeks. I have just been unable to get it done. A lot of things have been going on that have occupied my time. I'll be back on the air and catching up with things this weekend, if not sooner.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

TCPalm: Local News: Mexican flag flies over Chasewood North in Jupiter . . . at least for now

Here's an irony. To think that after all these bans on the American flag in HOAs and condo associations, and all the state laws that had to be passed to allow it now we have a Mexican flag flying...but who did it?

The Stars and Stripes have been replaced by the Mexican flag at Chasewood North, and residents of the condominium community off Central Boulevard are puzzled as to who made the switch.
HOA News Network.com :: View topic - Lyrics From our new Rock Opera
Now, this is funny.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Oak Park Calabasas HOA loses big in appellate court
Fred Pilot sent this link to a published opinion from the Second District Court of Appeals (California).

Here's a summary of the Oak Park Calabasas HOA saga as I understand it:
The condo complex was damaged in the Ventura earthquake of 1994. The HOA made a (first party) claim under their State Farm property insurance policy. State Farm paid out $4.9 million that the HOA was supposed to pay to the repair contractor, ECC. But the HOA kept a "substantial portion" of the money. ECC sued the HOA for non-payment. That case went to jury trial and ECC won a judgment of about $7.5 million that the judge reduced to $7.1 million. The HOA then made another claim (a third party claim) against State Farm to pay that judgment. State Farm refused, saying the claim was not covered because the policy insured the HOA against liability to third parties caused by the HOA's negligence, but not against intentional or contractual liability. So the HOA sued State Farm. State Farm won (the HOA is now 0-2). The HOA appealed, and in the opinion linked above, State Farm won again. The HOA has to pay the judgment--there is no insurance coverage for any of it. After explaining why the loss isn't covered, the court went on to say:

Under the Stipulated and Additional Proffered Facts, it is revealed that State Farm paid Oak Park more than $4.9 million for losses under the earthquake coverage. Oak Park agreed to pay EEC with the money it received from State Farm, but following receipt of funds, Oak Park failed and refused to pay over a substantial portion of it, thereby keeping the money for itself. It appears to this court that Oak Park in essence wanted to enrich itself by forcing State Farm to pay twice for the same property loss. This court refuses to countenance such a result.

Friday, March 10, 2006

High Property Taxes Driving New Revolt - CBS News
Fred Pilot sent this story, which actually originated in the Christian Science Monitor. So now we have a second wave of the property tax rebellion to go with the anti-Kelo/eminent domain backlash. Sounds like middle-class homeowners increasingly feel that they are being milked like dairy cows by municipalities and school districts. (Not to put too fine a point on it or anything.) But local governments are having a hard time balancing the books, so they are using HOAs and other mechanisms to generate or save money, and of course tax and fee for service increases are part of the picture. The tug of war continues...

Welcome to the flip side of the real estate boom. Years of rising home values have boosted property taxes steadily. Now, homeowners across the United States are fighting back. "Real estate growth and real estate boom seem to be happening all over the country and [property-tax revolt] is an inevitable consequence," says Roger Sherman, a property tax expert in Boise, Idaho. This year, legislative proposals, citizen initiatives, and lawsuits are on the agenda in at least 20 states. These new efforts reflect both residents' distrust of how their property tax dollars are being spent and concerns that rising assessments are driving working-class people out of popular towns and cities.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

It's A War Of Words: From The Tampa Tribune
Another HOA trolling successfully for bad press? And note that the press is now referring to HOA board members as "officials."

TAMPA - Before David Kelley went to Iraq, he bought his wife a "Support Our Troops" sign to display outside the couple's home in the Westchase subdivision...But officials of Westchase, in northwest Hillsborough County, view the sign differently. They say the 2-foot-high sign violates community rules. Stacey Kelley, 24, received a letter from the homeowners association last month stating she could be fined $100 a day if she does not remove the sign.



Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Beaumont Enterprise - News - 02/28/2006 - Cartoon flap no joke for resident
Now, here's what I'm talking about. If the property values don't plummet in this neighborhood, then political signs ought to be OK for everybody, right?

