By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Here at IAC, I strive to look at the Big Picture and connect the dots, in order to provide a better understanding of why so many American association-governed communities are struggling and so few are thriving.
For at least the past decade, there has been lot of buzz among HOA industry experts, blaming owner apathy as the root cause of all of problems that plague association-governed, common interest communities.
Unfortunately, industry trade groups fail to admit their role in actively cultivating apathy, specifically political apathy with regard to governance of association-governed communities.
After all, when owners and residents of homeowners,’ condominium, and cooperative associations figure out that their votes don’t count, their opinions are not valued, their concerns are ignored, and their local and state governments don’t care enough to enforce consumer protection laws, it’s inevitable that they will reach the conclusion: “what’s the point of caring?”
Several current events and recent discussions document the root causes of political apathy.
No enforcement of state laws, ineffective recall process
In Florida, Jan Bergemann of CCFJ (Cyber Citizens for Justice) and Barbara Billiot Stage of Stage Law met with leaders in Tallahassee in January, with regard to SB 1274 / HB841. The bill proposes amendments intended to clear up vague and confusing language from the “Condo Crime Bill” of 2017 (HB1237). Specifically, according to CCFJ, amendments are needed to address recall procedures, email communication amongst board members seeking to avoid discussion in open meetings, and conflict of interest provisions when an attorney represents both the Association and its management company.
Jan testified that although numerous laws in the Sunshine State are intended to help homeowners by reining in the misbehavior of boards and developers of condos and co-ops, the relevant division in the state’s agency, Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), remains underfunded and poorly equipped to enforce those laws. Listen to Jan here:
Barbara testified that the Florida Legislature needs to amend statutes governing recall procedures. Recall statutes have been debated and tweaked since 2004. There needs to be a happy medium between giving a small group of owners to ability stage a hostile coup, and making it functionally impossible and exceedingly costly for owners to force a rogue board or dictatorial director to step down. Listen to Barbara below:
City attempts to override state law
Meanwhile , in Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reports that Aldermen Brian Hopkins and Brendan Reilly are sponsoring a city Ordinance intended to undermine a recently enacted state law allowing condo and co-op members to obtain access to contact information of their fellow association members, for the purposes of communicating about association business.
The recently enacted statute’s intention was to make it possible for owners and shareholders — who are not on the board — to run effective campaigns for board vacancies or to communicate with regard to important issues such as amending governing documents or approving or blocking special assessments.
I posted one of my articles on a discussion forum, and it has generated quite a bit of lively discussion, both for and against limiting access of contact information to non-board members in condo and co-op associations.
It comes as no surprise that a well-known Chicago attorney, who represents many condo and co-op associations in the city, is in favor of Ald. Hopkins’ Ordinance, despite the fact that, if passed, it is likely to face legal challenge.
Check out some of the Chicago attorney’s comments in the screen shots below: (click on the images to enlarge)
It’s abundantly clear that while some members of industry trade groups publicly lament about apathy and non-participation of association members, when it comes to legislative efforts aimed at enabling better communication and empowering owners, some of those same vocal members fight tooth and nail to defeat transparency and democratic process.
It seems the Chicago Ordinance is intended to perpetuate apathy under the guise of protecting privacy.
It takes a village in to overcome HOA abuse
And to help the reader better understand why it is essential for owners and residents to be able to communicate and organize, I present a rare example of positive change in High Grove Subdivision HOA in Charlotte, North Carolina, where homeowners were able to exchange HOA horror stories, organize their efforts, and remove an unreasonable and abusive board.
The former board and its management company had been wreaking havoc upon the community with excessive and unreasonable fines, with threats of lien and foreclosure.
One homeowner, Debra Blue, fought back when the HOA fined her thousands of dollars over her choice of paint color for the shutters on her home. Watch the video to see what happened.
What’s wrong with this house? Wake homeowner fined thousands by HOA
By Diane Wilson and Catherine Chestnutt
Thursday, February 01, 2018 07:00PM
The power of Homeowners Associations. They can tell you what color you can paint your house, where to park, even what you can have in your yard. They can also put a lien on your home or even more severe, foreclose on it.
Debra Blue learned the power of her HOA the hard way, but she didn’t just take what the HOA demanded, she fought back.
It started when Debra got a letter from her HOA letting her know she did not follow her HOA covenants when it came to the plum color she just painted her shutters.
A frustrated Debra reached out to her neighbors to find she wasn’t alone in her fight against the HOA and that other homeowners had experienced being fined and threatened of legal action.
“I actually had people break into tears and start telling me their stories,” Debra said.
Read more (Video):
High Grove Subdivision HOA is a luxury estate home community with a population of roughly 400. The compact size of the subdivision made it possible for a group of organized homeowners to communicate by simply knocking on doors in the residential neighborhood.
However, knocking on doors and contacting neighbors face-to-face is challenging or impractical in many association-governed communities. Owners in large scale associations, high security multi-building condominium housing projects, seasonal resort and vacation communities, and associations with low owner-occupancy rates should be able to rely upon electronic methods of contacting their co-owners, either by email or social media.
But when HOA managers and boards refuse to provide access to contact information or the association’s communication venues (newsletters or internet sites), owners and residents have almost no chance of exchanging information or creating healthier, more friendly communities.
Unless states are willing to enact and consistently enforce basic consumer protection laws mandating fair play, transparency, and democratic governance, HOAs will continue to be breeding grounds for apathy, with its resulting internal conflict and dysfunction.
Legislators and housing planners need to stop accommodating the agendas of developer and association management lobbyists, and start listening to a much larger constituency — homeowners and residents in association-governed, common interest communities.