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.

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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."
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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.


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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.