HOAs forever changed by COVID19 pandemic, social unrest

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

 

There’s no doubt that the past several months have been stressful for many U.S. residents. That’s especially true for residents of HOA-governed private communities.

In fact, many common interest communities are under tremendous social and economic pressure these days.

In this time of political and social upheaval, IAC takes a look four huge challenges that HOA-governed, common interests communities currently face.

 

#1. Homeowners fight back against unreasonable enforcement of HOA rules, restrictions

As noted in recent posts, IAC is seeing a lot of reports of HOAs cracking down on rule enforcement.

Also, a number of HOAs are enforcing strict or arbitrary rules that, unfortunately, severly limit a resident’s access to common amenities, even when the homeowner is current on fees and assessments.

But a growing number of homeowners are rebelling against HOA Cynthia. Especially now, residents just want to be able to enjoy their homes and live in peace, without being hassled by their HOA.

You know that nit-picking HOAs are a widespread problem, when a well-known insurance company starts poking fun at HOAs.

 

What’s behind an HOA leader’s desire to exert excessive control over community residents?

My hunch is that some HOA leaders aren’t constructively coping with life in these uncertain times.

Notice that few industry experts are talking about a higher incidence of poor mental health in HOAville.

Between extended COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns and civil unrest leading to vandalism and violence, it’s not surprising that many Americans are suffering from anxiety and depression.

Not surprisingly, when stressed-out neighbors disagree, tempers often boil over. Arguments and insults follow, sometimes even physical assaults.

But here’s one of the biggest threats to HOA residents — a mentally unstable neighbor can wreak havoc in a community, especially when that neighbor serves on the HOA board.

A board member’s exaggerated fears and anxieties sometimes lead to their urgent need to seize control of small details.

Unfortunately, when members of an HOA board react in panic mode, their decisions tend to be unreasonable. They often lack compassion. Even worse, sometimes the HOA board is aided and abetted by emotionally unstable or opportunistic HOA managers and attorneys.

Just as we see in all levels of government these days, corrupt HOA leaders may intentionally appeal to the many fears and anxieties of members of the community, by exploiting the current crisis for their own personal gain.

Fortunately, due to growing public awareness of HOA abuse, housing consumers know bad HOA leadership when they see it.

 

HOA members won’t meekly roll over and accept HOA demands.

In fact, many homeowners and residents are so frustrated and fed up with HOA overreach, they’re shining a light on the problem. Faced with community outrage and negative publicity, some HOA leaders are backing down.

In the past few months, HOAs have been publicly challenged on their strict and unpopular rule enforcement — from allowing children to play with sidewalk chalk to permitting a nurse to self-quarantine in the family RV parked in her home’s driveway.

More recently, an Arizona HOA has been under fire for requiring residents to sign a COVID-19 release form before being allowed to use their community swimming pool and clubhouse. But after homeowners publicly complained, five HOA board members resigned, as well as the community’s long-time management company.

Likewise, over in Indiana, an HOA board chose to drop their threat of fines and legal action against homeowners for putting up a portable wading pool in their backyard.

 

Sources:

Villages HOA shakeup: 5 directors to resign as management firm announces exit
News
Community News, inMaricopa.com
by Bob McGovern – Jun 26, 2020

HOA backs down, backyard wading pool can stay
They purchased the pool for their 12-year-old daughter to use during the COVID-19 pandemic because Julia has an autoimmune disorder that puts her at a higher risk.
Author: Bob Segall, WTHR
Published: 4:49 PM EDT June 24, 2020
Updated: 7:41 PM EDT June 24, 2020

The Pandemic Will Cause PTSD for Some. Here’s What We Can Do About It
Healthline.com
Written by Cathy Cassata on May 19, 2020 — Fact checked by Maria Gifford

Kids are developing PTSD from coronavirus pandemic
By Hannah Sparks | New York Post June 24, 2020

#2. In HOAville, the fight for free speech is more fierce than ever

Regular readers of this blog know that HOA industry trade group attorneys have insisted for decades that the HOA is a “private” organization. Thus, HOA industry attorneys argue, your First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution do not apply to your “private” community association.

Of course, as noted here on IAC, several recent court decisions have rejected that legal theory. And residents increasingly fight their rights to freely express themselves on HOA issues, as well as local and national politics.

Case in point: In recent weeks, residents have chosen to express themselves by displaying Black Lives Matter signs or by flying modified blue-line American flags honoring fallen police officers.

