Wednesday, December 31, 2014

West Sacramento council OKs development – without gated entry | The Sacramento Bee

West Sacramento council OKs development – without gated entry | The Sacramento Bee: Council members told the developer that a gated community would defy their long-held notion of what West Sacramento stands for and what it wants to be.

“This is not a city that gates its neighborhoods off. That’s not who we are as a town,” West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said at the Dec. 17 City Council meeting. “It’s a pretty open-and-shut issue as far as what our values are.”

Gated neighborhoods are not prohibited in West Sacramento, and the city already has three of them. But the idea has been widely unpopular for years in this town with working-class roots. A gated single-family development has not been built in the city in 20 years, Cabaldon said at the meeting
.

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West Sacramento declines to join Fortress Privatopia.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Zombie Christmas display owner defies order to remove

"CINCINNATI (AP) — A "Zombie Nativity" scene in a southwest Ohio suburb remained undead Tuesday, days past the deadline to remove it.
Sycamore Township officials said last week they had received complaints about debris at the home and concluded that the display violates rules on size and placement of yard structures. They sent resident Jasen Dixon two zoning violation notices and gave him until the day after Christmas to take it down."
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Apparently there is some esoteric freedom of expression idea at the root of this, but I confess that it eludes me. In general I'd agree that people should be able to have whatever holiday display they want, but I don't understand the  motivation behind being intentionally and purposefully offensive. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Illinois General Assembly - Bill Status for HB4204

Illinois General Assembly - Bill Status for HB4204



Governor Quinn just signed this into law, creating the office of Condominium Ombudsperson for the state of Illinois.  I helped State Rep. Elaine Nekritz with this bill over the last year.  The Ombudsperson's functions are mainly ADR and education.  In addition, condo associations will be required to have an ADR policy and they will have to register with the state.

You can get the full pdf version of the bill at my mckenzie-law wiki page here:

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Federal Housing Finance Agency is "concerned" about state legislatures....

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Statement of the Federal Housing Finance Agency on Certain Super Priority Liens


Today, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is alerting homeowners, financial institutions, and state authorities of the agency’s concerns with state-level actions that threaten the first-lien status of single-family loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  In particular, FHFA is concerned about state actions to create super-priority liens in two instances: 1) through certain energy retrofit financing programs structured as tax assessments and 2) through granting priority rights in foreclosure proceedings for homeowner associations.  In issuing this statement, FHFA is acting in furtherance of its statutory obligations as regulator and conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 

The existence of these super-priority liens increases the risk of losses to taxpayers.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while operating in conservatorship, currently support the housing finance market by purchasing, guaranteeing, and securitizing single-family mortgages.  One of the bedrock principles in this process is that the mortgages supported by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must remain in first-lien position, meaning that they have first priority in receiving the proceeds from selling a house in foreclosure.  As a result, any lien from a loan added after origination should not be able to jump in line ahead of a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgage to collect the proceeds of the sale of a foreclosed property.  However, as is detailed below, FHFA is concerned by some liens being advanced to “super-priority” status over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac first-lien mortgages...FHFA is aware that, in certain jurisdictions, liens for unpaid homeowner association ("HOA") dues may be deemed to be senior to preexisting mortgage liens on a homeowner's property.  As a result, on December 5, 2014, FHFA and Fannie Mae filed an action in federal court in Nevada, seeking a determination that a HOA's foreclosure sale is invalid and contrary to federal law to the extent that it purports to extinguish Fannie Mae's property rights.  Federal National Mortgage Association v. SFR Investments Pool 1, LLC, No. 2:14-cv-02046 (D. Nev. December 5, 2014).  FHFA has also intervened in Saticoy Bay, LLC Series 1702 Empire Mine v. Federal National Mortgage Assoc., No. 2:14-cv-01975 (D. Nev.), seeking a declaration that a prior HOA foreclosure sale is invalid to the extent that it purports to extinguish Fannie Mae's property interests.   
​​These FHFA actions are based on federal law which precludes involuntary extinguishment of liens held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac while they are operating in conservatorships and bars holders of other liens, including HOAs, from taking any action that would extinguish a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac lien, security interest or other property interest. Specifically, Title 12 USC Section 4617(j)(3) states that "[no] property of the Agency shall be subject to levy, attachment, garnishment, foreclosure, or sale without the consent of the Agency, nor shall any involuntary lien attach to the property of the Agency."  FHFA is authorized, as conservator, to bring this suit because Enterprise lien interests in collateral constitute property protected by this provision.   FHFA has an obligation to protect Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's rights, and will aggressively do so by bringing actions to void foreclosures that purport to extinguish Enterprise property interests in a manner that contravenes federal law.
http://www.fhfa.gov/mobile/Pages/public-affairs-detail.aspx?PageName=Statement-of-the-Federal-Housing-Finance-Agency-on-Certain-Super-Priority-Liens.aspx
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Needless to say, the Community Associations Institute is vehemently opposed to this FHFA position. CAI is the major proponent of "superlien" laws that give associations priority over first mortgages to some extent.  Here's what CAI has to say about this:

 CAI: FHFA Move Threatens Associations & Owners 

12/23/2014  - Falls Church , VA
Dec. 23, 2014—The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) released a statement yesterday expressing concern about state statutes that allow community associations to obtain lien priority over first mortgages for unpaid association assessments. By asking a federal court to intervene, FHFA is trying to bail out mortgage servicers that have failed to fulfill basic contractual obligations to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"Make no mistake, FHFA is bailing out mortgage servicers that lacked the competency to meet basic contractual requirements and follow established rules of civil procedure," said Thomas M. Skiba, CAE, chief executive officer of Community Associations Institute (CAI). "By suing community associations, FHFA is trying to protect Fannie and Freddie at the expense of association homeowners. That's unfair, unconscionable and unacceptable."
For years, CAI has joined with federal regulators (as well as Fannie Mae) to call on mortgage servicers to secure and maintain vacant and abandoned properties and meet their financial obligations to community associations and their homeowners. These calls and regulatory directives have been largely ignored with impunity by mortgage servicers. 
"In one case, Fannie Mae’s servicers failed to respond to legal service of process and, despite mandatory notification pursuant to Nevada law, failed to appear at a foreclosure auction to protect Fannie Mae's financial interests," Skiba continued. "It says a lot about FHFA priorities that the agency now is suing to recoup Fannie Mae's losses from the pockets of community association homeowners, rather than suing servicers for breach of contract. Someone must stand up for homeowners and that’s what CAI will continue to do."
FHFA is nothing if not strategic, electing to release its statement on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the agency in federal court in Nevada. FHFA is seeking a determination that an HOA's foreclosure sale is invalid and contrary to federal law because it would extinguish Fannie Mae's property rights. However, the right of foreclosure FHFA is seeking to invalidate nationwide is permitted by law in Nevada, 21 other states and the District of Columbia.
FHFA asserts that it is compelled by law to file suit to protect Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's rights and to prevent taxpayers from incurring losses. Skiba said the FHFA statement "blatantly ignores" Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rights under the respective seller/servicing guides that allow these mammoth enterprises to recover losses resulting from the mismanagement of mortgage servicers. Despite a range of available remedies, FHFA has opted to sue to invalidate state priority lien statutes rather than enforcing its rights under contract.
"It's incredulous that a Federal agency would sacrifice the interests of 65 million taxpayers who live in community associations to protect the very banks all American taxpayers spent billions of dollars to bail out during the economy-shattering housing crisis," Skiba said. "And it’s shocking for FHFA to attack state laws that have been in place for more than 100 years of precedent and practice. Fact is, by paying their association assessments and protecting property values, these homeowners protect the value of lenders' assets in associations. Yet, FHFA is enabling the bad behavior of mortgage servicers who don't spend a dime to maintain and protect their own property investments."
CAI will continue to monitor FHFA's hostile actions against the right of community associations to secure priority liens on properties within their boundaries.”
Get more information on the priority lien issue, including a detailed CAI statementand a map of states with priority lien statutes. See the Nevada Supreme Court decision.
With more than 33,000 members dedicated to building better communities, CAI works in partnership with 60 chapters to provide information, education and resources to community associations and the professionals who support them. CAI’s mission is to inspire professionalism, effective leadership and responsible citizenship—ideals reflected in communities that are preferred places to call home. Visit www.caionline.org or call (888) 224-4321