BEAUMONT, TX- John Caffery called it an act of cowardice by U.S. newspapers for not publishing controversial Muslim-based cartoons, so the local resident decided to take matters into his own hands. On the corner of Daisy and Norwood drives, Caffery erected a large sign Sunday afternoon with one of the cartoons. It also carries a message about the subsequent rioting throughout the world caused by the publishing of the cartoons in a Danish newspaper...The sign is four feet by eight feet, according to Caffery's estimation, and was made as "large as it feasibly" could be made, he said. A cartoon of Muhammad's head shaped like a lit bomb is depicted to the left and a statement on the right reads "For This Cartoon In Danish and Nowegian [sic] Newspapers Muslems [sic] Worldwide Have Rioted, and Killed and Now Offer $11 Million Reward to Kill The Cartoonist." At the beginning of the statement, an arrow points to the cartoon...City Planning Manager Steve Richardson said Caffery is within his rights to display the billboard and it doesn't violate any ordinances. The political message on display across from his residence didn't bother Ray Bradshaw. Caffery's neighbor can't see the sign from his Norwood Drive home and as of Monday afternoon he hadn't walked over to read it. The 81-year-old man, who's lived in the neighborhood for 22 years, said the sign doesn't bother him. "Every one of us is entitled to our own belief and opinions," Bradshaw said. "If you've got an opinion about something, well, that's all right by me."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Arizona Department of Real Estate...at your service!
Just read it. That's all I ask. Here you have the Arizona Department of Real Estate posting a web page on their site that says, point blank, there is no agency of the State of Arizona that is interested in hearing owner complaints about HOAs--go hire a lawyer. And the statement "These types of complaints are addressed under Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 33" is no help. Title 33 is the Arizona Property Code, which goes on forever. This is a great big brush-off.

George Starapoli found this web page (actually I think the State referred George to it as some sort of non-response to his questions directed at them) and Fred Pilot sent it to me. Don't you think every potential HOA buyer needs to know this? The State authorizes the construction of privately-governed housing units in order to facilitate development through privatization of local government functions. But then the State disclaims any responsibility for hearing about cases where the private governments they authorized are dysfunctional. Instead, they tell you to go hire a lawyer, which means spending $100,000 in legal fees and waiting for three or four years for a resolution.

That summarizes the situation pretty neatly, I'd say. But what is going to be done about it? Does anybody--except the association attorneys who are getting rich off this situation--think it is OK to leave owners with no effective recourse?
There's no amendment for owning pets? Doh!
Fred Pilot sent this link to an AP story about a survey that I saw in the morning's paper and was groaning about over my bagel and coffee. It's no wonder people don't read their CC&rs. They haven't read the US Constitution.

About one in five people thought the right to own a pet is protected by the First Amendment, and 38 percent said they believed the right against self-incrimination -- part of the Fifth Amendment -- is found in the First Amendment right, the survey found.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Condo, homeowner association bills head to debate in capital: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Don Nordeen sent along this link that shows the lineup of forces in the Florida legislature, between the industry, led by the Becker-Poliakoff law firm, and owner activists represented by Cyber Citizens for Justice.

Representing boards again this year is the Community Association Leadership Lobby, or CALL, an arm of the Fort Lauderdale-based Becker & Poliakoff law firm. On the other side is Cyber Citizens for Justice, or CCFJ, a grassroots organization for unit owners. Taking over the job of steering bills friendly to unit owners through the Legislature is Rep. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.
East Brainerd, TN, Man Countersues Homeowners' Association

This story, sent by Fred Pilot, is from the Chattanooga area. Not what you normally consider a hotbed of HOAs, but that just shows you how this is no longer a retirement-belt issue. And the issue is interesting because of the HOAs claim that political signs hurt property values. I think that's a tough case to prove, but let them try.

Paul and Linda Gearinger's attorney has filed a counter lawsuit against the Hamilton Mills Homeowners' Association. The association sued the Gearingers for breaking a sign covenant and for creating a nuisance in the neighborhood. Part of the sign read, "Bush Lied; Soliders Died." The association's lawsuit claimed the sign was creating problems for a nearby homeowner tyring to sell their house. The suit states a potential buyer was turned off by the anti-Bush sign. Now, the Gearingers are counter-suing the homeowners' association, claiming it's using deed restrictions as a way to control and limit speech it does not like.
Overlawyered: Sued for taking baths too early
Mystery Reader sent this link to Overlawyered. Ah, the joys of owning one's very own condo.