Regardless of your political leanings, the U.S. Constitution specifies the right of its people to express, discuss, and debate opposing points of view on important issues.

The fact is, most residents of HOA-governed communities don’t blindly accept the idea that they must give up their First Amendment rights within their residential communities.

 

HOA boards attempt to shut down free speech, citing restrictions on signs or flags

Unfortunately, some HOA leaders now threaten homeowners with fines and legal action unless they remove their “unsightly” or “racist” signs or flags.

However, IAC is hearing from more and more owners and residents who are not willing to bow down to arbitrary judgment of political expression. Nor are they cowering in fear over their HOA’s legal intimidation tactics.

That point is illustrated by recent media coverage.

For example, a North Carolina news station was contacted by residents in Brian Chapel Community Association, who were upset about getting violation notices, requiring them to remove their “Black Lives Matter” signs. Following the negative publicity, however, the HOA quickly backtracked. The HOA says it now plans to review its sign policies.

Other residents — including a police chaplain in Denver and a Pasco County, FL, Sheriff’s Deputy —  are being threatened by their HOA for displaying flags to honor first responders, including police officers. Both men refuse to take down their flags, which they say are meant to honor fellow police officers who risk their lives every day.

Ironically, these HOA battles are being fought at a time when Americans are rejecting the “cancel culture” war being waged by political opponents.

 

National backlash against the ‘cancel culture’

Political factions, be they conservative or liberal, are now sounding the alarm about our nation’s tendency to squelch the free speech of political adversaries — or anyone with a different point of view.

To illustrate my point, read the following essays published in Red State and The Independent (UK). Obviously, the authors hold two diametrically opposed political viewpoints. Yet they both share some common ground — an agreement that promoting one point of view, while ignoring or shutting down other opinions, is undermining the very foundation of the USA.

We Are in a Civil War and No One Has Come to Terms With It Yet
Posted at 7:00 pm on July 7, 2020 by Brandon Morse, Red State

Excerpt:

By now, it’s undeniable that the American media has a very leftist bent with few exceptions. Programs, be they news or entertainment, are often laced with left-leaning sentiment or outright propaganda. The media is often on full offensive mode, with reports oftentimes being delivered with pre-loaded bias and aimed at things such as pro-American leaders, American traditions, and half-truths to blatant lies about various subjects they are opposed to.

Many of the figures in our media are also geared toward pushing for a socialist system. New York Times and Washington Post writers as well as CNN and MSNBC anchors can often be found either ignoring or defending radical leftist groups such as Antifa, which actively, openly, and violently push for Marxist systems to take hold in America. Their efforts to create autonomous zones being one of the more forceful methods they’ve used only recently.

They will tell you that the groups conducting violence and destruction are mostly peaceful as they stand in front of a city on fire. They will make excuses for them that put them in the column of “freedom fighter” or even excuse riots as a desperate reaction by oppressed people against a corrupt and unfair system. They will give little coverage to the killing of five innocent black children by other black people, however, as this does not help their cause.

JK Rowling among 150 public figures to sign controversial letter denouncing ‘cancel culture’
Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie also among those who signed
Louis Chilton, The Independent UK
July 8, 2020

Excerpt, as noted in the open letter in Harper Magazine:

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

 

The ‘cancel culture’ is business as usual in HOAville

Every day I get emails and messages from outspoken homeowners and residents who are being ignored or persecuted by their HOAs. (I try to reply to everyone, but I’ve got quite a backlog right now.)

Many IAC readers have discovered, to their dismay, that, as long as the HOA organization controls communication venues, it has the bully pulpit to spew its propaganda. And part of that propaganda includes dismissing opposing points of view and labeling anyone who questions the HOA’s authority as a troublemaker.

To me, it’s fascinating that HOA ‘cancel culture’ has existed for at least 3 or 4 decades. Yet this oppressive anti-American culture has been tacitly accepted by local and state government leaders, who regularly take a hands-off approach to HOA disputes. By and large, our legislators typically dismiss HOA protests and complaints as ‘civil matters’ between private parties.

You might say that HOAs have more or less normalized controlled living, paving the way for today’s ‘cancel culture.’

 

The Big HOA Lie

In my opinion, we can now add HOA-governed common interest communities to the list of broken institutions leading to the demise of our free country.

Deed-restricted and common interest communities rest upon an unstable foundation of Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CC&Rs) and Bylaws. These onerous legal documents deliberately sidestep constitutional constraints, unduly burden private property, and provide cover for Civil Rights violations.