http://www.caionline.org/about/press/Pages/FHFAMoveThreatensHomeownersandtheirCommunities.aspx






Thursday, December 25, 2014

Las Vegas HOA fraud trial will stay in Las Vegas


Why? Because it happened in Vegas.  The judge on this massive fraud trial ruled that the trial will stay right where it is, denying a change of venue motion based on the level of publicity.  The defense is particularly upset at the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Jeff German for obtaining documents concerning  Leon Belzer's plea bargaining talks with the US Attorney's office. Those talks didn't result in a deal, so off  to trial they go.  The funny part: the only reason German was able to get the documents is that one of the defendants put them in the court record and they were available to the public for two days. So the most damaging publicity is their own fault.




http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/las-vegas-hoa-corruption-trial-stays-las-vegas

Pasco county HOA calls homes unsafe


In the sense that they might fall down in a high wind.






Malfunctioning elevators and association inaction equal financial disaster


A condo association has had malfunctioning elevators for six years and hasn't fixed them properly because they say they can't afford it. Now they are facing $5 million in fines. I wonder if they can afford that.




Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Orange County Threatens Big Fines For Excessive Christmas Decorations

Looks like the grinch came early to Ladera Ranch this year:
"LADERA RANCH (CBSLA.com) — Orange County is threatening substantial fines to one neighborhood over their extreme Christmas decorations. Twenty-one residents in Baudin Circle in Ladera Ranch say they received letters from the Orange County Public Works department, stating that their lights are safety hazards.  Some homeowners at Baudin circle have taken pride in putting together an impressive Christmas lights show for ten years....“This was, I think, our second notice today, and basically it says we have twenty-four hours to take (the lights) down, before we get fined five-hundred dollarsa day,” resident Cynthia Mellow said."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The bad kind of unionism?

Police unions have come to stand above all for the principles that (1) individual cops should be above the law,  and (2) police forces should operate independently of political control. Now that this situation has generated protest and media coverage, with institutional racism being exposed for teh whole world to see, police union bosses are dropping the mask of civility and going straight to authoritarian rage.  Very instructive for those who are paying attention.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/23/police-unions_n_6373380.html

"They’ve bitterly opposed civilian review boards (and, if established, have sought to undermine them). They’ve fought the placement of names and badge numbers on officer uniforms. They’ve resisted rooting out police misconduct. “The modern police union movement,” criminologist Samuel Walker argues, “originated largely in reaction to the civil rights movement and its criticisms of police conduct during the 1960s…. Any local unions originated or at least became more militant in response to specific police-community relations initiatives in the 1960s.”

Ohio town threatens legal action against zombie baby Jesus

I can never understand why people do things that are intended to annoy their neighbors, but here's the latest  outrage.
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/12/ohio-town-threatens-legal-action-against-zombie-baby-jesus-nativity-scene-on-mans-lawn/

Monday, December 22, 2014

Why the controversy over police shootings is so ugly.

Joseph Wambaugh, a best-selling novelist and former LAPD officer, said that policing isn't a physically dangerous job if you look at the statistics. Being a cab driver, a construction worker, a farm laborer, and many other occupations have higher fatality rates.  But being a police officer is one of the most psychologically dangerous occupations by far.  More police officers die by their own hand than die in the line of duty.  Most of them start out as idealistic people who want to help others and the job is fun.  But they spend 8 hours per day seeing people at their worst and this gradually makes them cynical and pessimistic.  The cop subculture is their resource for dealing with these feelings because they all feel this way.  As time goes by cops develop an us versus them mentality. They get absorbed into the cop subculture where they come to believe that they are the thin blue line between naive sheep who don't understand how bad things are, and vicious predators. There is a lot of alcohol abuse and relationship problems are the norm. Over the years they come to surround themselves entirely with other cops.  They literally don't associate with anybody who isn't a police officer.  This leads to a profound sense of isolation from society, but they reinforce each other in these distorted perceptions.   Eventually they don't trust anybody who isn't a cop.  They become quick to get paranoid and angry and confrontational--and violent.  And they know that prosecutors and judges are terrified of their unions.  

This is why they cover for each other, even in the most inexcusable situations. It is why police unions relentlessly defend cops who killed unarmed civilians in situations that would lead to murder convictions for anybody else.

And if you look at the other side of the controversy, you see millions of people who are horrified at the thought that anybody with a badge and a gun can beat them senseless or shoot them full  of holes on the slightest pretext and face no legal consequences at all.  In African-American and Latino neighborhoods the rage, the sense that the time has come to say no more of this, is intense.  They have had over twenty years of "broken window" policing in their neighborhoods, where they get rousted for the most trivial reasons on the theory that this is how to haul in the people with warrants and weapons.  But think of all the bogus stops, the harrassment, the reality-based sense of being persecuted, that has built up in low income neighborhoods. It is intense. Read Matt Taibbi's take on that.  He says law enforcement is becoming illegitimate, because the poor are ground to hamburger by the law, but the rich can steal millions and face no consequences at all. It's like something out of Dickens.

And this is why the current controversy over police shootings and beatings has the potential to be so profoundly ugly. It will be hard to  find any middle ground, because maybe there isn't any.  