Shannon Peterson, a special education teacher in the Arvada, Colo. public schools, "can't believe she's being sued for bathing before leaving for work." But the elderly couple who lives upstairs from her Denver condo unit have been complaining about noisy pipes, and unfortunately for Ms. Peterson they happen to have a son, Sheldon Smith, who's an attorney at the large law firm of Holland and Hart. Represented by their son, the Smiths "sued Peterson just before Christmas, citing the 'reckless and negligent use of her bathtub.'" Before that, the younger Smith had fired off a letter to Peterson, saying her "intransigence ... and tortuous conduct have resulted in incredible sleep deprivation for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Your obstinacy has ruled the day. That will now cease." According to the Denver Post, his demand letter insisted that Peterson not run water in her bathtub before 8 a.m. Peterson says she can't afford steep legal fees on a schoolteacher's salary; a judge has scheduled a hearing on the suit for March 22. (Mike McPhee, "Lawsuit: Baths swamp sleep", Denver Post, Feb. 21).

Monday, February 27, 2006

Number of Unsold Homes Hits Record High

If the housing market is cooling off, which is becoming the general consensus, then watch for condos to start hurting first as people who bought them for investment purposes start dumping them before prices fall...which of course causes prices to fall.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The backlog of unsold new homes reached a record level last month, as sales slipped despite the warmest January in more than 100 years. The Commerce Department reported Monday that sales of new single-family homes dropped by 5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.233 million units last month. That was the slowest pace since January 2005 and left the number of unsold homes at a record high of 528,000. Analysts viewed the new data as further evidence that the nation's red-hot housing market, which hit record sales levels for five straight years, has definitely started to cool.

George Starapoli's collected quotations from appellate court opinions about HOAs and state action
This came from George by way of Fred Pilot. Interesting reading.
Las Vegas SUN: All is lost in brutal game: Association picks up the chips
Fred Pilot sent this sad Las Vegas story about a woman who staged an assessment strike over a parking disute and now has lost her house and her retirement savings.
Homeowner group "regulation" advances in New Jersey
Thanks to Fred Pilot for this link. Owner activists think this bill is no good:
Several opponents argued the legislation needed further study in light of a court ruling two weeks ago declaring New Jerseyans do not sign away their constitutional rights by purchasing a home in a community governed by a private association. That state appeals court instructed a trial judge to determine whether rules adopted by the Twin Rivers Homeowners Association in East Windsor violate the free speech rights of its 10,000 residents. Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said that ruling rejects the "cornerstone" concept of Caraballo's bill: that someone who buys property in a community association agrees to live by its rules. "You cannot require people to sign away their fundamental American liberties just because they want to live in a particular place," Jacobs said. She told lawmakers Caraballo's bill is "unconstitutional" and, if enacted, "will be challenged and overturned by the courts, at great cost to the state and its taxpayers."

'Pizza pope' builds a Catholic heaven
This is about the Catholic-themed planned community. Will this be the only religiously-themed HOA? Don't bet on it.

A FORMER marine who was raised by nuns and made a fortune selling pizza has embarked on a £230m plan to build the first town in America to be run according to strict Catholic principles. Abortions, pornography and contraceptives will be banned in the new Florida town of Ave Maria, which has begun to take shape on former vegetable farms 90 miles northwest of Miami. Tom Monaghan, the founder of the Domino’s Pizza chain, has stirred protests from civil rights activists by declaring that Ave Maria’s pharmacies will not be allowed to sell condoms or birth control pills. The town’s cable television network will carry no X-rated channels.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Friday, February 24, 2006

TUPCA.ORG Texas Uniform Planned Community Act
Look what's brewing in the Lone Star State. Thanks to Sharon Reuler, the TUPCA Coordinator for the Texas College of Real Estate Attorneys, for the pointer.
Uniform Law Commissioners' website on modifications to Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act

Don Nordeen sent me this link a while back and I forgot to post it. This is worth keeping track of. Adoption of UCIOA is on the legislative table in New Jersey at this moment.
American Bar Association Journal Report: PRIVATE CONDO GROUPS SUBJECT TO FREE SPEECH RIGHTS
The ABA takes notice of the Twin Rivers case with an interesting perspective from David L. Hudson, Jr. Thanks to Don Nordeen for this link:

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote a Harvard Law Review article in 1977 calling for the use of state constitutions as a greater protector or "font" of individual liberties. The former justice from New Jersey likely would have smiled at a recent groundbreaking ruling from his home state. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, ruled Feb. 7 that privately owned homeowner associations may be subject to free speech and other guarantees under the state’s constitution. Committee for a Better Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers Homeowners’ Association, No. A-4047-03T2.
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WFTV.com - News - Police: Man Angry About Slamming Door Killed Neighbor
BELLEVIEW, Fla. -- It's an unusual motive for murder. Investigators in Belleview said slamming the door drove a man to kill his next-door neighbor in Marion County. Investigators believe Betty Shepperd was murdered over something that sounds extremely trivial. They said 45-year-old Vito Loiacono was irritated that Shepperd was slamming the door at night and waking him up.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

CAI: New Jersey Appellate Court Hands Down Significant Constitutional Ruling
Thanks to Don Nordeen for this link. The Community Associations Institute has now revised their earlier reaction to the Twin Rivers decision, which I linked to some time ago. Now they have a more detailed legal analysis of the case that emphasizes the ways BODs are still allowed to wield enormous power over residents, even with the constitutional limits on infringing expressive liberties. The lawyer who wrote it, Michael Karpoff, correctly points out that the business judgement rule still applies to non-expressive conduct.