The vast majority of more than 330,000 HOAs in the U.S. require mandatory payment of maintenance fees, and are designed primarily to benefit real estate developers and HOA corporations.

Sadly, under the guise of “protecting and preserving property values,” millions of Americans have sold their precious freedoms for the security of gated communities, deed restrictions, and so-called “low-maintenance” lifestyles. The American public has been hoodwinked into the misguided belief that restricted housing communities are necessary to protect our personal net worth.

Only in recent years are Americans beginning to realize the HOA industry’s promise is nothing but a Big Lie.

Before I move onto challenge number 3, lets ponder one more critical battle for freedom and liberty in America.

 

Fight for First Amendment rights under HOA rule mirrors nationwide battle waged by the U.S. Attorney General

Last month, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a memorandum that reminds Americans that Constitutional and civil rights are not suspended in a crisis.

Who knew?

Barr’s memo was written in response to several state Governors, who issued their respective state of emergency orders. Some of those orders violate First Amendment rights by forbidding in-person attendance of religious services.

Here’s the part of Barr’s memo that caught my eye.

William Barr US AG memo Constitutional rights

Powerful language! Note that it applies to both state and local government.

Now if only the U.S. AG would issue another memo applying the same principles to HOA-governed communities. It might read something like this:

The legal restrictions on community association authrority are not limited to discrimination against religious institutions and believers. The Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with a resident’s property or civil rights. If a community association’s restrictions or rules cross the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to maintain common property into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court.

We live in very interesting times. And it’s not really a stretch to imagine a day in the (not-too-distant) future when the federal government will finally acknowledge that HOAs are de facto local governments, with similar subversive motives.

 

Additional Sources:

Black Lives Matter yard signs spark debate within Chapel Hill neighborhood as HOA looks to enforce display policies 
By Gloria Rodriguez CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD)
Friday, June 12, 2020

HOA tells local police chaplain to remove ‘thin blue line’ flag
by: Deborah Takahara, KDVR
Posted: Jun 23, 2020 / 06:47 PM MDT / Updated: Jun 23, 2020 / 06:47 PM MDT

Homeowners association tells Florida man to take down Blue Lives Matter flag
by: Chip Osowski, WFLA
Posted: Jun 25, 2020 / 08:51 PM EDT / Updated: Jun 26, 2020 / 07:43 AM EDT

MEMORANDUM FOR THE ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR CIVIL RIGHTS AND ALL UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS (Issued by Attorney General William Barr on April 27, 2020)

AG Barr directs U.S. Attorneys to protect constitutional rights, follows Texas guidance issued one week earlier
By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square
May 4, 2020

A Letter on Justice and Open Debate
July 7, 2020
The below letter will be appearing in the Letters section of the magazine’s October issue. We welcome responses at letters@harpers.org

 

 

#3. HOAs will be forced to choose between two extremes — authoritarianism vs. anarchy

In response to the unjustifiable act of police brutality against George Floyd of Minneapolis, the country (and the world) has erupted in protests. Some have been peaceful protests, while others have devolved into violent looting and riots in the streets of many well-known cities.

In several of America’s largest cities, property and violent crime are out of control. Dozens of innocent bystanders have been injured or killed by angry mobs or gangs exchanging gunfire.

The controversial activist group, Black Lives Matter (BLM), has been at the forefront of public outcry and political activism. BLM is controversial, because, as its critics point out, its political ideology is aligned with Marxism.

The current thrust of BLM’s agenda is to Defund the Police, a policy the vast majority of American oppose, according to a recent ABC poll.

 

Let’s connect some dots, shall we?

Did you know that BLM was established by its founders in response to the infamous acquittal of George Zimmerman on murder charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin?

For readers unfamiliar with the story of Trayvon Martin, here’s a brief refresher.

One evening after dark, Martin, a black teenager, was walking back to a relative’s house at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated, HOA-governed community in Central Florida. Martin had just purchased a packet of Skittles at the local convenience store.

That night, Zimmerman was on official Neighborhood Watch patrol. The community had recently established their Neighborhood Watch team, in response to a rash of burglaries in the subdivision.

Zimmerman didn’t recognize Martin as a resident of his community, and he jumped to the mistaken conclusion that the teenager must be up to no good. Zimmerman attempted to stop Martin to question him. The two exchanged words, then a brief physical altercation ensued.

