Saturday, August 04, 2007

Freedom from homeowners' associations
This is a note from Tracy, CA, a couple of hours east of San Francisco. The reaction of the author's daughter bespeaks a cultural shift of some sort. Years ago I interviewed Rich Louv, author of the great book "America II." He said about HOAs, "we are raising a generation of children in this country who don't know that you should be able to paint your house any color you want." I think maybe he was right. Scary?

I was tooling down the street near my home last week when I saw something odd. In the middle of this nondescript neighborhood was a pink house. This was not the sunset-tinged, faint pink of which there are a couple already in the neighborhood. No, this new hue was a riotous flamingo pink all over a house previously graced with a, well, nondescript color. My daughter, who is a designer, was not amused. How could they do that? Where do they think this is, the Riviera? What about calling the homeowners’ association? Are we going to let them get away with this? Well, yes. There is, to my knowledge, no homeowners’ association in this neighborhood.
China tells living Buddhas to obtain permission before they reincarnate - Times Online
Can we agree that this takes government regulation a bit too far?

Tibet’s living Buddhas have been banned from reincarnation without permission from China’s atheist leaders. The ban is included in new rules intended to assert Beijing’s authority over Tibet’s restive and deeply Buddhist people. “The so-called reincarnated living Buddha without government approval is illegal and invalid,” according to the order, which comes into effect on September 1.
Homebuilders: Bargains or Value Traps?
This is a link to The Motley Fool:

The past two weeks have been a nightmare for homebuilders. Shares in just about every company in the industry, from Hovnanian (NYSE: HOV) to Pulte Homes (NYSE: PHM), are selling at prices not seen since before the housing boom began. Listen in on the USG (NYSE: USG) conference call, and you will get a clear indication of how painful things are in the housing industry. Listen in on the Countrywide (NYSE: CFC) conference call, and you will know how dire the mortgage situation is becoming. Basically, everything that could go wrong in homebuilding, is going wrong. There is an oversupply of new and existing homes. House values are dropping by rates reminiscent of what happened in the Great Depression. Mortgages, both subprime and now even prime, are defaulting at accelerating rates.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Condo rules may stump buyers --
Mystery Reader sent this link to a great article by Pam McKuen of the Chicago Tribune, who is one of the most knowledgeable journalists on this topic. How I missed it when I had the Trib open in front of me at the breakfast counter, I don't know.
US mortgage giant ceases new business, lays off thousands
American Home Mortgage, one of the country's biggest mortgage companies, ceased new business Friday and blamed its woes on the stricken US housing market and a related credit crunch. Numerous mortgage lenders have gone out of business in recent months, but American Home Mortgage is one of the largest to be hit by problems. It minted 59 billion dollars in loans last year, up from 45 billion in 2005. In a statement late Thursday, the home loan giant said it had stopped taking new mortgage applications and had told most of its employees they would be laid off Friday. "The company employee base will be reduced from over 7,000 to approximately 750," the distressed firm said. "The market conditions in both the secondary mortgage market as well as the national real estate market have deteriorated to the point that we have no realistic alternative," said American Home Mortgage's chief executive Michael Strauss. The multitrillion-dollar US mortgage sector has been buffeted by a national housing slump, a sharp rise in home foreclosures, and tightening credit conditions which makes it difficult to borrow fresh cash and offer new loans.
My Way News - More Than 70,000 Bridges Rated Deficient
After the Minnesota bridge collapse, you can expect more articles on crumbling public infrastructure. I talk a lot about crumbling private infrastructure, so which is a bigger problem? The main difference is the way the costs are handled. When the private streets in an HOA have to be repaired, you can expect a special assessment that will be pretty stiff, with $10,000 or $20,000 being fairly common these days. No way will any taxpayer in the nation get hit with a $10,000 tax increase for this bridge collapse, or all 70,000 of the "deficient" bridges. And the market consequences are different. It is possible for all concerned to walk away from a crumbling CID and for nobody to buy another unit. But there haven't been many public "ghost towns" created recently that I know of. Somehow, some level of government seems to step up, or "public-private partnerships" get set up.
Condominium homeowners face rising condo fees and special assessments
Marjorie Murray of the Center for California Homeowner Association Law sent this link. For more information from her, try