Friday, December 19, 2014

Most hostile "holiday" display ever

"Ansell, an electrician, has a display on his yard that features a beheaded choir, a hanging Mickey Mouse and even a urinating Santa Claus that lights up at night".

And that's not all. It's enough to make you wish you had an HOA.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/man-terrorizing-neighbors-hostile-holiday-decoration-display/story?id=27671282

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Prosecute John Yoo, says Erwin Chemerinsky

http://m.thenation.com/blog/192809-prosecute-john-yoo-says-law-school-dean-erwin-chemerinsky

I've never heard of a law school dean calling for the prosecution of a law professor, but in this case, why not? He provided legal cover for the Bush/Cheney administration's torture program. Torture is a   crime under US law, as is conspiracy to torture.

Homeowners angry with HOA over rumble strips

http://www.fox5vegas.com/story/27636264/homeowners-hoa-to-rumble-over-street-strips

The strips are noisy, say residents.   As with many such disputes the association says it was settled by a vote but residents say they didn't know anything about it.  Internal communication in HOAs is often bad, with BODs saying the residents aren't paying attention and residents  claiming the BOD operates in secret. The other typical feature is putting social control over other priorities.  People have been asking for 30 years why so many HOA and condo boards obsess about controlling people.
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"We could have slides, nice playground equipment. We could have barbecues fixed – some are toppled over. We could have landscaping. We could have community events, but we have rumble strips," Karen Frantel said.
The Frantels said they were told the HOA board and residents voted on the strips, but they weren't aware of a vote.


Read more: http://www.fox5vegas.com/story/27636264/homeowners-hoa-to-rumble-over-street-strips#ixzz3M46CMQz1

Saturday, December 13, 2014

City says 'forged or altered' document let to $2 million tax break for condos

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-tax-credits-20141212-story.html#page=1


"Baltimore's planning department was tricked into awarding $2.1 million in historic tax credits to a Little Italy condominium project based on a "forged or altered" document, a city review panel says in a new report."
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And that means 25 condo owners will see their property tax bills go up by $10,000 per year.

How Las Vegas gambled on the housing boom--and lost

http://m.thenation.com/article/191777-how-las-vegas-gambled-housing-boom-and-lost

The Las Vegas area has no water and a mono-economy that depends entirely on gambling.  Here's a great idea:  let's start a huge housing boom and grow like crazy.  What could possibly go wrong?

Homeowner association boots residents' cars on city streets!

http://krqe.com/2014/12/10/homeowners-association-boots-residents-on-city-streets/

And the city sent them a cease and desist letter that could lead to criminal prosecution if the HOA continues to defy the law.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A handful of lawyers have the Supreme Court's ear

Does this sound familiar? A small group of attorneys specializes in appearing before the USSC. But they are very reluctant to represent ordinary people because that would interfere with the flow of money from their elite corporate clients. It isn't that lawyers are bad people, as many people seem to think. It is that the economic incentives are structured so that representing human being doesn't pay off.

http://m.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/a_handful_of_corporate_lawyers_have_the_supreme_courts_ear_20141212

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Bill would force HOAs to allow fake grass | UTSanDiego.com

Bill would force HOAs to allow fake grass | UTSanDiego.com: SACRAMENTO — California homeowner associations would be required to allow artificial turf in front yards under a bill recently proposed by the San Diego County Water Authority.

The bill, or a version of it, is likely to be championed by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

Only a fraction of the state’s 47,000 HOAs permit synthetic grass on front lawns, with many saying its out-of-place look is a threat to property values.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Luxury building fences off rent stabilized tenants' terraces

http://nypost.com/2014/12/07/luxury-bulding-fences-off-rent-stabilized-tenants-terraces/

"First there was the Poor Door. Now there’s the Poor Porch. A Queens luxury tower that was bailed out by the city is blocking the large terraces of a few affordable units so tenants above with tiny balconies don’t get jealous, one resident claims."
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Ever since the Reaganization of both parties, the rich have been hoovering up virtually all the increase in national wealth while the rest of us stagnate or lose ground. In the process, the rich have become so irresponsible and arrogant that they don't even want to pretend we are all part of the same society. And here's the best part. The project was bailed out at public expense.

"Once a stalled condo project, the 17-story building was revived by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s Housing Asset Renewal Program. The city doled out $7.6 million in subsidies and, with Bank of America, provided $28 million in low-interest construction loans to Queensboro."

(PS:  http://crooksandliars.com/2014/12/rj-eskow-jeffrey-sachs-pathological
The pathological culture of the rich.)

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Another HOA embezzlement case

http://www.summitdaily.com/news/14114410-113/polich-association-money-affidavit

"Robert Dwight Polich, 62, the longtime financial administrator for a Keystone homeowners association, was arrested on Dec. 2 and charged with embezzling about $160,000 from the HOA."
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Here we go again.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Can condo bylaws bans on "noxious or offensive activities" be used to stifle free speech?

http://www.chicagotribune.com/classified/realestate/ct-mre-1207-condo-living-20141201-column.html

Yes, according to attorney Howard Dakoff.  So how do you like that?

"A bylaws provision that prohibits noxious or offensive activities that are an annoyance or nuisance to other unit owners or occupants is a common provision. Such provisions are routinely board-enforced and upheld by courts. Unit owners have the right to free speech, but boards have the right to fine unit owners for exercising such speech if it harasses or becomes a nuisance to other owners."

Golden's trash program decreases waste, upsets homeowners associations

"Golden's expansion of its pay-as-you-throw trash collection has left some homeowners associations and apartment managers unsure how they will work it into their current contracts.Pay-as-you-throw offers trash customers volume-based pricing so that they can choose to pay less for a small trash can or more for a larger one. A recycling bin is included, so the idea is that customers will recycle in order to avoid going over their chosen volume.That incentive, however, is not the same at apartment complexes where everyone puts their trash in the same container and it is hard to track who throws away more. "Our problem is that it really becomes the landlord educating the tenant," on why they should recycle, said Nancy Burke, vice president of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Metro Denver. A representative of the association spoke against the program expansion at a Nov. 13 public hearing. Residents of homeowners associations are often on the same contract, so splitting them up means added administrative work. Jim Cringler, who manages the Village at Mountain Ridge homeowners association in Golden, said that will lead to an increase in cost."
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Interesting problem for HOAs.  Do they to "educate" their unit owners about the need to reduce common expenses by changing their habits and recycling more, and expect voluntary compliance? Or  will property managers and boards use the usual command-and-control model to do this, and just order people to do it, or pay a fine?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Israeli high court upholds residential screening that would enable Jewish villages to keep Arabs out

http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.616391
"The law, which was passed in March 2011, allows small communities to set up admissions committees to screen potential new members based on criteria laid down in the community’s bylaws. Such committees have been standard practice in small communities for decades, but until this law was passed, they had no legal basis. Several human rights organizations, including Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, argued that the law would allow these communities to reject homosexuals, people with disabilities, Arabs or anyone else who differed from the community’s social norm. ..Though the law explicitly prohibits discrimination against members of other social groups, it permits the admissions committees to reject candidates on such vague grounds as “unsuitability to the community’s social life” or its “social-cultural fabric” or to “unique characteristics of the community as defined in its bylaws.” 
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So now they can say, we aren't discriminating against Arabs. We are just rejecting people who are "unsuitable to the community's social life or socio-cultural fabric, or the the unique characteristics of the community as defined in its bylaws."  
In the US HOAs enforced race restrictive covenants for decades. Then when civil rights statutes made that illegal, more sophisticated ways of creating one-race, one-class communities were devised.  These days, the increasing inequality of wealth and income does most of the work.