It ended abruptly when Zimmerman fired his pistol, fatally wounding the young Martin.

Both criminal and civil cases against George Zimmerman, and the civil lawsuit against the Retreat at Twin Lakes HOA, captured the attention of millions in the U.S. and around the world.

A jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder charges in 2013.

A wave of national protests erupted, organized by Black Lives Matter. In response to public outcry, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated complaints that Zimmerman committed a hate crime when he shot and killed Martin. The DOJ investigation ended in 2015, when the agency concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Zimmerman for a hate crime.

However, the Retreat at Twin Lakes HOA was also sued by Trayvon Martin’s family. In an out-of-court settlement, the HOA agreed to pay an undisclosed amount, said to be in excess of $1 million.

Take note of where this shooting incident took place: in a gated HOA-governed community in Sanford, Florida.

You read that right.

At the root of our current social unrest, culminating with the radical nationwide call to Defund the Police, is a rogue HOA with its private, untrained, and armed neighborhood security officer.

 

Why it’s a bad idea to defund the police

Based upon several high profile cases involving overzealous and violent private security guards in HOA and condo communities, I think it’s a very bad idea to defund public police departments.

Consider the fact that defunding the police will only create more pressure for HOAs to employ private security. That’s sure to increase liability of HOA members, while also eroding public safety within private communities.

Make no mistake. The risk is real. Quite often, the rotten apples ousted as police officers wind up working as private security guards.

For several examples, see the following posts from the IAC Archive:

FL HOA MANAGER HIRES CONVICTED FELON AS PRIVATE SECURITY GUARD
September 27, 2019

VIRGINIA FAMILY OF SHOOTING VICTIM FILES WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT AGAINST HOA, SECURITY COMPANY, AND GUARD
February 5, 2019

EX-SECURITY GUARD CONVICTED OF 2ND DEGREE MURDER OF CHINESE GRANDFATHER
March 5, 2019

CONDOMINIUM’S PRIVATE SECURITY GUARD AWAITING TRIAL FOR RAPE, MURDER OF RESIDENT
May 3, 2017

HOA SECURITY GUARD ASSAULTS RESIDENT OF FL GATED COMMUNITY
November 2, 2018

MORE DETAILS REVEALED IN CASE OF DOUBLE MURDER AT BOSTON CONDO
May 9, 2017

 

The case against private security for communities

Ironically, eight years ago, experts and activists expressed alarm at the harmful social effects of gated communities. And they bemoaned the trend of substituting private neighborhood security for professionally-trained local and state police.

WBUR in Boston discussed this important issue on public radio broadcast in 2012, around the time of George Zimmerman’s trial.

Check out this direct link to the podcast with activist and author, Rich Benjamin. Listen to the first 8 minutes, where Benjamin describes his research on life in gated communities, and the “bunker mentality” they cultivate.

Pay particular attention at the 4 minute mark of the podcast. Benjamin discusses the strong national trend toward privatization of criminal justice, resulting in a de facto vigilante system of “justice” and crime prevention in HOA-governed communities.

 

How will HOAs deal with defunding of their local police departments?

So, the question is, in cities that choose to slash funding for publicly-funded police departments, how will HOAs respond?

Will they shore up their ‘bunkers’ with added private security? Or will residents pressure HOA boards to defund their private police as well, resulting in an inevitable increase in crime, or, even worse, neighborhood anarchy?

With a severe shortage of law enforcement, my concern is that financially distressed HOA-governed communities could easily fall under the control of violent activists and renegades, setting up new “Organized Protest” zones, like the one we recently witnessed in Seattle.

 

Sources:

Residents upset ex-deputy Chauna Thompson hired to patrol Houston neighborhood
By Damali Keith
Published June 23, 2020
FOX 26 Houston

Did Gated Community ‘Groupthink’ Play A Role In Trayvon Martin’s Shooting?
WBUR, April 30, 2012

Black Lives Matter: Herstory (screenshot)

Black Lives Matter website Herstory About Trayvon Martin
Screenshot, Black Lives Matter website, captured July 9, 2020

#4. Migration away from cities, even as COVID-19 spreads to Sunbelt states full of HOAs

It’s painfully obvious. America’s most famous cities are in a heap of trouble these days.

Diehard urbanists have already begun their PR campaign, damage control for the public’s negative view of city life in the age of coronavirus, looting, rioting, and “autonomous zones.”