He also emphasizes that "there is no need for governing boards to panic" over the decision. Think about that. If boards had to respect the New Jersey Constitution, they might panic? Why aren't New Jersey's municipal officials in a perpetual anxiety attack? They have been respecting the state Constitution ever since it was written.

Karpoff concludes with this: "Moreover, the Twin Rivers defendants plan to appeal the appellate court's decision to the New Jersey Supreme Court, so the final word on members' speech rights still has not been spoken." So, CAI is still hoping that the New Jersey Supreme Court will silence these disobedient association members for good and all, and put their expressive liberties at the mercy of their board of directors as nature intended. I imagine CAI will drag out the usual parade of horribles that will ensue if HOA members are allowed to display political signs, use their community meeting room, and have fair access to the association newspaper.

I can add one more item to Karpoff's list of reasons for HOA boards not to panic: it's an appellate court decision, and boards frequently disregard those anyway. :-)
Homeowner boards can't exclude democracy
Nice op-ed by law prof Paula Franzese and Twin Rivers plaintiff Margaret Bar-Akiva. Thanks to Gregory Machyowsky for the link. Registration required.

Throughout the nation, private residential subdivisions controlled by homeowner association boards have become Goliath-like manifestations of a phenomenon known as privatization. Increasingly, we are witnessing the rise of "fortress America" as, behind gates and walls, residents agree to relegate to private contract and governing boards a host of matters traditionally considered to be within the public and governmental domain. The resultant loss of individual autonomy comes at a dear price, while the divide between the "us," however conceived, and the "them" widens. More than 250,000 homeowner associations now exist, and more than 50 million Americans live in a condominium, cooperative, planned, walled or gated community. These "privatopias can be anything but. Often preying on residents' desires for security, stability and preservation of property values, homeowner associations have created privatized regimes of governing rules to regulate everything from architectural style, the color of one's shutters, the permissibility of pets, screen doors and basketball hoops to the posting of signs and the flying of flags.

LA Daily News - Mystery blob eating downtown

A mysterious black blob attacked downtown Los Angeles on Monday with a tar-like goo that oozed from manholes, buckled a street and unmoored a Raymond Chandler-era brick building, firefighters said. About 200 residents were forced to flee as a hazardous materials team and dozens of firefighters worked throughout the day to identify what was first deemed "a black tarry substance" and later morphed into a "watery mud." While outside temperatures struggled to break 60, sidewalks in the vicinity steamed at 103 degrees, Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Ron Myers said.

States Curbing Right to Seize Private Homes - New York Times
This is a very encouraging reaffirmation of property rights, as state legislators work to protect us against municipalities abusing the power of eminent domain under the horrendous Kelo v. New London decision.

In a rare display of unanimity that cuts across partisan and geographic lines, lawmakers in virtually every statehouse across the country are advancing bills and constitutional amendments to limit use of the government's power of eminent domain to seize private property for economic development purposes. The measures are in direct response to the United States Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision last June in a landmark property rights case from Connecticut, upholding the authority of the City of New London to condemn homes in an aging neighborhood to make way for a private development of offices, condominiums and a hotel. It was a decision that one justice, who had written for the majority, later all but apologized for.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

LA Downtown News Online: Conversion Confusion--Concerns Arise When a Rental Complex Goes Condo

Nancy Levy sent this on, and it includes a little from me:

...residents said the process so far has been difficult, with confusion over the precise timing of the transition. While representatives from building owner Hammer Ventures defend their work and say care has been taken to keep everyone informed, the situation exposes the Achilles heel of condo conversions: miscommunication and rumors...Evan McKenzie, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the author of a book on homeowners associations and urban developments, said that when an apartment building goes condo, many tenants feel as if they are being kicked out, although myriad state and local laws strictly forbid such a practice. In fact, condo conversions require approval from the city, at least a nine-month process in Los Angeles. McKenzie said that rumors start when tenants aren't up to date with housing laws or the terms of their lease. "Sometimes they don't understand what their rights are," said McKenzie. "A lot of times this is confusing because people don't read things or understand them."


