guest blog by Deborah Goonan
Why are HOA critics characterized differently than other critics of corporate exploitation and political cronyism?
If you have ever lived under HOA rule, and have had the audacity to speak up about the pettiness and injustice that permeates many of these so-called “communities,” you have probably experienced one or more of the following reactions to your criticisms:
Typical talking points directed at the critic:
“You are just a disgruntled owner with an ax to grind.”
“You are one of those people who doesn’t believe in rules and think you can just do whatever you want.”
“You just don’t understand HOA laws.”
“You don’t appreciate your volunteer Board members doing a thankless job for the good of the community.”
“HOAs are not for everybody, and you agreed to the rules when you moved in. If you don’t like it, move.”
Your HOA circulates letters to each of your neighbors, using half-truths or blatant lies to discredit you.
The Board rallies together with a few of its allies, and bullies you at meetings.
The Board instructs the Manager and Attorney to start harassing you with violation notices, nasty letters, and legal threats. In extreme cases, they play the foreclosure card.
If you work in the Real Estate sector, you have probably encountered HOA bureaucracy, incompetence, shady practices, and nastiness emanating from some HOA Boards, Managers, or Attorneys. But if you speak up and criticize the HOA industry on any level, you are regarded as a heretic and a pariah. Your expertise and research is dismissed as invalid and not worthy of serious consideration.
In light of media reports of various HOA conflicts and horror stories, the public is assured that these are just “isolated incidents.” Americans who have never resided in HOA-Land assume they can simply avoid the problem by choosing to steer clear, or, believe that HOA residents are snobs who get what they deserve. In other words, they are apt to believe some erroneous stereotypes and misinformation disseminated by HOA proponents.
Let’s compare how Americans generally view critics of the following entities:
Insurance Companies: Probably one of the most universally hated industries in a America, insurance companies are notorious for raising premiums while cutting benefits, denying claims without justification, frequently making errors in claims processing, and dropping coverage when the insured needs it most. Critics are regarded as advocates for fair treatment of consumers, and elimination of fraudulent practices that cost Americans millions annually. The public generally believes consumers who report they have been unfairly treated or ripped off by insurance companies.
Banks and Financial Institutions: In the wake of the recent economic meltdown, and taxpayer-funded bail out of banks “too big to fail,” critics have had the ear of politicians in Washington. Lending standards have been tightened as a result of what most regard as exploitative predatory lending tactics. Economists who warned of impending implosion, once viewed as alarmists, are now regarded as Oracles.
Wall Street: Increasingly viewed by the majority of the American public as Elitists and Fat Cats who have historically exerted too much influence over Congress and Federal Policy. Critics are regarded mostly as heroic Whistle Blowers for exposing devastating manipulation of financial markets that resulted in the most recent deep recession.
The US Government: America distinguishes itself from most other nations in its promotion of free speech and the absolute right of each American to openly criticize government officials at all levels, from town council to the POTUS. Critics are viewed as a necessary check on abuse of power, and, in many cases, as true patriots. Americans generally agree that political leaders at all levels are out of touch with their constituencies.
So why are HOA critics dismissed and vilified, when they bring to light equally disturbing abuses of power, management that creates social discord, covert discrimination disguising as arbitrary “rules” to be followed, economic waste, consumer misrepresentation, and, at the very least, the epitome of pettiness?
It is high time our elected officials stop turning a blind eye to failed and obsolete land use and housing policies that restrict the rights and freedoms of almost 65,000,000 Americans. Further, our government leaders must recognize that short-sighted development policies enabling and requiring fundamentally-flawed privatized HOAs threatens to destroy the economic security of our nation, inundating the housing market with unsustainable corporate communities destined to decline and fail for lack of effective and ethical leadership.
All taxpayers must recognize that one in four Americans now resides in an HOA, that the industry may now be regarded as “too big to fail,” and that no one is totally insulated from adverse economic, political, and social effects of continued grass-roots conversion of communities from free democratic republics to corporate oligarchies.