But there’s just no denying it. For the foreseeable future, COVID-19 has changed the way people live their lives. At least some of those changes are likely to be permanent.

And that’s causing people to relocate from densely populated cities to smaller urban and suburban areas.

For many, work from home has become the new normal

One of the most obvious changes is the fact that many more people are working from home. For employees, that means a lot less time spent commuting to and from work. It also means reduced costs for mass transit or gasoline to travel to and from the workplace 5 days per week.

At the same time, employers are struggling to pay high overhead costs for all of their unused office space. Even as economies re-open in many parts of the country, overhead costs are increasing as companies are forced to spread out workstations, invest in high intensity disinfection, and upgrade their HVAC systems.

As a result, many organizations are reevaluating their needs for office space. Many will continue to rely on staff members to work from home or on the road, perhaps with occasional trips to the office for staff meetings.

Since most of their work can be done from anywhere, urban dwellers and long-distance commuters are finally free to move away from the hustle and bustle of the city, with its outrageously expensive housing.

 

Chain reaction

The COVID19 lockdowns, combined with an uptick of violence in urban cores, has begun a highly disruptive chain reaction.

Residents with the means to relocate have already escaped to their second homes, or they have moved in with out-of-town family members. They did so as soon as they got wind of stay-at-home orders.

A lot of city dwellers wanted to avoid being locked down in their tiny, cramped apartment or condo high rise, with high exposure to a contagious virus. Others didn’t want to deal with fierce competition for essentials like food, cleaning supplies, and health and hygiene products.

And since the exodus began, urban living conditions have became much worse.

What will become of cities such as Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, and Seattle? Who wants to live or do business in a lawless city, with an impotent and understaffed police force? Who will feel safe surrounded by violent crime and looting in the streets?

We already see that commercial leases are going unpaid. Many won’t be renewed. Business revenue is down, crime is up, and, in some cities, scores of infrastructure has been destroyed by vandalism and arson.

Of course, this is all very bad news for commercial real estate investors. And it’s equally bad news for business owners in cities that, up until recently, thrived upon heavy foot traffic during normal business hours.

This could be the final nail in the coffin for struggling condominium mixed use developments in urban areas.  Residential condo owners will feel the financial pressure of revenue gaps as commercial tenants dry up, and their neighbors move on to (literally) greener pastures.

 

Will people return to the city?

Urbanists will try in vain to point out that the virus can strike anywhere, especially as smaller cities and town see an increase in new cases of COVID-19.

However, I don’t think we’ll see many people flocking back to big cities. After all, it’s much more affordable and comfortable to deal with stay-at-home orders in a nice single family home, in an area with safer streets and ample green space to enjoy the outdoors.

The promise of vibrant, walkable, urban utopia has been badly broken. It will take years, if not decades, for cities to recover.

Yet it’s still the goal of progressive urbanists to build entirely new HOA-governed neighborhoods of townhouses and condominiums. This is true, even though many previously developed urban core communities are now maturing, deep in debt and destined to fail.

That’s why diehard urbanists will try to accelerate their efforts to ‘densify’ smaller towns and suburban zones.

However, I suspect that small city and suburban dwellers will fight harder than ever against the urbanists’ push to abolish single family zoning, to make way for their vision of utopia — multifamily and mixed use development.

And the fiercest protests against higher density development will likely come from former urbanites who have been fortunate enough to escape the mayhem of city life in 2020. ♦

Sources:

More Americans working from home adds desire for suburban living: NAHB CEO
Jun. 09, 2020 – Fox Business News
3:52 – NAHB CEO Jerry Howard discusses how people during the coronavirus pandemic are investing in suburban housing in an attempt to flee big cities.

Wealthy buyers reportedly in ‘mad rush’ to leave San Francisco
By Andrew Chamings, SFGate
Updated 4:19 pm PDT, Monday, June 8, 2020

Americans are eyeing homes in the suburbs as pent-up demand hits housing market
Published: June 17, 2020 at 7:01 a.m. ET
ByJacob Passy, MarketWatch
The number of Americans applying for home mortgages has hit an 11-year high

Biden and Dems Are Set to Abolish the Suburbs
By STANLEY KURTZ, National Review
June 30, 2020 9:42 AM

A roaring Sun Belt surge has inverted the demographics and politics of COVID-19
William H. Frey, Brookings Institute
July 2, 2020

Can We Just Work From Home Forever?
Nathan Pettijohn, Forbes
May 20, 2020,09:01pm EDT ♦♦