Condo developer arrested in securities fraud, theft case - OrlandoSentinel.com
Thanks to Nancy Levy for this link:

An Isleworth resident and condominium developer has been arrested on state charges of securities fraud and grand theft in a $60 million real-estate scheme targeting seniors nationwide. Patrick B. Kirkland, who boasts Orlando Magic player Grant Hill as one of his neighbors, is being held at the Orange County Jail with bail set at $1 million. His secretary, Laura Wade, was being held at the jail with bail set at $250,000. They were arrested late Thursday.
'There was no compassion for my kids':Joliet HOA evicts woman, 3 children over $262
But...but...the industry says this never happens! (Thanks to a reader in Olympia Fields who sent this link.)

A Joliet [Illinois] subdivision's homeowners association turned a woman and her three young children out onto the street this week over $262 her estranged husband owed in fees.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Comments disabled temporarily
I have disabled comments because some semi-literate individual thought this blog would be a great place to post insulting comments about people. I will re-activate comments when I get that stuff off. In the future I will moderate the comments.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Westlake wins reimbursement for services
Fred Pilot sent along this link to a New Jersey story that illustrates how the Condo Services Act (also known as the Municipal Services Act) works in that state. The law requires municipalities to reimburse condos and HOAs for the cost of certain specified muni services that the residents pay for like everybody else (through property tax) but don't receive because, for example, the trash trucks can't drive down the private streets.

Jackson officials have settled the township’s debt with residents of the Westlake adult community for more than a quarter million dollars. That is the amount owed in reimbursement from 2000-05 for unused municipal services. Under the terms of an agreement provided by Township Attorney Kevin Starkey, a total of $279,112 will be remitted in installment payments to Westlake Master Association Inc. to cover reimbursement of street lighting and snow removal that residents paid for through dues to their homeowners association as well as in their property tax payments to the township.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rockwall Herald-Banner (Texas)--City limits HOAs
Take a look at the language I put in bold print. I keep telling people that cities are driving the spread of HOAs. Read wihat Councilman Mike Scott said. This story is from Fred Pilot.

The City Council recently approved an amendment to the subdivision ordinance that allows for review of homeowners association documents. The provision allows Rockwall an opportunity to check for conflicts with city regulations, including the use of city rights-of-way and public easements — namely streets. Most cities, including Rockwall, usually review homeowner association regulations to check for maintenance agreements for common areas, Planning & Zoning Director Robert LaCroix said. “They’re horribly written most of the time,” Scott said. “I went to law school, and I don’t understand half of them when I read them.” Scott suggested a couple of other amendments. No association could prohibit homeowners from displaying yard signs advocating political candidates, political parties, bond elections “or similar matters of public importance.”...“Some people have gone nutty with these HOAs,” he said. “If you’re going to form an HOA in the city of Rockwall — which, by the way, we require everyone to do — we’re not going to create a monster for future citizens.”
USATODAY.com - Metro home price gains soar to record
WASHINGTON — Home prices in 72 metropolitan areas showed double-digit increases in the fourth quarter last year, a record that was probably the peak in this real estate cycle, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. The number of metro areas with double-digit price increases surpassed a previous record of 69 areas with double-digit price gains in 2003's third quarter. The hottest area at the end of last year was the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale region of Arizona, where the median home price soared 49% to $286,400. As a state, Florida held five of the top 10 markets with the fastest price appreciation, led by the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area with a 48% jump in the median home price. "I don't want to say this is the last hoorah, but it certainly reflects the peak of the boom in terms of price appreciation," said David Lereah, the NAR's chief economist. "It wasn't the highest quarter for price appreciation, at 13% (nationwide), but it covered a big part of the country – 72 metros is enormous." But he cautioned that the market is cooling fast. ..




Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Banner day for home rule
Couple not buying `For Sale' sign ban

Nancy Levy sent this link to another New Jersey story on freedom of expression, of a sort, in an HOA:

Planting a "For Sale" sign on the front lawn is one of the first things people do when they decide to sell their homes. It's practically the American way. But Joan and Kenneth Tencza, who live in the Locust Hill adult community in Hamilton, can't. Their homeowners association won't allow it. So after receiving two threatening letters from the association's management company -- one for posting a "For Sale" sign in their front window and another for a sign they put on Yardville-Hamilton Square Road, just outside the entrance to the development -- the couple has found an innovative way around the rules. They've hung a festive red and white flag outside their home to let people know the house is on the market.
Chicago Flame gives shameless plug!
Nancy Levy found this link to a student newspaper right here at UIC that ran a story on the Twin Rivers case. Now, why didn't I find that, considering that there are fifty gazillion copies of the paper right next to the classroom I just taught in?
Don Nordeen's blog has Twin Rivers links and commentary
Check out Don's blog,Governance of Property Owners Associations for a roundup of links and commentary on the Twin Rivers case. Thanks, Don.

