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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.

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Community Associations Institute (CAI) presents the “Verdict: Americans Grade their Associations, Board Members, and Community Managers,” a 2014 survey of CIC residents, as evidence of “overwhelming” CIC resident satisfaction. CIC is an acronym for Common Interest Communities, industry-speak for homeowners’ and condominium associations, cooperatives, and variations such as planned communities, property owners’ associations, and other marketing catch-all phrases. I have blogged before about the results of this biannual survey, but, honestly, one has to take any market “research” conducted by an organization for its own benefit with more than a grain of salt. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the validity and reliability of the statistics CAI presents to the media, and good reason to doubt the ability to generalize conclusions drawn by CAI to over 64 million people.In today’s blog, I merely play along with the assumption that CAI is the authority when it comes to CICs, because I know these survey summaries are presented as “authoritative” research to legislatures across the nation. The brief CAI summary presented in their surveys and statistical summaries gives disinterested legislators a seemingly valid reason to ignore constituent bill proposals for state level regulation of CICs. “Look how satisfied most residents are, ignore those few ‘unfair’ attacks upon our well-meaning volunteer Board members and well-trained community association managers, because residents do not want more government control.”So the industry says to validate its own existence.
Let’s look again at the industry’s own research, for what it’s worth.
When we look at the real estate industry’s OWN market research,we discover that there is little demand for HOA governance. There IS demand for newer homes with modern features such as extra bathrooms, efficient heating and cooling systems, and upgraded finshes. It just so happens that, due to political cooperation and/or demands from local governments, CICs are the only type of new construction or urban redevelopment permitted. If we as buyers want a newer home, we get a CIC by default. Increasingly, tenants end up in CICs, too, due to a shortage of rental properties in some markets.
When we compare 2012 and 2014 “Verdict” data on supposed overall satisfaction, we note that positive ratings dropped by nearly 9% (from 70%to 64%). At the same time, respondents rating their overall CIC experience as Negative increased by 25% (from 8% to 10%). Neutrals increased by 15% (from 22% to 26%). If we combine neutrals with negatives, and compare to 2012, there has been a 20% increase (from 30% to 36%) in the number of residents who cannot rate their overall experience as positive.
Note that these surveys only included a sample of current residents – one can assume that a significant proportion of dissatisfied or neutral residents that did not care for the CIC moved and then became FORMER residents. Was there an exit interview or poll taken for these folks? How many unhappy people just got out of Dodge?
The 2014 survey also compares data from previous surveys as far back as 2005. In 2005, 22% of respondents said that the Rules in their communities had NO impact upon or were harmful for property values. That figure jumed to 30% in 2014! That represents a whopping 36% increase in the number of CURRENT RESIDENTS who see no real value in the rules and architectural standards. At the same time, the percentage of residents who said rules and restrictions protect property values dropped from 78% in 2005, to 70% in 2014. That represents an 11.4% drop in confidence of the value of all those rules and restrictions.
Now let’s look at the National Asssociation of Home Builders report of What Home Buyers Really Want.
The 2013 NAHB survey indicated the following percentages of buyers that DO NOT WANT the following features in a new home, all of them synonymous with CICs:
70% – elevator (in condos)
66% – golf community
56% – high density community
48% – gated community
44% – mixed use community
Under current development policies throughout the US, none of these community housing features can exist without the establishment of an Association to cover costs of construction and ongoing maintenance.
When you combine NAHB data with the 36% of respondents whose overall CIC experience is either negative or neutral, there is a pattern that emerges: at LEAST one third of current residents are prone to make a change by moving out, or would be open to options and/or improvements in their communities. And more than half of buyers are not interested in a CIC with closely spaced housing, multifamily housing, a security gate or expensive common amenities. (The bulk of what has been constructed and continues to be constructed)
So, if market demand were driving the housing market then at least one third of new construction would be in non-CIC developments – ie in new public communities such as municipalities or special districts, or within existing municipalities. In fact, the data points to a pent up demand for such free communities, since almost nothing without CCRs and deed restrictions has been constructed in the last 20+ years – especially in the states with the highest population growth. Why not put a moratorium on CIC construction, to give the housing market time to self-correct?
Our elected officials should seriously reconsider their laissez faire approach when it comes to CIC legislation, because a significant portion of their voters are not as satisfied as CAI claims in its self-promotion campaign. More importantly, our state and local leaders need to put an end to continued creation of privately governed corporate communities – that’s what CICs are – and return property rights to homeowners. It is high time to end land use policies favoring deed-restricted HOAs in planned developments and condominiums.
Link to CAI 2014 Verdict survey summary
Link to National Association of Home Builder’s survey of what buyers want

Are HOAs Good Or Bad For Homeowners?

Government? Or not government?