There's more on this policy here. 



Monday, November 17, 2014

Residents ask court to remove 3 HOA board members

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-lawsuit-tamarac-hoa-20141117-story.html
"Residents of a 55-plus neighborhood are so fed up with four members of their homeowners association board that they are asking a judge to help remove them. Nearly 75 residents of the Mainlands 3are asking a Broward circuit court judge to forbid the four from writing checks and to hold a special meeting within 48 hours to allow a removal vote."
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This is an election dispute. Judges tend to be reluctant to reverse HOA elections because they think if they start doing it soon they will be doing little else.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Unfinished Suburbs of America - The Atlantic

The Unfinished Suburbs of America - The Atlantic: There are hundreds of zombie subdivisions like this one scattered across the country. They're one of the most visible reminders of the housing boom and bust, planned and paved in the heady days where it seemed that everybody wanted a home in the suburbs, and could afford it, too. But when the economy tanked, many of the developers behind these subdivisions went belly-up, and construction stopped. In some cases, a few people have moved into homes in these half-built subdivisions, requiring services to be delivered there. In others, the land is empty, except for roads, sidewalks, and the few street signs that haven't been stolen yet. In some counties in the West, anywhere from 15 to 33 percent of all subdivision lots are vacant, according to the Sonoran Institute.
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It's going to take a long time for these unfinished Privatopias to recover from the crash of the burbs in the latter half of the previous decade.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Local lawmakers work towards HOA legislation - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Local lawmakers work towards HOA legislation - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather



Good luck, folks. It's the standard line about disclosure--that's all the help you will get from "law makers," and it isn't worth much. What good is disclosure when (a) nearly all new housing is in HOA or other CIDs so you have no choice, and (b) every single word of "what they are signing up for" is incomprehensible, non-negotiable, boilerplate?  

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"HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Local law makers are working on a draft bill for HOA legislation. The bill will focus on three trending issues they feel would hold the most significance on the floor while helping the most people.  A top concern for some law makers is to make sure people know what they are signing up for when it comes to their HOAs."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Does HUD's privatization scheme mean the end of public housing?

http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/11/public-housing-renovationrentalassistancedemonstration.html

"Launched in 2013, the RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) will hand over 60,000 units of public housing to private management by 2015. While that’s only a fraction of the nearly 1.2 million public housing units nationwide, RAD’s reach could soon expand: HUD Secretary Juli├ín Castro and participating developers are lobbying Congress to lift the cap set during the program’s initial phase and allow more conversions to private ownership, and HUD is requesting $10 million toward the expansion of the RAD."
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The ideology of privatization is so entrenched in the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party that they won't defend anything public anymore. It turns out in practice that these programs end up being disasters in many cases, but  by then the profit-takers are in the Bahamas and the rest of us are left to clean up the mess. We'll see how this RAD program works in practice.

Cigarette rage shuts down public meeting over tobacco ban

http://www.boston.com/news/2014/11/12/unruly-crowd-shuts-down-westminster-tobacco-ban-meeting/SpTOwv1ttrcNmcrB7C5RZK/story.html

So this is what freedom is all about for some people: cigarettes.  The tiny little town of Westminster, Massachusetts, is considering a ban on the sale of tobacco products. That brought out a host of flag-draped, nicotine-addicted oldsters who were so angry and out of control that the  meeting had to be shut down. They were screaming about freedom. Nonsense. It's about public safety.  The city is trying to prevent the tobacco industry from hooking yet another generation of  their children on the addictive drug that they are peddling inside their cancerous little death-tubes. Smoking kills 480,000 Americans every year.  The cost to all of us is enormous. According to the CDC, the cost is:
  • More than $289 billion a year, including at least $133 billion in direct medical care for adults and more than $156 billion in lost productivity
  • $5.6 billion a year (2006 data) in lost productivity from exposure to secondhand smoke
http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/

While I'm on the topic, I've often wondered why smokers think it is perfectly acceptable to fling cigarette butts all over creation.  Why do they think this is anything but littering?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Domino’s founder turning FL town into unconstitutional contraception-free ‘Catholic enclave’

Domino’s founder turning FL town into unconstitutional contraception-free ‘Catholic enclave’

I've posted about Ave Maria before. Let's see how this shapes up--do we have another Marsh v. Alabama on our hands?

Ten buildings in San Francisco where the HOA fees are higher than the rent

http://sf.curbed.com/archives/2014/11/11/mapping_10_buildings_with_hoa_fees_higher_than_your_rent.php


"The highest HOA fees at 1001 surpass the $5,000 mark—which is high above the recent citywide median rent of $3,488. The 10th-place HOA fee on our map is $2,838, which is still more than the median rent for a one-bedroom in Bernal."
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After which the article goes on to rationalize and justify the high fees as "boring homeownery stuff" and "high-dollar extras" like doormen, without mentioning management company charges, senseless litigation, and other costs that  are more controversial than paying for utilities. It is getting harder to tell the difference between real estate reporters and PR flacks for the housing  industry.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Park Ridge residents sued for objecting to condo development

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/park-ridge-niles/ct-park-ridge-lawsuit-met-20141111-story.html

This is a SLAAP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) against some neighbors who objected to construction of a condo project.  City officials and twenty citizens who attended two public meetings are named as defendants.  Got your local democracy right here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Six month sentence for public sex in retirement "community"

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2828952/Couple-sentenced-six-months-jail-having-sex-outdoors-Florida-retirement-community-go.html

Six months in jail for having public sex in a retirement "community"? And it's the second time a sentence like this has been imposed for public sex in this place. Are you kidding me?  They should get a medal. This place is called "The Villages,"  but perhaps "Cotton Mather Acres" would be a better name.