Monday, February 13, 2006

EDITORIALS: Free speech in suburbia
Thanks to Nancy Levy for this link to a great New Jersey newspaper editorial lauding the Twin Rivers ruling. The last paragraph makes the main point well:

The decision may not affect the power of homeowners' associations to regulate such mundane activities as bike riding or choice of housepaint color, but it takes aim at clear violations of the right of expression. In 2003, for example, Ralph and Dori McIlvaine of the Evergreen development in Hamilton were fined $1,000 by their homeowners' association for disobeying the association's order not to fly a POW-MIA flag after Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch was taken prisoner in Iraq. In 2004, George Shafer of the Village Grande community in Bordentown Township was forced by his association to pay $600 for putting a Bush-Cheney campaign sign on his lawn. It's to be hoped that the court's ruling eventually will put an end to this kind of anti-democratic limitation on free speech.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

CAI's take on the Twin Rivers decision


Here is what CAI has to say:
While CAI believes that associations should be reasonable in creating rules regulating the free expression of homeowners in their associations, the breadth of the opinion in the Twin Rivers case could be problematic

Let's cut through the PR. CAI filed an amicus curiae brief in this case in support of the association. They were behind the association and against the owners all the way. This "while CAI believes associations should be reasonable" business is part of CAI's ongoing effort to, on the one hand, appear to be the voice of reason while, on the other hand, they argue at every turn in every state legislature for virtually unlimited board authority over the residents. It is an attempt to let CAI portray itself as supporting limits on association abuses, while in fact the organization opposes just about any form of oversight or regulation that would actually serve as a real limitation on unfettered BOD discretion. "Be reasonable" without any oversight is just another way of saying that owners shouldn't have any rights, and association boards should be free to do whatever they want, without any meaningful oversight and with nobody to hold them accountable to any standard other than their own view of what is "reasonable." Some associations disregard not only the law, but their own governing documents. The Hanrahan report that is discussed in the Twin Rivers case talks about these out-of-control associations, and the lack of any way to rein them in.

The Twin Rivers case is about an association government that limited display of political signs, kept the insurgents out of the meeting room, and turning the development's newspaper into a one-sided platform where the challengers were regularly (and viciously) vilified. That, and more. All this had the effect of keeping people from effectively challenging the ruling elite. And CAI sided with them. Does that seem reasonable to you?

One final point. CAI correctly picks out the key paragraph of the Association's brief:

The Twin Rivers Homeowners' Association argued to no avail that subjecting the association to constitutional standards would "alter the very nature of planned developments, create chaos, erode private property rights, limit the freedom to contract, discourage new development, cause associations to lose their flexibility, and infringe the rights of the majority."

That is really the essence of the association's (and CAI's) argument. They tried to scare the justices into believing that if they allowed people to post political signs the sky would come crashing down around us all. Now, does anybody besides CAI find it unusual that this ridiculous argument was "to no avail"? How could any rational human believe that forcing associations to respect the simple expressive liberties that this country was founded to protect could possibly bring about this parade of horribles? This case is about power, and that silly argument is just part of the usual effort to dissuade courts from limiting the power of association directors (aided by their attorneys) over the residents.

I don't know whether this appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court will actually happen. Of course, the decision is up to the Twin Rivers HOA and their attorneys (there were three of them taking my deposition). But CAI may fear losing the case in front of the highest court in a major state. At this point I suppose they can continue to criticize the decision as an aberration from a "liberal" panel (whatever that means), and go on doing business as usual. But losing it in the court of last resort (for New Jersey law and the New Jersey Constitution) would put a stop to that once and for all.