Currently 178 cities in the state have inclusionary housing laws which require developers to build affordable units (typically 10-20 percent) into their projects. But condos in general attract those looking for affordable housing. With a state-wide trend toward more urban in-fill, smart growth projects and mixed income multi-family housing, two out of three new units now being built are part of so-called Common Interest Developments. Even many new single family developments are designed as condos -- with the homeowners (rather than the city) responsible for maintaining infrastructure and roads. Be they young first-time home buyers or seniors -- many choose the condo over a single family home as a more practical, affordable solution. After all, the exterior maintenance costs are shared -- it's got to be cheaper, right? But what begins as affordable housing can change fast when monthly fees rise precipitously and special or emergency assessments fall like rain.
PACKETONLINE News Classifieds Entertainment Business - Princeton and Central New Jersey - DISPATCHES: Privatizing public spaces
More on Twin Rivers, but I think his rendering of my statements is hard to follow, even for me.
Numbers show communities face huge bills for pensions-
Here's one big advantage HOAs have over public local governments: few HOAs have to worry about the burden of employee pensions.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Call 3 Problem Solvers: Abandoned Pools Pose Health Threat - Yahoo! News
From Fred Pilot comes this tale of a problem that had never occurred to me until now: homes foreclosed on or not sold; stagnant water in backyard swimming pools; mosquitoes breed; West Nile virus eradicates the population. No mention of the Creature from the Black Lagoon...yet.

Experts said the weakening California housing market has created all kinds of problems, including an increased risk of West Nile virus.The Call 3 Problem Solvers looked at why abandoned pools could be threatening area neighborhoods. The Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District said abandoned pools can produce mosquitoes at alarming rates.
Resident, HOA in tiff over play
Another Fred Pilot over-the-transom delivery, this one about a swing set that the HOA says is too close to the family's property line.

Northeast Phoenix resident Don Lawrence loves living in Desert Ridge, but is frustrated with how the community association enforces its rules. Mr. Lawrence and his wife, Maria, who live in a single-story community, are in litigation with the Desert Ridge Community Association, which claims the Lawrences ignored orders to remove a backyard play set located that violates the development’s design guidelines. The community association is managed by Rossmar & Graham Community Association Management. News... In Arid San Diego, the Grass Isn't Always Greener
This issue keeps coming up. Common sense tells you not to water your lawn because you live in a desert, but the HOA tells you to keep it green.

Nimal Diunugala gives his front yard a five-minute dose of water each night. Not to keep it green. To keep out of trouble. When he doesn't water it and brown patches show up, his homeowners association sends a reminder letter. Its message, in effect: Your grass must be green...In its place, he wants to plant drought-resistant plants, which can include cacti, manzanita and sagebrush. Doing so won't earn him another letter, thanks to a state law that went into effect in January, which prohibits homeowners associations from requiring residents to have lawns. If a homeowner has a lawn, the association can require that it be kept looking lush. But the law prohibits the association from requiring the lawn. Residents now have legal protection to rip out their lawns and plant native vegetation instead. - Dog Shoots Owner in the Back in Memphis, Tennessee
Today's "dog shoots man" story. There is an incriminating photo of the assailant.
Homeowners say lenders should be more forgiving - Yahoo! News
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. homeowners who fall behind on mortgage payments say lenders have grown slightly more flexible in scheduling late payments but are less accommodating than they ought to be, according to a study released on Wednesday.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007 - Copper man fights for home addition
Fred Pilot tracked this down. Check out how this fellow got injured, and look how his HOA is treating him.