Selling fast: public goods, profits, and state legitimacy

http://bostonreview.net/books-ideas/mike-konczal-profits-state-legitimacy-parrillo-goldstein-balko#.VGDbvdxAADs.twitter

Mike Konczal reviews three books dealing with the failures of privatization and in the process writes a brilliant  essay. A taste:

"Through the first half of our country’s history, public officials were paid according to the profit motive, and it was only through the failures of that system that a fragile accountability was put into place during the Progressive Era. One of the key sources of this accountability was the establishment of salaries for public officials who previously had been paid on commission. As this professionalized system is dismantled, once-antique notions are becoming relevant again. Consider merit pay schemes whereby teachers are now meant to compete with each other for bonuses. This mirrors the 1770 Maryland assembly’s argument that public officials “would not perform their duties with as much diligence when paid a fixed salary as when paid for each particular service.” And note that the criminal justice system now profits from forfeiture of property and court fees levied on offenders, recalling Thomas Brackett Reed, the House Republican leader who, in 1887, argued, “In order to bring your criminals against the United States laws to detection” you “need to have the officials stimulated by a similar self-interest to that which excites and supports and sustains the criminal.”

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Homeowners association pulls plug on Waterford woman's Volt - WXYZ.com

Homeowners association pulls plug on Waterford woman's Volt - WXYZ.com: (WXYZ) - Natalie Forte is eco-friendly and loves her Chevy Volt.

But, her homeowners association doesn't share her enthusiasm.

The resident owns a condo along Elizabeth Lake Road in Waterford and says the homeowners association doesn't have rules against plug-in cars. But the HOA has cut-off power to Forte's garage.

Forte tells Action News starting in June she would charge up her new car in her detached garage. Electricity to the garages are under shared expenses residents pay as part of their monthly HOA fees.

After a few months, the association told Forte the expense was too much and wanted her to pay for the extra electricity.

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Add electric vehicles to the list of issues that generate bad press for Privatopia. Film at 10 on WXYZ, Detroit.

Election 2014--my interpretation

I look at elections by starting with the structural factors first.  Democrats had a difficult set of structural factors to overcome.  But they took a bad hand and did worse than expected. 

1.  Of the 36 Senate seats up for election, 21 were held by Democrats and 15 by Republicans, so the Democrats had more seats to defend and were more exposed to the risk of losing seats.  

2.  And 7 of those 21 Democratic senators were in states that Romney won just two years ago--what we call red states.  Democrats have a hard time winning in those states in the best of times.

3. Moreover, the whole class of senators was elected last in 2008, when Obama was elected, McCain took a drubbing, and the whole Republican brand was in the tank because they wrecked the economy and stuck us in two wars that we had obviously lost. That's why so many Democrats were elected in red states--they had Obama "hope and change" coattails, running nationally against a party in relative disrepute. 

That's all changed now. Twenty one Democratic candidates (well, 20 plus one independent) had to run in 2014 with no presidential coattails, with one-third of them in red states. In fact, Obama was widely seen as a drag on the ticket even though he wasn't on it.  The public has a short memory and independent voters in particular walk  in space a large part of the time, so they don't remember how Bush and his team wrecked the place. 

So everybody knew Republicans would win the Senate, just based on structural or fundamental factors.  But last night's results were worse than they should have been for Democrats, even given those realities.  Why?  I see two main reasons:

Money: I think when the FEC and other reports are in, it will turn out that Republicans outspend Democrats substantially. The "dark money" factor--independent spending by non-profits funded by right-wing plutocrats--looks at this point like it heavily favored Republicans. Independent voters, who for the most part just don't understand politics but think they do, are more easily swayed by 30 second ads that focus on candidate image. But we shall see.

Base voters: The Democratic party has lost its connection with the social groups that should be its base. Young people; working  and middle class people; black, latino, and asian people; seniors; women.  Instead, again and again Democrats, including most especially Obama, have tried to compete with Republicans for the love of the rich and powerful.  Banks, insurance companies, manufacturers, big pharma, and on and on.  They have benefited consistently.  But where was the relief for middle-class homeowners? How about students drowning in college loan debt? Why are we still wasting billions in pointless wars in the Middle East? 

But here's the quandary Democrats face: How tdo they get the money they need to compete against the Republicans--who gleefully sell out to the highest bidder--while serving the interests of people who are not in the top 1% or even the top 10%?  

The answer, I think, is that they have to take a big leap and transform themselves back into what they were from 1933 until Reagan came along: the party of working people, an economically populist party.  And they have, I think, a very short time to do that, because the 2016 election cycle is already underway.  Right now we have on offer a battle between the Republican Party and the Republican Lite Party. The result of such a race in 2016 will probably be a Republican president and congress.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Homeowner associations seen as mini-governments

http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/henrico/homeowner-associations-seen-as-mini-governments/article_2827ee0d-376b-5fca-bff3-97f6b4b8bcac.html

"When homeowners associations make the news, it’s usually for some sort of dispute with a resident: a fight about a mailbox, a garden, a sign or a flag. But the associations are nearly ubiquitous for new residential housing in the Richmond area, embraced by developers as a way to handle long-term care of common amenities and by local officials as “mini-governments” that can help maintain order and property value."
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Nearly ubiquitous, indeed. And not only in the Richmond area.

Vegas HOA takeover case defense attorney moves for dismissal

http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/hoa-case-lawyer-moves-dismiss-charging-prosecutor-misconduct

The claim: that the prosecution committed misconduct by not agreeing to keep secret the records of lead defendant Leon Belzer's failed plea negotiations, in which he said things that have made it obvious to anybody who can read how guilty these folks are.  Jeff German snarfed the docs during the two days when they were public and went to press in  the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Now defendants want to move the trial to the moon to avoid tainted public opinion.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Lawyers in HOA scheme request trial be moved from Las Vegas | Las Vegas Review-Journal

Lawyers in HOA scheme request trial be moved from Las Vegas | Las Vegas Review-Journal

See the story immediately below for what has prompted this motion. The Review-Journal just published a bombshell of a story:



"Lawyers for defendants charged in the scheme to take over Las Vegas-area homeowners associations want the high-profile Feb. 23 trial moved out of Las Vegas. In federal court papers filed late Thursday, lawyers for Las Vegas attorney Keith Gregory said he can’t get a fair trial because of the mass of ongoing “prejudicial” media coverage of the case, primarily from the Las Vegas Review-Journal."