Most new communities these days are governed by homeowners associations or property owners associations. These are made up of homeowners who have collectively signed restrictive covenants as a condition of home ownership. Those covenants require certain behavior on the part of each member. Monthly or annual dues are collected to maintain common areas or provide for services such as trash collection or cable tv delivery. Each HOA or POA calls for the election of board members and officers who are given the power to take actions to make sure rules and covenants are followed. The board also has the ability to assess fines or other penalties, up to and including the confiscation of an entire property without reimbursement. For all intents and purposes, Homeowners Associations are mini-governments or quasi-governments which exist outside of most prevailing law. The magic that lets this happen is that the typical HOA is a corporation, a non-profit PRIVATE corporation. In other words, it’s equivalent to a private members-only country club. Homeowners are not considered to be homeowners or taxpayers or citizens, but rather MEMBERS. As willing MEMBERS they have agreed to be governed by the elected board as it administers the restrictive covenants that were WILLINGLY signed by all members.

But just like private non-profit corporations, rules are subject to interpretation. Rules can be changed. And many HOA members in many states have made amazing discoveries about the rights they thought they once had. For example:

Restrictions in selling or renting the house

You may think you’re that as the owner of your home you can sell it whenever you wish. Well, you may discover that your neighbors are partners in your home ownership and they will have a say in who you select as the buyer. In some communities, you may only sell it to a family consisting of two natural married adults. Blatant code for no gays, lesbians or singles.

You may only sell it to people over a certain age, as in age-restricted retirement communities.

You may not be able to sell it to a family with grandchildren (no overnight stays lasting longer than two consecutive nights)

You may also be stunned to discover restrictive covenants outlawing blacks, orientals, jews and other minorities. Federal law prohibits such discrimination, but the ongoing existence of such covenants leaves a powerful and not-too-subtle message. (I’ll have a whole lot more on this subject in my upcoming book Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association.

Landscaping Restrictions

Every person is an individual with different tastes, desires, likes and dislikes. Life might be easier if you could only buy one color of carpet, one style of lampshade or one kind of flower. But we ARE our differences. Human nature rebels against regimentalism. Still, your neighbors are your partners and they want you to abide by certain rules. Properly grown grass, no brown spots, no weeds, no grass longer than 1 and 1/2 inches tall. No pansies, no more than a prescribed number of rose bushes, one neatly trimmed tree planted only on the left side of the sidewalk. All landscaping plans submitted to the architectural control committee. Believe it or not, there are thousands of lawsuits against homeowners who’ve violated one of the above restrictions (Again, lots more in Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association)

No parking on the street

This one leads to more arguments, lawsuits and fisticuffs than almost any other. Land developers were given the right to jam more dwelling units into smaller spaces in exchange for creating severe parking restrictions. So, that overnight guest of yours? Forbidden! The birthday party for your youngster? Give it up, unless guests park in some nearby supermarket lot. But even worse? Dictatorial board members hire towing companies to snatch cars the second a delivery is being made to your house, or the moment an innocent guest drops by to say “hi.” Ambitious towing companies have been known to slip an occasional ‘C note’ to the first board member who calls them. Even worse, some communities hire two truck drivers to constantly patrol the streets snatching cars. It can cost a couple hundred bucks to get your car back.

No parking on your own driveway

Seriously! Some Homeowners Associations prohibit the accumulation of junk in your garage. There’s a good reason for that. They don’t want any passenger car visible from the street, so all cars must be parked in garages at all times.

No over-sized vehicles in the neighborhood

This sounds like a reasonable restriction to keep semi-trucks out of narrow neighborhood streets. But this is actually a way of keep out riff-raff. There’s a case in Texas where the local millionaires could have Hummers and Cadillac Escalades. But the owner of a brand new Ford 150 was fined and sued because it was a pickup truck. It cost him 150,000 bucks to fight the case.

No home-based business

This is very common. Obviously, the intent is to keep out homeowners who have a stream of customers coming to visit. But this rule is often used arbitrarily to get rid of ‘undesirables’. Any kind of home-based business can be deemed illegal, even one owned by a writer who rants against Homeowners Associations…

No Green Energy

No kidding! No laundry lines (lots of fines and lawsuits on record). No solar panels (lots of fines and lawsuits on record) No xeriscaping (lots of fines and lawsuits)

In summary, if you’re going to live in an HOA plan for trouble. Even though you may like the kinds of rules you’ll have to follow, set aside a sum of money each month in a permanent savings account. Regular saving is always a wise idea, but especially in the HOA environment. Sooner or later you may need to use that money for fines or legal fees.

Ward Lucas
Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association

Craziest Homeowners Association Laws

Get to know your neighbors

That used to be such wise advice handed out by law enforcement organizations. But times have changed, times have changed. These days it’s far more important to your safety and your financial health to get to know your neighborhood rules. (I continue to collect examples of such rules, so please feel free to contact me with new ones!)

The rules

Some New York co-ops don’t want just any itinerant artist in the building, only art projects officially approved by the board.

In some HOAs….no high heels. (understandable)

In an HOA in Iowa…no visits by a mother-in-law! (Actually, that’s a marvelous excuse. One could get to like that rule)

No smoking in your own home or any place on your property. (Increasingly common, and backed up by court after court)

No outdoor laundry drying. (Very common. Lady in ‘enviro-friendly’ Oregon fined a thousand bucks.)