A Copper Cove man who made Calaveras County-approved additions to his home to make it more handicap accessible may be forced to tear down the improvements if the Copper Cove and Lake Tulloch Owners' Association has its way.Ken Gutman, a 61-year-old retired hydraulic engineer and former peace officer with "a worn out hip," completed the 1,100-square-foot addition to his house just weeks before the association's lawyers told him to stop building. And now, the association board of directors has voted to impose daily fines and suspend his homeowner rights if he doesn't remove the add-on."I'm the kind of guy who obeys the rules, and if I break one I make things right," Gutman said. "But, my contractor followed the rules to the letter on this project, and I just can't believe what the association wants to do to me." Gutman took a bullet in his right hip when he worked as a Santa Cruz County sheriff's deputy in the late 1960s.
Local & State News - Tampa Bay's 10 -

Fred Pilot sent this little slice of life about how as he notes, even the rule-breakers are moving into CIDs now. Should make for an interesting future, especially for attorneys.

In Westchase, a color palette committee has just approved new shades of exterior house paint. "The color I chose was not on the palette, but its one I found and I submitted it to them and they were okay with it. But to be honest, I painted it before they checked," homeowner Sandra Rodgers said with a laugh. The rules are no secret to homeowners like Rodgers. Signs are everywhere: “No” this, “don’t” do that. "It took me a long time to make the decision to move out here, because I am not a real rule-oriented person," she said. But even rule breakers are caving. More people are moving into planned communities. - NYC Health Officials Move To Get Babies Off Bottle
I have heard the term "Nanny State" before, but until now I never fully understood that it was literally true.

(CBS) NEW YORK First they moved against smoking, and then trans fats. Now, city health officials are taking on the bottle -- as in a baby's bottle. On Tuesday they announced a new campaign to promote breastfeeding instead of using formula. Baby bottles beware. City hospitals don't want you around. Instead, they want infants to eat at Mom's instead. "We're producing it. Why not give it to the baby," new mother Mashia Nelson said. The push toward breastfeeding means a ban on freebie formula when you leave the hospital.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Gulfnews: Condominium Law is in highest stages of consideration
Just in case you think condos are just for Americans, here is some news from the Middle East:

Dubai: The all-important regulatory framework governing Dubai's property sector took a huge leap forward last week with the introduction of trust accounts safeguarding home buyer's payments for off plan purchases. Attention is now focused on preparing the market for a long-awaited law which will dictate management of the common areas of housing developments. A draft of the Condominium Law (also known as Strata Law) was submitted to Dubai's highest authorities some time ago and is in the "highest stages" of consideration before official approval, said Dubai Land Department.
American Home Can't Fund Mortgages, Shares Plummet
uly 31 (Bloomberg) -- American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. shares plunged 90 percent after the lender said it doesn't have cash to fund new loans, stranding thousands of home buyers and putting the company on the brink of failure. Investment banks cut off credit lines, leaving American Home without money yesterday for $300 million of mortgages it had already promised, the Melville, New York-based company said in a statement today. It anticipates that $450 million to $500 million of loans probably won't get funded today, and the lender may have to sell off its assets. - Ohio Mother Files Complaint Against Condo That Barred Young Kids From Pool - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News
I've been teaching civil liberties and civil rights for about 16 years or so, and I would have sworn that potty training isn't mentioned in the Constitution. Somebody show me where it is.

AKRON, Ohio — An Akron mother and the Fair Housing Advocates Association have filed complaints against her condo association, charging that the group denied swimming pool use to children who are not potty trained. Suzanne Malcom filed complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission this month after Seven Stories East Condominiums told her that her one-year-old son Lucas wasn't welcome in the outdoor pool, she said.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Condos tangled in legal battles-
Sounds like a jolly old legal free-for-all with attorney fees raining from the sky.