Journalistic Bombshell: Target of Las Vegas HOA investigation detailed scheme, bribes in secret documents | Las Vegas Review-Journal

Target of Las Vegas HOA investigation detailed scheme, bribes in secret documents | Las Vegas Review-Journal

Benzer is the alleged "mastermind" of the whole scheme. This report is explosive and Benzer's attorneys went to court to stop the Las Vegas Review-Journal from publishing it.  Read it and see how ridiculously easy it is for somebody with money to take over an HOA board.

update: I read the motion Benzer's lawyer filed and this is how the timeline unfolded:

On August 5, one of the co-defendants, Benzer's former attorney Keith Gregory, filed a motion to sever his trial from Benzer's. Then on September 16, Gregory's attorneys filed this previously-secret document in support of the motion, consisting of a report of Benzer's confidential talks with the prosecution in which he explained how the scheme worked. The plea talks fell through, and the statements can't be used against Benzer, but they are very damaging to any defendant. For example,  here is how reporter Jeff German relates some statements about Keith Gregory:
-----
Benzer, 47, admitted he gave his personal lawyer, Keith Gregory, a $10,000 bribe for work on the HOA takeover at the Vistana condominium complex in southwest Las Vegas. Gregory is also under indictment. Benzer recalled paying Gregory from his personal account “as a ‘thank you’ for ‘working with us.’ “When questioned as to exactly what he meant by thank you and whether the payment was more accurately described as a bribe payment, Benzer advised that the term bribe was ‘your language’ and he didn’t like to use that term, but that the answer was ‘basically yes,’ ” reads one report.
-----
Gregory's attorney asked the court to keep the documents under seal and mistakenly also thought that the government would agree to keeping them secret, but instead the US Attorney's office opposed keeping them secret.

So, on September 17, the court unsealed the documents. The next day, Gregory's attorneys made a motion to withdraw the documents, and asked the court to seal them.  The court agreed on September 19, and sealed and struck them from the record.

But it was too late, because during the few days when the documents were in the record of the case, Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German obtained a copy.  German has been all over this story like a blanket.

On October 30, the defense attorneys learned that German was doing a story on the secret documents. They went to court that day and filed a motion (you can read it on the LVRJ story that I linked to--the whole motion is there) asking the court to stop the publication. A "prior restraint" on publication is almost never justified, so I don't think it would have been granted, but in any event it is too late for any court to stop the publication.  The story is out and you can read it for yourself.


Homeless women to stay in Frisco home for now after HOA loses motion | Dallas Morning News

Homeless women to stay in Frisco home for now after HOA loses motion | Dallas Morning News



"MCKINNEY — A transitional living program for homeless young women will be allowed for now to continue operating in a Frisco neighborhood. District Judge Jill Willis ruled Friday that a Frisco homeowners association failed to meet its burden for temporary injunctive relief. The PR2 Homeowners Association had sought to keep the nonprofit City House from moving more women into its home while a civil case is pending. Two women and one child live there now. The case filed by the HOA against City House continues. No trial date has been set. Chad Robinson, who represents the HOA board for the Plantation Resort 2 community, declined to comment after the ruling. He said he needed to consult with his clients. Robinson argued during Friday’s hearing that the HOA’s deed restrictions require that homes be used for single-family residential purposes only. He said single-family use means people who are related by blood or by law. Texas courts have also allowed other limited uses, such as nannies or an incidental renter. He argued that City House’s transitional living program for up to eight women was not a single-family residential use."

--------------

So this looks like an HOA-flavored NIMBY dispute. The people who want to keep out the "undesirables" have CC&Rs to use as their legal lever.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Myrtle Beach area HOA owners complain

http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2014/10/30/4571043/myrtle-beach-area-hoa-complaints.html
Guess what? There was another public meeting about possible legislation at which people living in HOAs and condos complained about developers and board members making their lives miserable.
If I am reading all this correctly, they can be assured that more legislative tinkering will take place at some point in the near future.  That is all.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Developer buys scores of Detroit's worst houses in $3.2million 'blight bundle'

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2813166/The-blight-bundle-6-300-Detroit-s-worst-houses-real-estate-developer-just-bought-3-2million.html


"Anywhere else, a property developer who buys a bundle of foreclosed houses, abandoned factories and disused churches for a mere $500 a piece would be hailed as a genius.
But this is Detroit. And Herb Strather's $3.2million purchase of 6,350 homes is being called foolhardy.  To be sure, there are plenty of gems in the city's 'blight bundle.' A 170,00-square-foot factory that's still in good shape, a three-story brick home built in 1915 that most recently sold for $185,000, a lovely Tudor-style house that's ready to move into and a five-bedroom that simply needs a new roof.  But city officials tell the Detroit News that 2,000 of the properties are vacant lots. More than 3,000 will need to be torn down immediately...The city put strenuous rules on the buys of the 'blight bundle' requiring the buyer to either demolish and clean up all 6,350 properties within the next six months or offer a development plan. 'Now what we have to do is find out if indeed this group is serious about taking on such a task. And if they're willing to do so, we're willing to listen,' Wayne County Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski told the Huffington Post. 
-------------------------
And at an estimated cost of $10,000 for each demo, the development group could have to pay up to $30 million just to clear the ground--almost ten times their current investment. Is that how things will unfold, or is there a plan to cherry-pick the nicest properties and profit from them piecemeal?  The city is looking at major redevelopment, but private investors may well be thinking about making money off the good stuff.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Flagpole fight attracts attention of Hancock County prosecutor - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Flagpole fight attracts attention of Hancock County prosecutor - 13 WTHR Indianapolis: HANCOCK COUNTY - There's a new twist in a veteran's fight to keep his flagpole despite threats by his homeowners association. The homeowner says it stands for freedom, but the homeowners association says it violates policy.

The story generated hundreds of comments on WTHR's social media pages. Now it appears the prosecutor in Hancock County could join the front yard feud with a civil lawsuit.


The neighborhood association claimed the flagpole violated the covenants there. They are allowed on the house but not on a flagpole.


----------
This is the first known instance of a local prosecutor jumping into an HOA flag flap amid the usual negative media attention and public comment directed at the HOA. According to the report, the prosecutor's office is giving the HOA until November 1st to back down.

Worst abuse of adhesion contracts ever?

http://www.citylab.com/work/2014/10/mapping-where-jimmy-johns-ex-employees-are-forbidden-to-make-sandwiches/381634/

Jimmy John's makes the kids who slap sandwiches together sign a non-competition agreement that effectively makes them unemployable in the  fast food industry for two years after they quit.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Armored vehicle helps collect civil judgment in small town

Armored vehicle helps collect civil judgment in small town

"When officials in the tiny Town of Stettin in Marathon County went to collect a civil judgment from 75-year-old Roger Hoeppner this month, they sent 24 armed officers. And an armored military vehicle."
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The police chief says that while Mr. Hoeppner was not known to be violent, he was "argumentative."  That's why the police are not apologetic for this ludicrous show of military force. The old police motto "To Protect and Serve" only makes sense these days if you realize that the police are protecting and serving themselves much of the time.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Overmyer v. Frick--new theory for HOA rights?

