‘Tis The Season To Be Folly

Ah yes, Good Friends. This is the season where bad neighbors are supposed to join hands, ill will is forgotten and life is reborn. After all, the Christmas holiday theoretically celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the human form of God Almighty. The birth of Jesus and His subsequent ministry changed the world in a mightier way than any other man, religion, idea, or concept in history.

True Christian brotherhood should never have permitted the Crusades, or the enslavement of races, or a host of other things that Mankind has brought upon himself. Belief in Jesus Christ mandates that believers forgive, forget, and make a moral and spiritual change that amounts to a profound rebirth of the inner spirit. True Christian brotherhood also mandates that even non-believers and skeptics be given as much respect, consideration and love as those inside the faith. Christ was inclusive, not exclusionary, and Christ-followers do not have the right to assume themselves better, or wiser, or more blessed than non-believers, or to demand that non-believers change their ways and accept a belief system against their wishes and without question.

Christ-followers make just as many mistakes as those outside the faith, and human conflict doesn’t vanish simply because someone wishes another “Merry Christmas.”  No, strife goes on, and will always go on because all men and women, including Christians, are imperfect.

This blog is usually about that odd American institution known as Homeowners Associations, an invention originally devised to keep blacks, Orientals and Jews out of white neighborhoods. Doesn’t sound very ‘christian’, does it?

Some believers like to play the WWJD game when confronted with a controversial and puzzling life situation. WWJD?  What Would Jesus Do? Trying to understand the life and ministry of Jesus, in light of a given current controversy, which side would this incredible figure in history take?

For example, WWJD in a neighborhood where widows have their homes foreclosed upon when money is short and the HOA dues are late?  WWJD in a neighborhood where a child with Down’s Syndrome is forbidden from playing outside because the HOA won’t permit a porch enclosure to keep the child from wandering into the street? WWJD with a neighborhood where Negroes are subtlely steered by Realtors away from Caucasian enclaves? WWJD with a Homeowners Association that threatened to sue, seize and auction off a home where a child used firewood and branches to set up a temporary kids’ fort, or where a grandmother was told to face a lawsuit because her daughter’s backyard playhouse was pink instead of beige?

And what about neighborhoods that sue to force homeowners to remove Christmas lights that are set up to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ?

That last question is actually pretty easy to answer. Jesus was not a maniacal egotist. He would never have demanded that humans set up displays to celebrate his birth. He would have preferred that warring neighbors just find a way to treat each other with love and respect, lights or no lights.

Ward Lucas, author of:

Neighbors At War! The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association

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Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

18 thoughts on “‘Tis The Season To Be Folly

  1. HOA Blues

    I am curious? Why would you choose to live in a neighborhood with a HOA and restrictions? There are so many choices when it comes to neighborhoods. No one forces anyone to move into a neighborhood with deed restrictions. If you do choose to move into a neighborhood with a HOA and deed restrictions, why do you then complain when the CC&Rs are then enforced? Sure there are always some silly restrictions included in the CC&Rs but the majority of them are there to keep the neighborhood at a standard (i.e., inoperable vehicles and trucks may not be put on lifts and worked on in the driveways). The CC&Rs of today do not keep any one minority out of a neighborhood (as you suggested above), they are there to either maintain common areas within a neighborhood (pool, clubhouse, park, etc..) or to help keep home values at a certain level and standard. This way you will be assured your neighbor will not be allowed to paint his home neon pink with orange trim.

    The other point I would like to make is that HOAs are created by the developer. not the fellow resident who you believe has control issues. It is nearly impossible to legally dissolve a HOA once the developer has legally created one. So, the residents of the neighborhood (who chose to move into the neighborhood) are forced to keep it going. If the HOA were to be dissolved, how would the clubhouse, pool, park, landscaping, (etc) be maintained? Where would the money come from? Would they be torn down or just left to age without maintenance? As I said, dissolving a HOA is nearly impossible. Even if there were no volunteers in the neighborhood to take on the board positions and volunteer their time, the HOA would then have to be handed over to an outside property managment company. Let me add that in most cases, legally there still must be a HOA board of directors (volunteer residents) in addition to the property management company. So now, not only do your HOA fees go to the maintanence of the neighborhood, but a large chunk of it goes to a property managment company.