Concerned? Please write or phone your state and federal legislators. Tell them you want all American neighborhoods that are governed of, by and for the People vs. of, by, and for Real Estate Developers and corporate interests.
Find your Federal Legislators:
Find your State Legislators:
Excellent points and analogies, Deborah!
I personally feel a big part of the HOA problem falls in the category of denial. Home owners at all economic levels cannot and will not accept that they have been duped in a real estate deal by buying into an HOA.
Those that have never had power elsewhere in their lives thrive on the power of being a board member and having power over their neighbors. I think Dr. Gary Solomon explains it best in his HOA Syndrome.
Between denial and power, board members refuse to accept they are not perfect and home owners buy into their belief that they rule supreme in the ‘control thy neighbors’ world. Admitting otherwise is admitting a mistake which few people are willing to do.
Those that address these issues openly and speak up are admitting that HOA Land isn’t perfect. They express wishes to try and find solutions to problems or abolish the entire concept moving forward. That type of thinking is forbidden in HOAs.
This is why long ago I started to feel like HOAs are more like cults than communities. You must think only one way or be ostracized.
Deborah, another credible and incredible blog. This one on debunking the propaganda of the critics of the HOA advocates, HOA homeowners and real HOA homeowner experts, in the country. It is easy to marginalize, discredit and undermine those who don’t have as powerful a voice, or no voice at all due to the failures of systems designed to protect innocent people from abuses and criminality, but in the HOA crisis in America, the “systems” appear to have failed most HOA homeowners, in many areas of the country in every way! For some of the abusive HOAs and their range of accomplices, this abuse and furthering of their lies, and especially, trying to discredit their critics, their lies and misinformation, only seeks to further the abuses, victimize more HOA homeowners; legally, financially, socially, psychologically and physiologically, and even steal their homes. This created conflict and legal abuse of innocent homeowners is a quite lucrative business for some involved, or carrying out these abuses and crimes.
Nila, too you comment about the “denial,” component. Yes, you are right. Who wants to believe their neighbors could be so sinister, self serving and cold blooded greedy? It is easier to blame the victim, no matter how innocent the victim may be. Too, if they get some support, or information from misleading and self serving sources they may make the attribution of, “it is their fault, they must have done something wrong, etc., to deserve this. I have seen intelligent people led to believe the most ridiculous, lying, sleazy and horrible information put out on HOA issues and abuses. When presented the truth they are embarrassed, angry and afraid. Yes, fear! Fear is another deterrent that runs wide spread among HOA homeowners and especially with those in associations known to be abusive.
Deborah, You simply nailed this one! These were the same “points” my HOA used against me, back in the day. However, I was called “Mr. Boat-Rocker.” Not only did I rock the boat, I tipped it over and let the sea-rats sink.
You are so right, light up the phones down at the Nations Capital! Let our “Lawmakers” know that homeowners have had enough, and “we the people” demand that they do something about it!
Another great article…so true and so sad. I am doing an informal poll of owners that actually attend their hoa meetings, and guess what – MOST OF THEM ARE VERY UNHAPPY WITH THEIR HOAS. OVER 90%.
Deborah, Nila, Cynthia, wow, ladies, a great blog and great comments! Dave, sorry you were a boat-rocker. In my friend’s HOA, those that don’t agree are called “enemies of the state”. What does that say about abuse of power?
I really wish someone in Florida would pick up the HOA abuse stories and make them into one special investigative report, and have it go national. Ward’s book certainly exposes the HOA’s, but in this era of social media, how many people will sit down and read a book?
To this day, many homeowners don’t truly know what they are getting into when they buy a home in an HOA. The CC&R’s are so long and written so poorly, that an average homebuyer has no clue what they are agreeing to, They fall in love with a house and the HOA disclosure is only one of 20 pages to sign. The Florida HOA disclosure states the fees to be paid, but doesn’t do a thing for reducing the CC&R’s into easily understandable language.