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=405&invol=174

The Democratic candidate for the US House of Representatives from the 11th District in Pennsylvania is a civil rights attorney named Andy Ostrowski.  He has a theory that HOAs violate a principle he sees in the US Supreme Court case of Overmyer v. Frick, which is linked above.  The issue in the case involved an Ohio law that allowed people--usually debtors trying to get one more chance from their creditor--to give up all their due process rights and confess judgment in advance, if they defaulted one more time.  This was legal under an old doctrine called "cognovit."  The Supreme Court ruled that  cognovit notes were not unconstitutional, provided that the waivers of due process were adequate.  Ostowski thinks that maybe HOAs and condos require inadequate notice and the agreements are unconstitutional.  Interesting theory, but I think it is far-fetched. The problem is that the court ultimately ruled in favor of cognovit.

Here is Ostrowski's statement of how he thinks this applies:
https://www.facebook.com/Floridiansact/posts/637732836340842


And here is the court's explanation for upholding the cognovit provision. You be the judge.

"Even if, for present purposes, we assume that the standard for waiver in a corporate-property-right case of this kind is the same standard applicable to waiver in a criminal proceeding, that is, that it be voluntary, knowing, and intelligently made, Brady v. United States, [405 U.S. 174, 186]   397 U.S. 742, 748 (1970); Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S., at 444 , or "an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege," Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464 (1938); Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S., at 439 , and even if, as the Court has said in the civil area, "[w]e do not presume acquiescence in the loss of fundamental rights," Ohio Bell Tel. Co. v. Public Utilities Comm'n, 301 U.S. 292, 307 (1937), that standard was fully satisfied here.
"Overmyer is a corporation. Its corporate structure is complicated. Its activities are widespread. As its counsel in the Ohio post-judgment proceeding stated, it has built many warehouses in many States and has been party to "tens of thousands of contracts with many contractors." This is not a case of unequal bargaining power or overreaching. The Overmyer-Frick agreement, from the start, was not a contract of adhesion. There was no refusal on Frick's part to deal with Overmyer unless Overmyer agreed to a cognovit. The initial contract between the two corporations contained no confession-of-judgment clause. When, later, the first installment note from Overmyer came into being, it, too, contained no provision of that kind. It was only after Frick's work was completed and accepted by Overmyer, and when Overmyer again became delinquent in its payments on the matured claim and asked for further relief, that the second note containing the clause was executed.
"Overmyer does not contend here that it or its counsel was not aware of the significance of the note and of the cognovit provision. Indeed, it could not do so in the light of the facts. Frick had suggested the provision in October 1966, but the first note, readjusting the progress payments, was executed without it. It appeared in the second note delivered by Overmyer's own counsel in return for substantial benefits and consideration to Overmyer. Particularly important, it would seem, was the [405 U.S. 174, 187]   release of Frick's mechanic's liens, but there were, in addition, the monetary relief as to amount, time, and interest rate.
"Overmyer may not have been able to predict with accuracy just how or when Frick would proceed under the confession clause if further default by Overmyer occurred, as it did, but this inability does not in itself militate against effective waiver. See Brady v. United States, 397 U.S., at 757 ; McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 772 -773 (1970).
"We therefore hold that Overmyer, in its execution and delivery to Frick of the second installment note containing the cognovit provision, voluntarily, intelligently, and knowingly waived the rights it otherwise possessed to prejudgment notice and hearing, and that it did so with full awareness of the legal consequences.
Insurance Co. v. Morse, 20 Wall. 445 (1874), affords no comfort to the petitioners. That case concerned the constitutional validity of a state statute that required a foreign insurance company, desiring to qualify in the State, to agree not to remove any suit against it to a federal court. The Court quite naturally struck down the statute, for it thwarted the authority vested by Congress in the federal courts and violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause."

Delaware ombudsman office getting started

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/local/2014/10/20/ombudsman-weigh-homeowner-association-disputes/17639817/

This legislation is only a few months old. One more state goes the ombudsman route, giving unit owners someplace to turn other than the courts. It is a necessary reform, but not sufficient to address the unmet needs.

You need this condo pony

http://www.npr.org/2014/10/21/357816986/you-definitely-need-this-condo-pony-and-other-products-from-skymaul?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=2045

And to think I never knew there was such a thing as a condo pony.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Property manager accused of stealing $180,000 from HOAs

http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/chamblee-man-allegedly-stole-50000-homeowners-asso/nhpD3/?ref=cbTopWidget


"A Chamblee property management company owner is accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from homeowner’s associations. 
So far, police in Dunwoody and Chamblee tell Channel 2 Action News reporter Mike Petchenik they’ve filed charges against Michael Sisson, and they say more charges are possible. Darwin Johnson told Petchenik his Midtown condo association hired Sisson a few years ago to manage their property near Piedmont Park."
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There have been so many such incidents around the country that I have  lost count. Industry representatives  invariably say these are "isolated incidents," which would be true if you stretch the meaning  of  "isolated" to include every state where you find a significant number of HOAs and/or condos.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sarah Jessica angers homeowners association - Yahoo Maktoob News

Sarah Jessica angers homeowners association - Yahoo Maktoob News: Parker returned to the building earlier this month to stage a photoshoot for her footwear brand, placing the shoes on the steps and posting pictures of them on her Instagram.com page.

However, the stunt has infuriated the local homeowners association, who claim the actress failed to obtain proper permission to gain access to the steps, reports contactmusic.com.

Gerald Banu, president of the Perry Street Association, said: "I heard about the shoot. They didn't get the permission from the owner. The situation with 'SATC' visitors is still very intense.

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Sex, shoes and the HOA. Maybe this will lead to a Hollywood production. Been a while since the Falls at Arcadia X-Files episode.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Veteran not backing down after homeowners association says his flag pole must go | Fox 59

Veteran not backing down after homeowners association says his flag pole must go | Fox 59: “We do not tell anyone they cannot fly a flag. What we are having a problem with is the flag pole. Flag poles are not allowed in this association,” said Kaye Eckert, president of the Fieldstone HOA board.

Eckert said the association has tried to compromise.

In September, they sent a letter saying the couple could keep the flag pole, if they paid a $500 fine to cover legal costs. Bob Willits would not budge.

“That flag is very personal to me,” said Willits, “That means a lot to me.”


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More bad press for Privatopia, Indiana secktor. Film at 10 on Fox 59, Indianapolis.

HOA troubles? Legislators want to hear them : News : CarolinaLive.com

HOA troubles? Legislators want to hear them : News : CarolinaLive.com: Have any concerns, questions or issues with your homeowners' association?

The Horry County Legislative Delegation will host a public hearing on homeowners' association issues on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. in Horry Georgetown Technical College's Burroughs and Chapin Auditorium.

Connie Turner, administrative assistant for the delegation, said the format will be question and answer.