    When residents volunteer for positions on the HOA board, 9 times out of 10, they either have an agenda (they want to change/add one thing) or someone has begged and pleaded with them to help. Most people want nothing to do with a HOA position. They only care when their neighbor does something that bothers them (painting their house pink) or they get defensive when someone calls them out personally for violating a CC&R (they want to work on the engine of their pick up truck in their driveway).

    The HOA board of director is a thankless position. You are either getting yelled at because you are not enforcing the CC&R quickly enough or you are getting yelled at because you are enforcing a CC&R and someone doesn’t think it’s fair. You are also the bill collector when it comes to collecting the fees. The fees that everyone agreed to when they purchased their home. The fees that pay for maintanence, improvements, existing structures within the neighborhood.

    Finally, in most cases, it is very difficult to change any part of the CC&Rs once the developer has created them. Depending on the size of the neighborhood, and the number of sections within a neighborhood, a board must get the vote of every single person in the neighborhood (not just those that care) and in many cases each section will need at least a 75% in foavor vote for it to passs. If even ONE section does not meet the 75% approval (of whatever change you are voting on) then that ONE section will forever more NOT be bound by the change. Thus, you now end up with a neighborhood with sections that have different CC&Rs and in certain circumstances, the CC&R you were trying to change could be huge. This is why the CC&Rs rarely change once a developer has created them. When someone moves into a neighborhood with a HOA, they fell in love with the house and neighborhood and most likely the facilities (pool, park, etc.). It is because of the CC&Rs that those things looked as great as they did.

    So, I ask the quesion again, Why would you move into a neighborhood with a HOA and deed restrictions if you hate HOAs so much? Or perhaps you do not live in a neighborhood with a HOA and you are writing on what you have heard from others?

    1. Ward Lucas

      I will let other readers tackle your questions, but I’ll use this space to take on the main one: Why would you live in a Homeowners Association when there are so many choices? I don’t know what state you live in, but in a surging number of areas of the country there are NO CHOICES! None! If your employer transfers you to North Carolina, or Las Vegas, or Northern Colorado, or to several major cities in Texas, the only non-HOA housing you’ll find is in a neighborhood that’s thirty or forty years old. Zoning officials simply won’t permit developments that don’t have mandatory HOAs. It’s a form of secret taxation. Instead of raising taxes, government jurisdictions just pass off public services off to Homeowners Associations. It is, in fact, de facto government, but without the protections provided for in the Constitution.

      1. HOA Blues

        Secret taxation? Passing off public services? You hit the nail on the head when you stated “I don’t know where you live…”. The problem is you are clumping YOUR personal experience with an HOA with every single HOA in the country. Not every single HOA is corrupt… nor do governmental jurisdictions ‘pass off’ public services to every association. Many HOAs have county roads and public utilities – they don’t ‘own’ their own. There are also millions of neighborhoods in this country without HOAs. Where I live there are new homes in neighborhoods with no HOA. There are also neighborhoods with HOAs. Many of those neighborhoods with HOAs have added facilities like pools, clubhouses, playgrounds, etc.. It is a choice to live there. I only wish you would not use your own experience with an HOA as a soapbox to damn every HOA in existence.