ps:
As I have said many times, I believe that CAI performs valuable functions in its capacity as an organization that supports the professionals who work for community associations. Training lawyers and managers is extremely important, and CAI is the pre-eminent organization in that capacity. It is also important as a networking organization for these professionals. Certification of managers, who in most states aren't even licensed, is valuable as well. But in its activities as a lobbying organization, I think CAI continues to take positions that are very troubling and are inconsistent with CAI's own stated views on local democracy. In my opinion, if CAI believes in local democracy within community associations, as it always says it does, the organization should be filing its amicus briefs in support of expanding expressive liberties for owners, instead of supporting the power of BODs to restrict those liberties. Without free and open discourse, democratic procedures are just a hollow shell. As we all know, they had meaningless elections in Iraq before the fall of Saddam. They had meaningless elections in the USSR. No, I don't think community associations are that bad. But the principle holds. You can't argue that association boards should be able to restrict expression according to what they think is "reasonable" and then argue that association elections are a meaningful expression of local democracy, and therefore no outside oversight is needed. The opposite is true. If we could be sure that the elections in associations were based on free and open debate, with fair procedures and protections for minority rights, then there would be less need for outside intervention in the affairs of community associations. The underlying structural problem is that CAs are corporations. We are delivering local government services through an organizational form that is designed for top-down direction and efficiency, not democracy. The challenge is to make them more democratic without producing paralysis, endless debate, and inefficiency. But too much democracy in HOAs is not the problem right now and I think we can cross that bridge if we ever come to it.
Windsor-Hights Herald - 02/10/2006 - Twin Rivers residents win battle; board to continue war
Nancy Levy sent this link to a good article on the aftermath of the Twin Rivers appellate court ruling. The HOA, despite having lost, says nothing is going to change. Their lawyer says if the plaintiffs don't like things the way they are, they should move. Charming. If I were going to appeal to the state Supreme Court, as the HOA says it will, I'd be a little more respectful of the judiciary. But this highlights is a major problem: HOAs routinely ignore their legal responsibilities. That's why owner-activists are so negative toward the entire institution. It always seems that there is no law HOA boards and their attorneys won't just ignore if it suits their purpose. That's because they are used to shooting fish in a barrel. 99% of the time these lawyers go up against unrepresented owners who can't enforce their legal rights. This situation breeds arrogance.


EAST WINDSOR — A group of Twin Rivers residents won a constitutional argument this week related to a lawsuit challenging, among other things, restrictions on posting political signs and a voting system based on property values.
But their lawsuit against the homeowners' association has yet to be finalized as it has been remanded to a lower court and the association plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
"If they're not happy with these policies," said association attorney Barry Goodman, "they should look elsewhere to live."... "Twin Rivers will continue to operate the way it has," he said. "It doesn't matter what standards apply, the Twin Rivers' regulations will be upheld."
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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Boy charged with felony for carrying sugar
I post stories like this every now and then to make the simple point that constitutional public local governments are just as capable of doing completely ridiculous and abusive things as the HOAs I usually write about. And here's an example of extending the "all jokes will be taken seriously" policy that originated in airport security to the public school system. The sugar became a "look alike drug" in the eyes of the school and the police because the boy told some friends, jokingly, that it was cocaine, then said, "Just kidding." I wonder if we have a cultural problem here, which is that people in positions of authority increasingly seem to misunderstand that each and every one of them has a limited governmental function to perform. Common sense, for example, once imposed limits on school officials' actions. Now, with "zero tolerance" policies, they have abandoned that limitation and behave like tyrannical robots. The officials here claim that they can't tell the difference between real drugs and look-alikes. If these school officials are incapable of correctly identifying a bag of sugar, I respectfully suggest that the local school board might want to inquire into whether these folks have the intelligence needed to run a middle school.

A 12-year-old Aurora boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project this week has been charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug, Aurora police have confirmed. The sixth-grade student at Waldo Middle School was also suspended for two weeks from school after showing the bag of powdered sugar to his friends. The boy, who is not being identified because he is a juvenile, said he brought the bag to school to ask his science teacher if he could run an experiment using sugar. Two other boys asked if the bag contained cocaine after he showed it to them in the bathroom Wednesday morning, the boy's mother said. He joked that it was cocaine, before telling them, "just kidding," she said.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Power to the homeowner
Fred Pilot sent me a link to a story that I should already have known about, because it's right here in Illinois:

SPRINGFIELD — Homeowners stand to gain more rights under legislation proposed by House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego.

Cross' proposed Homeowners' Association Act would establish formal ground rules for the operation of neighborhood groups that have increased in number throughout the Fox Valley with each new subdivision but occasionally create more conflicts than they resolve.

"I am introducing this legislation because of the many abuses homeowners have suffered," Cross said.

"Given that homeowners' associations have the power to collect association dues, create rules for the use of one's property, and levy fines or place a lien on a person's property for not paying dues or following association policies, it makes sense to create a law giving association members basic rights."
...