------------ 

Trouble in Privatopia, South Carolina sector? The Legislature wants to know.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pay to Prey: Report on privatization

http://www.prwatch.org/news/2014/10/12620/pay-to-prey-governors-facilitate-the-predatory-outsourcing-of-americas-public-services

This is a report on the way Republican governors  have allowed corporations to profit from privatization deals at the expense of the public and the people who are supposed to be receiving the services.  Some of the stories are pretty lurid.  From  the report:

"Outsourcing of public services is a big business. Some experts estimate that $1 trillion out of the $6 trillion the federal government, together with state and local governments, spend annually are handed over to private contractors. In 2010, an electoral landslide ushered in a new breed of governors. Aided and abetted by corporate-funded legislative and lobbying groups, such as the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC), these governors pushed the envelope of outsourcing and privatization, selling public services to for-profit firms with their powerful political lobbies and related campaign contributions. In this process, transparency and accountability are lost and the public loses its ability to influence decision makers through normal democratic channels. Shared prosperity also suffers when good middle class jobs are lost to low-road, low-wage employers. In states across the country, schools, health care, prisons, prison food, water services, road services, state liquor sales, state economic development authorities, legal services, and even child support services were outsourced to private, for-profit companies. While the governors spoke of tight budgets and cost savings, a pattern emerged of influential corporate lobbyists and deep-pocketed campaign contributors In this effort to shrink government and sell off the prosperous parts to private interests, the winners are large corporations with a phalanx of lobbyists and campaign coffers big enough to buy political influence. All too often, taxpayers find themselves on the losing side."

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Making of Ferguson, MO

http://www.epi.org/publication/making-ferguson/


"In August 2014, a Ferguson, Missouri, policeman shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. Michael Brown’s death and the resulting protests and racial tension brought considerable attention to that town. Observers who had not been looking closely at our evolving demographic patterns were surprised to see ghetto conditions we had come to associate with inner cities now duplicated in a formerly white suburban community: racially segregated neighborhoods with high poverty and unemployment, poor student achievement in overwhelmingly black schools, oppressive policing, abandoned homes, and community powerlessness."

------------
This is a detailed and balanced account of how Ferguson became what it is today. Public  policies, real estate industry practices, and other institutional factors contributed to the situation.  My colleague Dennis Judd's article about segregative practices  is cited. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

SFR Investments v. US Bank

The Nevada Supreme court has ruled that:

"NRS 116.3116 gives a homeowners' association (HOA) a 
superpriority lien on an individual homeowner's property for up to nine 
months of unpaid HOA dues. With limited exceptions, this lien is "prior to 
all other liens and encumbrances" on the homeowner's property, even a 
first deed of trust recorded before the dues became delinquent. NRS 
116.3116(2). We must decide whether this is a true priority lien such that 
its foreclosure extinguishes a first deed of trust on the property and, if so, 
whether it can be foreclosed nonjudicially. We answer both questions in 
the affirmative and therefore reverse."

The result is that an investment company bought a house for peanuts at an HOA foreclosure sale, and the sale wiped out the first mortgage on a house worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Wow.  I have placed the full opinion on mckenzie-law.wikispaces.com for anybody to download.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Construction company builds dream home--on the wrong lot

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2793069/couple-outraged-construction-company-built-680-000-oceanside-dream-home-wrong-lot.html

I've heard of banks foreclosing on the wrong house, but this  is a first.

Bad news for builders?

http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/talking-numbers/this-chart-spells-trouble-for-home-builders-215720049.html

Thanks to Fred Pilot for this link to a financial story about an exhange traded fund (ETF) that includes the home building industry.  Bad news for builders?
---------

'They may be called home builders,but this year their stocks are portfolio wreckers.Those who had the misfortune of buying the ETF that tracks the home builders (trading under the ticker symbol XHB) at the beginning of the year are in the red by 14 percent.The XHB is now trading at its lowest levels this year and according to the charts, it could get a lot worse."

Friday, October 10, 2014

New city policy in Whitefish prohibits gated communities | Missoula Local News - NBCMontana.com

New city policy in Whitefish prohibits gated communities | Missoula Local News - NBCMontana.com: City leaders say gated communities just don’t match the city’s vision for growth.

There are currently two gated communities. One of them, Grouse Mountain Estates, wants to add more gates. They currently have two gates inside the subdivision and want to expand with more gates at the front. It would eliminate public traffic to the roads.

-----------
Gates are for ranches, not communities.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Out of control federal deficit? Not so much.

Here are the facts from the Congressional Budget Office on the federal budget deficit that every Republican in America says is spiraling out of control: 

"Relative to the size of the economy, that deficit—at an estimated 2.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—was slightly below the average experienced over the past 40 years, and 2014 was the fifth consecutive year in which the deficit declined as a percentage of GDP since peaking at 9.8 percent in 2009."
https://www.cbo.gov/publication/49450

Fired doorman shoots property manager

http://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/news/local/va-hospital-called-police-on-condominium-shooting-/nhcRf/?__federated=1

Seems that the property manager fired him as doorman.

"Police apprehended the man who allegedly shot a Palm Beach property manager in the head Friday morning after the suspect went to the VA Medical Center Hospital in Riviera Beach for medical treatment, Public Safety Director Kirk Blouin said Sunday."

Florida Couple Keeps Statues of Jesus, Virgin Mary on Property Despite Threat of Legal Action by HOA

BerluchesFlorida Couple Keeps Statues of Jesus, Virgin Mary on Property Despite Threat of Legal Action by HOA: A couple in Florida will be allowed to keep statues of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary on their property after initially being told by a homeowners' association that they could not.

Enock and Ines Berluche of Kissimmee will not have to remove the statues, after being told by the Shingle Creek Reserve at the Oaks Homeowners' Association that they had to do so.

The Berluches were given legal help by the Orlando-based conservative law firm the Liberty Counsel, which was founded by Mat Staver.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Why the shocking growth of economic inequality in the US is not a big political issue

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_economic_inequality_is_not_a_bigger_political_issue_20141003


Because, says David Sirota, Americans have no idea how huge the gap really is, and that makes the Democratic Party  afraid to use this as an issue in the 2014 election.  But the way I see it, this timidity is what leaves the Democratic base dispirited, and that leads to low turnout, and that means a repeat of 2010. Republicans aren't afraid to rally their base, but Democrats are.

"If critics of income inequality are wondering why the growing gap between rich and poor hasn’t been a more potent political issue in the upcoming elections, a new study offers some answers: Americans grossly underestimate this inequality. That’s one of the key findings of a survey showing the gap between CEO and average worker pay in America is more than 10 times larger than the typical American perceives. In the report, Harvard University and Chulalongkorn University researchers analyzed survey data from 40 countries about perceptions of pay gaps between rich and poor. In every country, respondents underestimated the size of the gap between CEO and average worker pay. In the United States, for example, the researchers found the median American respondent estimated that the ratio of CEO to worker income is about 30-to-1. In reality, the gap is more than 350-to-1."