GULF SHORES -- Months after getting the keys to their units in the 18-story Lighthouse Condominium tower, the owners of the 252 Gulf-front condos are snarled in a four-way legal battle over $1.26 million that contractors say they are owed for construction work. The litigation pits the owners, developers, contractors and the $60 million project's bonding company against each other in a crisscross of claims over the unpaid construction bills, which have clouded titles to the condos. At the same time, the owners are suing the building's developers over construction quality and accounting issues.
These are the provisions of the full act (see previous post) that are designated as the owners Bill of Rights.
As we speak, the National Council of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws are meeting in Pasadena, CA, and on the agenda is whether to adopt this amended UICIOA. It has some expanded protections for owners, such as an explicit statement that the BOD can use discretion is deciding whether to take collections actions for unpaid assessments and enforcement actions for alleged rule violations. This is important, because boards may take actions in de minimus cases out of fear of being sued for breach of fiduciary duty if they don't act. Also, the BOD must approve each foreclosure action, and foreclosure is allowed only after 3 months of unpaid assessments, and foreclosure isn't allowed for fines alone unless there is a personal judgment against the owner. There are also four different versions of some election changes that the commissioners will choose from. And there is a pretty expansive power of owners to recall directors.

But many owner activists don't think the protections are adequate. I'll have more about this depending on the outcome of the meeting.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Move to create affordable homes is 'blocked by housebuilders'
I need to get myself a big "OBVIOUS" symbol for items like this.

Britain's leading developers have been accused of blocking government plans to force them to build more affordable housing. - Garlic Farms Getting Cleared Out Of Gilroy
Land use pressure in Gilroy? No garlic? What is the world coming to? My kids and I just got back from California. We were driving up and down the coast highway and Highway 101, and got pretty close to Gilroy when we spent the night in Watsonville. (If you are in the Monterey or Watsonville area, check out Phil's Eatery and Fish Market in Moss Landing, by the way.) Anyway, we weren't close enough to Gilroy to smell the garlic. But if you look at the place on a map,you will see that anybody who tries to commute from there to San Francisco had better pack a lunch.

AP) GILROY, Calif. People enjoying the Gilroy Garlic Festival Saturday may not know that while the garlic may seem plentiful the area's garlic farms are disappearing. Only three growers remain in Santa Clara County because of land-use pressure, economics and plant disease.
ABC News: Surveillance Cameras Win Broad Support
Seems as though we shouldn't expect the housing market to reject gated communities anytime soon...

Crime-fighting beats privacy in public places: Americans, by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, support the increased use of surveillance cameras — a measure decried by some civil libertarians, but credited in London with helping to catch a variety of perpetrators since the early 1990s. Given the chief arguments, pro and con — a way to help solve crimes vs. too much of a government intrusion on privacy — it isn't close: 71 percent of Americans favor the increased use of surveillance cameras, while 25 percent oppose it...Seniors are most apt to support the increased use of these cameras, with under-30s, least so; Republicans more than Democrats; women more than men; higher educated people more than the less educated; and whites more than African-Americans. Through a political lens, support for increased use of surveillance systems is lowest, 62 percent, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who support Barack Obama for president — and highest of all, 86 percent, among Republicans who support Rudy Giuliani, who made his name as New York City's crime-fighting mayor. - Illinois Town Makes Bid to Build World's Largest Ketchup Packet
Is there a list of "Most Ignominious Attempts at Municipal Distinction"?
China builds modern neighborhood --
Mystery Reader sends this Chinese housing story. Given the pace of housing construction in China, mainly in common interest housing developments, energy conservation measures there would really amount to something.

BEIJING - It's easy to overlook the small community of houses rising northwest of this sprawling capital. But these aren't just any suburban homes. They will be some of the cleanest and most energy-efficient structures in China -- or almost anywhere else in the world -- when they are completed this year. Wind turbines and solar panels will power the 10 houses, which will also use innovative techniques to save water. The project uses green technology from the United States, Europe and elsewhere in an effort to showcase building methods that could be used more widely in China.In a country with 1.3 billion people and massive migration from the countryside to the cities, the stakes are high. Over the next 20 years, as many as 400 million more Chinese are expected to move to urban areas.