Sunday Digest: Battle for rights in your HOA, Condo, or Co-op community

by Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

 

Reports of HOAs stepping all over individual rights are becoming more and more common. But now homeowners and residents are fighting back.

Does the first amendment apply in your HOA?

There have been hundreds of media reports of disputes over display of flags in association-governed communities, mostly over the American flag.

And there have been at least as many reports of HOAs punishing owners and residents for displaying holiday decor, especially if it happens to feature religious symbols.

So it was only a matter of time before we’d see a report like this one from South Carolina. Homeowners who happen to be Orthodox Jews are being fined by their HOA for displaying an Israeli Flag from their front porch post.

You would think this is violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But association-governed communities, backed by trade groups made up of attorneys and management companies that profit from your HOA, condo, and co-op assessments, continue to argue that your association is a private organization and not a government. Besides, you “agreed” to abide by your contractual obligations to comply with covenants and restrictions, by the mere act of purchasing or leasing your home.

In essence, the twisted viewpoint of the industry giants that influence housing policy is that, in association-governed communities, The Bill of Rights Need Not Apply.

That’s quite a surprise to homeowner Susanna Argest-Woodard, who says, in the following WCIV report, “I’m from Soviet Union where we were afraid and a lot of people grow up still being afraid,” she said. “But being in America, we shouldn’t be afraid.”

Agree with you, Susanna, 100%.

West Ashley Couple in Flag Fight with HOA Over Their Israeli Flag

by Caroline Balchunas, WCIVThursday, January 25th 2018

Homeowner associations have all kinds of rules. There’s rules about fences, house colors, pools, sheds and even outdoor decorations. A West Ashley couple is fighting its HOA over a flag—an Israeli flag.

Keith Woodard and his wife Susanna Agrest-Woodard are Orthodox Jews and have lived in Carolina Bay for three years. Like their neighbors, they fly an American flag, but when Woodard put up an Israeli flag to observe a Jewish holiday, he found it’s a violation of HOA rules. Woodard took to social media to vent his frustration.

“I said this was in support of my ethnicity, my religious belief, and my observance of various holiday and festivals that Jews celebrate throughout the year,” he said in a video.

They said HOA letters turned into fines—now $25 a month.

Read more (Video):

http://abcnews4.com/news/local/west-ashley-couple-in-flag-fight-with-hoa-over-their-israeli-flag

 

 

Don’t count on fair elections—or votes that count—in your HOA

I’ve been beating this drum for years. One of the fundamental flaws of nearly all association-governed communities — a social injustice, in my opinion — is the fact that people who reside in the community have no actual voting rights.

Instead, voting interests (not rights) are assigned to each unit of property in the association.

In essence, people who reside in the community don’t vote. Instead, owners of property — who don’t have to reside in the community — cast votes for the share of property they own.

The more money you have, the more property you own, the greater your influence over the destiny of your community. The voting structure is skewed in favor of moneyed real estate interests.

And even if your community is not infiltrated by investors right now, it’s vulnerable to corporate upheaval or takeover at any time in the future.

By the way, developers get all kinds of special voting rights, including weighted votes, or votes for homes that aren’t even built yet, and may never be.

Except for some voluntary HOAs and some cooperatives, there’s no such thing as One Person, One Vote in your association-governed community.

Here’s another way to look at it:

If you own stock in a corporation, you’ll notice that your voting “rights” in your association are similar to your vote as a shareholder. If you happen to own a lot of stock in an organization, your votes exert considerable influence. If you happen to own a small amount of stock, your vote is more or less meaningless, and you are essentially powerless in the corporation. If the stock goes south, or if you disagree with the policies of the organization, you simply sell the stock.

It’s not so easy to sell your home and move out of your community. And you shouldn’t have to.

Across the nation, homeowners and residents are fighting for the right to control their communities. And that begins with fair elections and votes that actually count.

 

Radburn residents say trustees ‘rigging’ elections in defiance of new law

Michael W. Curley, Jr., Staff Writer, @mwcurleyjr Published 7:10 p.m. ET Jan. 24, 2018 | Updated 3:30 p.m. ET Jan. 26, 2018

FAIR LAWN — A group of residents has filed a complaint against Radburn’s homeowners’ association, alleging board members amended bylaws in order to rig elections mandated by the state last year.

It is the latest salvo in a years-long dispute over control of historic Radburn, created in 1929 as a “Town for the Motor Age” and still a distinct community within Fair Lawn.

The citizens group Radburn United says in the complaint that the board amended the bylaws to preserve the power of current board members and slow down the transition to an elected board.

“We pay dues that are just like taxes,” Phil Plotch, a representative of Radburn United, said. “The association makes rules about our community and we just want to be able to participate in that process.”

The complaint, filed with the Department of Community Affairs on Tuesday, states that the association’s board called a special meeting just before the vote on the Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act in May, with an eye toward “rigging” the election.

According to the complaint, the “May Amendments” attempt to forestall Gordon’s legislation in several ways. One new bylaw creates new adviser positions for previous members of the board, with powers that, until the amendments, belonged to the board, such as controlling nominations and refilling vacant seats.

“Homeowners deserve to freely run for the board of trustees so they can have some kind of say over the community’s policies and how their money is spent,” said Michael Roney, who lives in Jersey City and rents out the home he owns in Radburn. “Radburn is brimming with people who could really help the community by serving on the board.”