      1. HOA Blues

        If you hate HOAs, then don’t move into a neighborhood with an HOA – only an idiot would do that. People who move into a neighborhood with an HOA and then sit there whining, crying or angry and spewing lies are the ones who have serious issues. It’s like walking into a Starbucks and complaining they sell coffee. When you can’t get a coke, you run to the internet and start badmouthing the franchise. You wouldn’t go to a Starbucks for a coke – why would you buy a home under an HOA? It is’ by chance I came upon your blog but I am floored you don’t see how ridiculous you sound. Regardless of what you have heard, this is a free country and you can live where ever you want…no one is forcing you to move into a neighborhood with an HOA. I don’t care what you wrote – it IS possible to buy a home in ALL those cities and not have to deal with an HOA. Just because you typed it, it did not make that statement true. You obviously have no idea how HOAs even work. As I mentioned before the neighborhood is legally bound to have a board if a developer creates an HOA. The law doesn’t care if you stop collecting dues or fail to fill the BOD positions. They will still consider the HOA in existance. Oh, and you still have a pool, or playground, or walking path, etc (inside the neighborhood)… and now you have no money to maintain them. The law says you still need to have liability insurance for these things and where will that money come from? Even if you just don’t pay for liability insurance…and someone, ANYONE IN THE WORLD, hurts themselves in your neighborhood pool, on the neighborhood playground or walking path, etc… then they can (and WILL) sue EVERY SINGLE resident in the neighborhood! hmmm… quite a lottery win for them! Of course you would also have to have 80% of the neighborhood to agree with you if you want to disband the HOA…if not, it can’t be considered legally either. Even if the whole neighborhood agreed to disband the HOA and SOLD the facilities to someone (the pool, path, playground, entrance, common area, etc…) There is also, of course, legal fees associated with this. Lawyers don’t work for free. Minimum of $10,000 and probably higher since this is like closing a company. Who pays for that?
        Maybe you should just educate yourself on HOAs and the necessity of them. Perhaps you could stop being the resident who sits there complaining about everything (including the wind direction) but expects everyone else to do the work. Man up – stop hiding on the internet and do something in your neighborhood. Stop acting like a child who is upset with authority. Your whining makes you sound very immature considering the choice to move into your house was yours… and yours alone…
        Of course you could always move… and I bet your neighbors would love you for it.

      2. Anonymous

        “Man up – stop hiding on the internet”

        sayeth the anonymous internet poster to the man using his real name.

        Obviously, I have no problem with posting on te internet using a pseudonym — I do it to protect myself from my HOA — but your statement is a ridiculous talking point I’ve heard so mant times, it makes me think you just copied-and-pasted pre-prepared arguments from the HOA industry without thinking about them.

  2. Anonymous Coffee Drinker

    “It’s like walking into a Starbucks and complaining they sell coffee. When you can’t get a coke, you run to the internet and start badmouthing the franchise. You wouldn’t go to a Starbucks for a coke – why would you buy a home under an HOA?”

    While argument-by-analogies are never perfect, you Starbucks example is deeply flawed.

    A better Starbucks analogy would be buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and being bound by a contract to a 3rd party — let’s call it a Coffee Drinker’s Association — because there is some fine print on the receipt that says you are legally obligated to be so.

    “Ten years ago, courts required affirmative evidence of agreement to form a contract…Today, by contrast, it seems widely (though not universally) accepted that if you write a document and call it a contract, courts will enforce it as a contract even if no one agrees to it.”

    Even worse, your personal assetts are now collateral for whatever debts and liabilities the Coffee Drinker’s Association creates.

    And over the past several decades, the government has been requiring coffee vendors to include such “contract” language on their receipts as a condition for granting a business license, so all of the coffee vendors are doing the same thing, leaving consumers with little practical choice.

    This was explained in great detail by Steven Siegel and Evan McKenzie.

    Many cities require that all new construction must be in CIDs. They do this in several ways, but the most common takes advantage of PUD zoning. Cities have planned unit development zones where housing is exempt from setback and other density requirements. Developers want access to PUD zones to obtain higher density and thus higher profits. So, the City requires all development in PUD zones to have certain features (open spaces, landscape vegetation, perimeter walls). They, the City requires that there must be an entity to maintain features in perpetuity. HOAs are the recommended option.
    Result: the City in effect mandates HOAs in all new construction within PUD zone.

    Even Tom Skiba, the president of the HOA lobby, has admitted that local governments required [HOAs] in the first place, to push the costs out of the government budget while retaining the property tax revenue.”

  3. HOA Reds

    Communism is great in theory. It’s just that people aren’t good enough for it.

    If people only understood how Communism really works, they would stop whining about it. There has to be some kind of collective ownership of property, because people behaving as individuals aren’t capable of acting for the betterment of their neighbors.