No cross or other Christian symbol near or on your from door or visible from the street. (gotta erase any remnant of Jesus)

No Mezuza or any other Jewish symbol visible from the street. (court cases up the wazoo)

Absolute restriction on the number of rose bushes (famous case which cost one poor sucker his house)

No lemonade stands (remember the rule against home-based businesses? Besides, who wants snotty nosed kids visible from the street?)

Kids may not play outside. (Unbelievable, but this is a current case involving some Florida Homeowners Associations!)

Please, please, I’m a glutton for punishment. If you’re all steamed up about some stupid HOA rule, please drop me a line. I’ve heard most of them, but am always looking for more. You’ll see a ton of them in my upcoming book, Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association, but I need volunteers in my anti-HOA army!

Talk to me at

Ward Lucas

Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association

What Homeowners Associations Can Do For You, or To You

For you

A staggering number of communities across the nation have Homeowner $B!G (Bs Associations. Twenty percent of all American homes are in HOAs. But that belies the read figure. Almost 100% of all NEW homes are in Homeowners Associations. That’s because developers cannot get permits to build unless they agree to create restrictive covenants that subsume some of the traditional duties of government. It’s a form of tax-shifting. Instead of additional taxes, you pay neighborhood ‘dues’. It doesn’t feel like taxes, and it doesn’t create some of the legal complications involved in raising taxes.

Some people enjoy HOA life. They feel it gives them more security and provides certain community services unavailable in traditional neighborhoods. A nice front entrance. A gated community. Preservation of property values (that last one is a myth that I’ll destroy in some future blog).

The local government jurisdiction has other reasons for liking HOAs. Snow removal isn’t as important. Let those rich folks plow their own snow. Contracts for trash collection. Let ’em find their own garbage companies. Christmas lights at the entrance (Oops! Gotta take Christ out of Christmas or risk an ACLU suit!)

But for every yin there’s a yang, for every pro there’s a con. And what the HOA can to TO YOU is dizzying.

To you

The typical Homeowners Association is a police power that isn’t tied down by Constitutional restrictions on police powers. It’s a private non-profit corporation, you see? Even though it’s next to impossible to buy a new home outside of an HOA, they’re not yet considered de facto governments. Therefore the HOA can do some incredibly stinking things. Like keep out blacks. Or Jews. Or Mexicans. Or it can make life so rotten for blacks and Jews and Mexicans that they decid to create their own HOAs. If you don’t believe me, then think Shoal Creek and the quick scrambling they had to do when Tiger Woods started winning tournaments. Incidentally, we owe Tiger Woods a huge debt of gratitude for inadvertantly focusing attention on certain country club practices.

But HOAs have other stinky things they can do. They can keep out the disabled. (Don’t believe it? You’ve gotta read my upcoming book!

They can intentionally poison pets! (An actual case in Arizona where a board president ordered members to set out poison for housecats)

They can keep out the young. Keep out the old. Keep out the singles. Keep out the gays. You name the population you don’t want, and I’ll show you the caselaw where it’s happened.

They can siphon millions of dollars from construction defect litigation and sneak it into the pockets of favored contractors and law firms! (Pay attention to the burgeoning scandal in Las Vegas!)

But in thousands and thousands of cases around America, HOAs file lawsuits. Lawsuits over weeds in the lawn, grass a half inch longer than the two inch maximum, the installation of a Christian cross or a Jewish Mezuzah on a door. These are neighbors suing neighbors. These are tiny little disputes provoked by tiny little minds who get themselves elected by tiny vote margins on tiny minded HOA boards. What’s not tiny is the massive legal fees that are generated. This isn’t just lawsuit abuse, it’s the American tort system on steroids. Billions and billions of dollars are vanishing down the maw of the American lawsuit machine.

Next time you attend the neighborhood Christmas party, take a look around. Then ponder for a moment why there are so few attendees.

Ah! And follow me on Twitter. I hope I tick you off! @ward_lucas

Ward Lucas
Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association

Your HOA Can Give You Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I had to laugh when I read the seemingly scientific paper written by Professor Gary Solomon. It was hilarious, so tongue-in-cheek and so incredibly well delivered. Page after page was so creative, inventive and…… WTF? Was he being serious? I tracked him down at his home in Nevada to compliment him on his prize-winning work of creative fiction.

He put me straight in the first fifteen seconds. “That’s not fiction,” he said. “It’s real. It’s a real medical syndrome.”

I was absolutely stunned. Here was a well-educated, well-known Professor of Psychology saying that Homeowners Associations were actually capable of generating physical illness in some of their residents!

Professor Solomon said he had lived in a community with an HOA and he noticed that some of his neighbors were suffering from various symptoms like obsessive rumination, depression, physical health problems, and paranoia. The symptoms were similar to those often associated with PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Battle fatigue caused by life in an HOA? Seriously, Professor, you’ve got to be kidding?

Nope. He’s not. Dr. Solomon has named the anxiety disorder experienced by homeowners as HOA Syndrome.

Dr. Solomon says the cause of HOA Syndrome is the fear of harassment, and powerlessness in the face of threats of fines, fees and lawsuits. Other symptoms of this anxiety disorder include anxiousness, depression, worrying, sleeping disorder, paranoia, fear of going to one’s own mailbox, hyper-vigilance and stress.

I think I have it.

Ward Lucas

Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association