The bylaws also give 165 votes to the developers of a new condominium project in the community, which has not been built yet. Another apartment complex only gets one vote for the building’s owner, under the new bylaws, while previously it would have had votes for each of its 93 renters.

This gives that developer 23 percent of the votes for the community, Plotch said. The association requires a two-thirds vote to change the bylaws, making that 23 percent a considerable hurdle, he said.

“This is going beyond the pale,” he said. “They don’t trust residents who live here, but trust the developer of unbuilt, unsold units to dictate policy for the community.”

The new bylaws also allow the board president to extend the terms of currently seated trustees, which would also delay elections, Plotch said.

Read entire article:

https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/bergen/fair-lawn/2018/01/24/radburn-residents-say-trustees-rigging-elections-defiance-new-law/1062551001/

Link to article on Radburn Bill signed by Gov. Christie:

Christie signs Radburn bill to democratize elections, vetoes others

 

 

 

Board Presidents picks a fight over children’s back yard jungle gym

For more than a year, the parents of two young children have been fighting to get the HOA’s blessing for a jungle gym in their back yard.

You see, when you move into a single family home with HOA restrictions and governance structure, you do not have the freedom to use your own back yard they way you see fit. Instead, you have to get permission from the HOA board to add a patio, deck, pool, shed, or even a play set for your children.

Many first time homeowners are unaware of these restrictions. They assume that the HOA only has rules about what’s visible from the street, mainly the front yard and the “curb-appeal” of their home.

Wrong.

If you decide to put up play equipment for your children, be prepared for opposition from at least one grumpy neighbor who can’t stand the sound of children playing, or, in this case, a board member with unreasonable expectations of complete privacy in a community where homes are built on top of one another on small lots.

These homeowners have been fighting to keep their jungle gym for more than a year, and it seems that nothing they can do will please their HOA Board President neighbor.

HOA Hall of Shame inducts Summerhill over swing set battle

Darcy Spears
6:31 PM, Jan 26, 2018
6:54 PM, Jan 26, 2018

HENDERSON (KTNV) – “Oh my gosh! I know what this is!” says little Nick Robinson as he jumps up and down on cell phone video taken by his parents on Christmas morning, 2016.

But the joy of that morning has long been replaced by controversy for the Robinson family.

They’ve been battling Summerhill, their homeowner association, for more than a year over a swing set for Nick and his sister, Kelli.

“It stresses me out, like, I lose sleep over it every night,” Amanda Robinson said.

“The HOA board has come out and said that the jungle gym is a detriment to our neighbor across the wall here,” added her husband, Matt.

A patio cover and pool mean there’s only one spot the swing set can go in the Robinsons’ backyard.

All the surrounding neighbors approved it, except Roy Holt, the HOA board member who lives next door.

Read more (Video):

https://www.ktnv.com/news/contact-13/hoa-hall-of-shame-inducts-summerhill-over-swing-set-battle

 

 

Forcing condo owners to sell and move in Illinois

In the state of Illinois, if co-owners in your condominium hold three out of four votes in the association, they can vote to terminate the condo association and ‘deconvert’ to traditional rental apartments.

If you happen to be one of less than 25% of owners who voted “NO” to selling the condominium housing community to a developer, you will be forced to sell your home and find a new place to live.

If you’re lucky, you’ll walk away with enough money to pay off your mortgage and cover your moving expenses. But, as many former condo owners in Chicago are learning, you probably won’t have enough cash proceeds to buy a comparable home anywhere else in the city.

If you’re unlucky, the sale price of your condo won’t even cover your first or second mortgage, and, in addition to losing your home, you’ll be forced to take a loss on the deal.

Most states require a unit owners representing a minimum of 80% of votes to force a termination of a condo association. But that still means that owners of 1 in 5 units will sacrifice their rights to own a condo home to benefit most of the co-owners.

Chicago Skyline
Big Lincoln Park condo tower to become rentals

By Alby Gallun, Crain’s Chicago

January 16, 2018

The owners of condominiums in a Lincoln Park high-rise are joining the “deconversion” trend, voting narrowly to sell the building for as much as $78 million to a developer that plans to turn it back into a rental property.

Strategic Properties of North America has agreed to buy all 268 units in Kennelly Square, a 22-story tower at 1749 N. Wells St. Owners of 75.8 percent of the condos in the building voted to approve the sale, with 23.2 percent voting against it, according to an email sent out to unit owners.

After a prolonged apartment boom, many condo buildings in the city are mulling deconversions, with owners realizing they can sell out in bulk for much higher prices than they could individually. Developers like New Jersey-based Strategic Properties, which has already deconverted two big North Side high-rises, are willing to pay up for condos in many buildings, knowing the properties will be worth more reassembled as apartments.

Yet the transactions can be messy and contentious because many condo owners are unwilling to sell, even at a premium. Some simply don’t want to move out of a condo where they have lived for many years and search for a new place nearby that could cost a lot more, especially in pricey Lincoln Park.

Read more:

http://www.chicagobusiness.com/realestate/20180116/CRED03/180119926/big-lincoln-park-condo-tower-to-become-rentals?X-IgnoreUserAgent=1

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