  4. HOA Blues

    None of you have ever answered the question of why you would purchase a home in a neighborhood with an HOA if you can’t stand what HOAs stand for! Go live in another neighborhood! It’s not like the HOA popped up out of no where after you had lived in your house for 7 years. You refuse to see it’s a choice. Tough luck if you don’t like the homes available outside of the HOA neighborhoods. Part of the reason the houses and neighborhoods are on the nicer side (as you stated above) is because they have policies in place to ensure your home values don’t tank because a hoarder of pink flamingos moved in next door to you.

    It’s a choice…. remember that. YOU CHOOSE TO LIVE IN A NEIGHBORHOOD WITH AN HOA. Stop whining.

    And to “coffee drinker” – the only problem with your statement is that your statement implies Starbucks is the only place in the country to get coffee… Even if we ‘like’ your analogy better… why do you even purchase your coffee at Starbucks if there was a contract and fine print? Welcome to America… you can buy your coffee somewhere else… and you can purchase a home outside of an HOA. This is the crux of my inquiry….

    I respect your opinions and decisions that HOAs are not best suited for you all… but why did you purchase homes in neighborhoods with HOAs? Don’t respond and say it’s because it was your only choice… because it was not. Perhaps it was because the homes outside of HOAs were in bad neighborhoods or all fixer up’ers, etc… but please don’t say it was because it was your ONLY choice. Be truthful….

    Finally, answer this – How would you all disband your HOA legally? If this is your goal… how would you do this?

  5. Anonymous Coffee Drinker

    “And to ‘coffee drinker’ – the only problem with your statement is that your statement implies Starbucks is the only place in the country to get coffee…”

    HOA Blues, please stop lying.

    In my example, I explicitly stated that

    And over the past several decades, the government has been requiring coffee vendors to include such “contract” language on their receipts as a condition for granting a business license, so all of the coffee vendors are doing the same thing, leaving consumers with little practical choice.

    If all coffee vendors have the same fine print on their receipts, consumers have little choice, unless you want a 30-year old cup-of-coffee.

    You disinguenuously portray HOA “contracts” as the result of an agreement, where the two parties — the homeowner and HOA corporation — agree to certain terms with full knowledge and disclosure beforehand.

    [NASCAR driver Todd] Bodine said he did not know his neighborhood had an association when he bought his house.

    “I’d never even heard of a homeowners association,” said Bodine.

    Bodine got in a four-year legal battle with his HOA over a pool house.

    However, homeowners rarely, if ever, agree to a contract with an HOA corporation. Their agreement is with the seller of the house. The HOA is a 3rd party, who may or may not be disclosed to the buyer until closing. But since the CC&R’s were filed with the county, courts presume that the homeowner was aware of them and consented to their terms, and therefor enforce them as a contract.

    Ten years ago, courts required affirmative evidence of agreement to form a contract…Today, by contrast, it seems widely (though not universally) accepted that if you write a document and call it a contract, courts will enforce it as a contract even if no one agrees to it.

    HOA “contracts” are the result of a legal fiction known as “constructive notice”.

    Do you seriously believe that millions of Americans knowingly decided to make everything they own forever collateral to the debts and liabilities created by an unaccountable corporate board? Only a lawyer, judge, and shill for the HOA industry would believe that.

    PS — Please provide any evidence that HOAs “help keep home values at a certain level and standard”. Do you have any idea what happened to the housing market about five years ago? Or do you believe that housing values crashed everywhere except in HOAs, where property values were preserved?

    It also makes you look incredibly ignorant and callous when you tell people to move if they don’t like it. If you knew anything about the housing market, you would know that many people are unable to sell their homes. But only somebody who takes Ayn Rand seriously would believe that buying and selling a house is as trivial a consumer choice as, say, changing brands of breakfast cereal.

    PPS — Like Michael Moore, you spew so much disinformation and lies wrapped in platitudes that I don’t know where to begin or end.

    Please provide any evidence that “houses and neighborhoods [in HOAs] are on the nicer side” and that “homes outside of HOAs [are] in bad neighborhoods or all fixer up’ers, etc”

    PPPS — Is your real name Jon Caldara?

    PPPPS — Perhaps the reason that consumers are ignorant and misinformed about HOAs before buying their house is because they are being lied to, by people telling them how HOAs are simply benevolent managers of common elements that preserve property values and keep the neighborhood looking nice.