JURIST - Paper Chase: New London mayor proposes eminent domain compromise
Thanks to Nancy Levy for this link to a follow-up story on the Kelo v. City of New London situation. But what do you make of the compromise offered by Mayor Beth Sabilia:

Under Sabilia's plan, the homeowners would be allowed to remain in their homes provided they pay the city to continue to live there. The homeowners would also have to surrender ownership rights to the city.

-----I thought the whole point of the city going all the way to the USSC to grab this land was that they just absolutely had to have it so they could knock down the homes and put up ritzy condos and a business park and a health club, thereby saving the City of New London from becoming like Newark. But now it turns out that the homes can stay if the former owners agree to become renters? What gives?
Charlotte Observer | 02/10/2006 | Trickle-down tactic: No dues? No water
Nancy Levy sent this link to a story about a dramatic showdown between a condo association and two owners. The association decided that cutting off the water supply was more humane than foreclosure. Oh..and also cheaper and faster.
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In a move that is apparently a first for North Carolina, a condominium association on Thursday cut off water to two south Charlotte homeowners who were thousands of dollars behind in paying their homeowners' dues. The Princeton at Southampton owners association, which controls the development's master water meter and pays the neighborhood's water bill, decided a shutoff was preferable to the traditional approach of taking someone's home through foreclosure, said association president Michael Kan.
So it hired a plumber to sever lines that deliver water to the Ballantyne-area townhomes.
...
Boing Boing: Posh kids' clubhouse themed to look like a Li'l Raskals' treehouse
Mystery Reader sent this link to a picture of a luxury treehouse...and the name, it seems, is..."Evan's Clubhouse." Is MR trying to get me to rename this blog?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sorry about the missing links...
Don Nordeen kindly informed me that the hyperlinks were missing from my Twin Rivers posts. I don't know how that happened, but they are all fixed now. Thanks, Don.
N.J. homeowners groups must recognize residents' free speech
A former student of mine, Shawn Healy, sent this link to the First Amendment Center's web site, which has some other good things on it that people may want to look over. The story is basically the AP wire story I linked to yesterday.
TRENTON, N.J. — A state appeals court panel ruled yesterday that homeowners associations must recognize residents’ rights to freedom of speech under the New Jersey Constitution.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Breyer Says 'Zero' Politics on the Court - Yahoo! News
I just had to post this one. And this is NOT from The Onion.

[United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer] said, however, that he hadn't detected any split on the high court along Republican and Democratic ideological lines. "I haven't seen that kind of politics in the Supreme Court. Zero. It doesn't exist," he said.

Victory for dissident residents
Two articles from Fred Pilot on the Twin Rivers victory:
A state appeals court has ruled that members of homeowners associations are entitled to constitutional rights to engage in free speech that is critical of their governing boards even though the associations oversee private property. The ruling could affect the more than 1 million state residents who live in "common-interest" developments and who may find themselves at odds with their homeowners associations.Legal experts said the ruling Tuesday by the state Superior Court's Appellate Division was the first of its kind in the country and raised new questions about the reach of constitutional rights in the operation of the associations.
The case has been watched closely by residents of the Radburn neighborhood in Fair Lawn, who have been lobbying for election reform on its board of trustees.
Community group must honor rights:
A state appellate court ruled that homeowners' associations have to recognize free speech.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

TRENTON - A state appeals court ruled yesterday that homeowners' associations must recognize rights to freedom of speech under the New Jersey Constitution.

The three-judge panel unanimously backed residents of the private Twin Rivers community in East Windsor who sued their homeowners' association to be able to put political signs on their lawns, to have equal access to a newspaper run by the community's board of trustees, and to meet in a community room. Frank Askin, a Rutgers University Law School professor and lead counsel for the Committee for a Better Twin Rivers, said the appellate court was the first to rule that such private communities were "constitutional actors" and must respect members' freedom of speech. "The court recognized that, just like shopping malls are the new public square, these associations have become and act, for all practical purposes, like municipal entities unto themselves," he said in a statement. The case had been dismissed by a state Superior Court judge. The appellate panel said: "Expressive exercises, especially those bearing upon real and legitimate community issues, should not be silenced or subject to undue limitation because of changes in residential relationships, such as where lifestyle issues are governed or administered by community associations, in addition to being regulated by governmental entities."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Twin Rivers opinion: a big win for HOA residents in New Jersey
The opinion is here. I will have more to say after I read it more fully, but it is a definite win for the Committee for a Better Twin Rivers and for all New Jersey HOA residents.