  6. Anonymous Coffee Drinker

    Meanwhile, here’s a Christmas story to warm HOA Blues’s heart:

    Man’s Rough Month Includes Homeowners Association Fight
    Bank Account Garnished After Late Dues
    UPDATED 5:34 PM CST Dec 24, 2012

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Just days before Christmas and days after the death of his granddaughter, a Johnson County man had his bank account seized by his homeowners association for being behind on his dues.

    Earlier this month, he got a letter from homes association’s lawyer to tell him that the group has obtained a judgment against him and planned to garnish his bank account.

    The letter was written the same day Marsala’s daughter agreed to take Fiona to hospice for her final days.

    “(It was written on) the fourth. The baby died on the eighth. It was a horrible week, taking a baby to hospice care. That’s horrible. Something I don’t wish on anyone,” he said.

    On the phone, attorney Rod Hoffman said that everyone is very sympathetic, but he insists that the homes association is within its rights to do what it did.

  7. HOA Blues

    If you purchase a home within a HOA and NO ONE tells you – well shame on the RE broker, the seller, YOUR LAWYER and YOU! It’s not the HOAs problem! Only ignorant people purchase homes in HOAs and them claim they never knew they would have to pay yearly or quarterly dues…. I have purchased numerous homes in my lifetime and ALWAYS knew when I was purchasing a home within an HOA. Most educated people will READ the CC&Rs prior to purchasing the home.

    I won’t ever convince a single one of you that there are benefits to owning a home in an HOA – and I will never convince one of you that HOAs are not secret documents that RE brokers and sellers hide from people interested in purchasing a home. It shouldn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out if a neighborhood has amenities like a pool, playground, etc…exclusive to the residents, that SOMEONE has to pay for their upkeep. Of course you will only respond telling me it happens all the time. Ignorance is not a defense. Can’t fix stupid. You were an arse to purchase a home with an HOA and although I can tell you your only option is to move (because it really is), you will only sit back and whine about it. You made your bed and I will relish in the notion that you now have to lie in it.

    Regarding home values – I never said if the entire US economy were to take a hit, every home in the nation would not lose some value… I said that homes in HOAs typically do better than homes that are not in neighborhoods with HOAs. I also only brought up this point because Ward Lucas wrote that the only choices he had for a home (or people in general) in many areas were newer nicer homes within HOAs or older run down homes with no HOA. He felt he was FORCED to purchase a home with an HOA. Recent research conducted in Northern Virginia by a professor and student at George Mason University indicates that community associations can add a 5-6 percent increase in property values over similar homes in nearby non-association communities. Also, according to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek survey, the city of Weston, FL, which has a growing number of neighborhoods with HOAs, has seen a 15.1% increase in property values from February, 2009 to August, 2011. This increase occurred during the same time period that most homeowners across South Florida saw their property values drop by as much as half! A recent Arizona Community Management Impact Study conducted by the Arizona Association of Community Managers, more than two-thirds of homeowners feel their community association has a positive impact on property values.

    On the other hand, only 10% of Arizona homeowners surveyed felt their HOA had a negative effect on property values. I would assume YOU ARE the 10% – hahaha.

    Finally, higher home values are also affected by the wonderful amenities within a HOA community. You enjoy the clubhouse, the pool, the beautiful landscaping… YOU just don’t want to pay for it.

    Have a great life guys – as I said, I will smile knowing you are ‘stuck’ in your home and made the stupid choice to purchase your home with a legal binding contract indicating you will abide by all the CC&Rs AND pay your association fees.

    Complain all you want. Until you move – nothing will change.

    Gotta love that.

    1. Ward Lucas

      HOA Blues. You’re right out of the C.A.I. playbook. But a little better research on your part would prove that HOA homes do not necessarily rise in value above non-HOA homes. And there are, indeed, a number of cities where non-HOA homes are just simply unavailable. I’ll certainly try to get the study done by the George Mason folks. As for the study supposedly done by the Association of Community Managers? No credibility. That’s the old fox guarding the henhouse story. But keep chirping. We like hearing from you.


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