Face it, if you weren’t having a horrible time with your HOA you would not have wound up here.
If I was happy with my HOA I might not have felt the urge to create a blog in order to vent my personal frustrations while being a conduit of information for fellow association owners. And right here and right now, I am going to channel information that I read written by another frustrated Association member, Dorian McDougall.
I came across his 64 page web booklet when I was searching for info on Code of Conduct for Board of Directors. One chapter came up, I looked at it and bookmarked it for a long while. The thing about frustration, you can’t “deal” all the time, you need to take breaks before you pick up the struggle again.
Which is what I did by working on this site for a couple of years and then taking a year long pause. But then I read all of Mr McDougall’s booklet and it was such a”preaching to the choir” moment that it gave me a new bust of energy to revamp what I had done and start anew.
While I did read the whole HOA Primer, in this age of 8 second attention spans, that could be more than you might want to do. Which is why I am going to break down each chapter with it’s own link and add a little blurb of my own, or better yet, quotes from the chapter to try to entice you to read the information you know you need!
1. The Birth of the CID: Evolution of the American Gulag
A history of Common Interest Developments which has become “an industry of predatory developers, legislators, lobbyists, lawyers, and management companies who feed upon the vulnerability of the homeowners who live within these private, residential governments, these “American Gulags.”
2. The CC&Rs: MediEVIL LAW
Here in lies the cautionary tale of “the nuisance clause”. So if thought you were being harassed or intimidated for no good reason perhaps you fell into the zone where, as Mr McDougall writes, “anything (even your children) can be interpreted to be a nuisance.”
“No noxious or offensive activity shall be carried on upon any lot, nor shall anything be done thereon which may be or may become an annoyance or nuisance to the neighborhood.”
3. The Sellers: You don’t Ask and We Won’t Tell
A few words that can sum up this chapter: “Danger, Will Robinson!”
4. The Board of Directors: What’s wrong with these people?
And who hasn’t asked this question? The dreaded answer is (combining a few of Mr McDaugall’s observations that may match your own): “Any idiot” who seeks “complete power over one’s neighbors” with less interest in the fiduciary obligations they are assumed to be fulfilling.
This is the chapter you want to read. Not strong enough: Just read this chapter, you won’t thank me for insisting because you will probably relate to it far too much. I did start out with the word “horror” for a reason.
5. The Management Companies: Managing Mayhem
In this chapter Mr McDougall reminds us that:
Management companies will often tell homeowners that they lack the training, education, experience, and legal expertise to properly operate a homeowners association. While it may be true that homeowner board members lack experience in HOA management, it is just as likely that the management company personnel are equally lacking in these areas of expertise. Under current Texas law, (which is probably similar to most other states) anyone can declare himself or herself to be a “property management professional.”
His description goes further downhill from there but he then proposes:
There is really no reason why a HOA needs a management company. By applying common sense before making decisions, many self-managed associations have found that management is much easier than they had been led to believe. With the aid of a good bookkeeper and/or accountant, and possibly some occasional assistance from a “reputable” attorney, responsible homeowners are quite capable of managing an association.
6. Attorneys: Practicing Predators
About this chapter what can I say except that your worst fears will, in my opinion, most likely be confirmed.
HOA law is something of a specialized field, and in most areas, you will find only a handful of practitioners. Most of the attorneys that work in this area of law are CAI members and are aligned with each other as well as the homeowner’s associations and management companies. They will be of no help to a homeowner.
Then we have to combine this chapter with what comes up in the next chapter.
7. The CAI: Putting in the Fix
Today, the CAI is viewed by most outside the industry as nothing more than a trade organization for management companies and association lawyers.
A couple of years ago going deep on google I came across someone else who was as fed up as I was with wasting HOA funds on lawyers. Check out Jim Burneson’s screed about a particular CAI Member.
Here in Colorado I have gotten to know about DORA and I will repost information about what they do for homeowners. The CAI on the other hand, as described by Mr McDougall:
The CAI publishes many articles, pamphlets, and books on the subject of responsible governance of homeowners associations, and most of what is said is very rational and makes a great deal of sense. Unfortunately, all this literature is just public relations propaganda.
The CAI knows their HOA boards. They know there is no real danger of an HOA board actually taking any rational advice no matter the source. They know these people did not get involved only to defer to the homeowners. Industry operatives routinely ignore the advice given.
As another of my many integrity traps, I recommended many of the CAI’s publications to our board, but they refused to read them; and why should they? After all who is paying any attention to what they do anyway – the homeowners?
8. The Homeowners: see no, hear no, and speak no
Apathy will get an association into trouble and sometimes that trouble will be so obvious that it will, for a moment, get everyone’s attention. For instance an assessment is needed to make up for a screw up. But apathy will permit so many other matters that should be handled better to cause problems financial and otherwise. Combine apathy with a little fear and you might understand what Mr. McDougall says here:
When I passed out my “Notice to Homeowners” (the topic of chapter 14) alerting our community to the problems developing with the board, I had a neighbor come to me ready to have the board members publicly drawn and quartered; righteous indignation oozed from every pour. But when I suggested he make his grievances known to all on the “Community Conflicts” page of my website, he quickly backed down.
sheep cannot thrive among wolves
Then there is the unpleasant issue of having to repeatedly come in contact with the most notorious troublemakers in the neighborhood. I think you are going to find that most even-tempered and well-balanced individuals are going to be a little conflict averse. In this area, the rogue board really has an advantage.
I found that there was a great deal of fear of our board and I suppose you can’t really blame the other homeowners for their reluctance to get involved. The irascible curmudgeons you find on a board know how to appreciate a good fight, and the average homeowner is not likely to enjoy engaging in vicious conflicts with them.
I can’t even remember all the people in our neighborhood that, at one time or another, tried to get involved with our HOA only to be quickly driven off in disgust by the nasty behavior of our “permanent” board members.
The industry knows that it is very difficult to organize homeowners into an effective deterrent to HOA abuse. In order to overturn a rogue board, you have to overwhelm them with numbers. The management companies, lawyers, and board members know the odds against you organizing those numbers are great, and that is what makes them bold. But I’ve found they are only bold when in groups.
In my one-on-one conversations with individual board members over policy decisions, I found they would, without exception, deny any personal involvement in questionable decisions and immediately begin to point the finger at their absent colleagues – they were cowards to the core. However, once in their group (or pack) they were suddenly transformed into brazen bullies. The point of this observation being that these reprobates fear numbers just as much as the good people of your community. The problem is how to assemble those numbers.
One of the ways you can begin to awaken your community and generate support for a “changing of the guard” is to expose their activities. The things that they do are terribly difficult to justify, which makes them vulnerable. This is why they try to do so much of their dirty deeds in secret, which is why you must expose them at every turn. But we’ll talk more about that in chapters 11 through 19.
If homeowners can somehow manage to organize themselves within a community they can easily put an end to these problems. The activities of this industry can’t stand up to public scrutiny.
You, the CID homeowners, are what keeps this industry alive.
If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
That was a lot to copy but it is showing up in numbers that has to happen if an association want to see change.
9. The Court System: Blind to Injustice
It is what you’d expect, lobbyists aren’t working on behalf of homeowners. So reread the last chapter and show up with others at meetings.
10. The Petrie Dish Principal
But even taking into account the entrenched nature of our board, what were the odds that every new board member was going to be just as despicable as the last?
I was telling a friend who was experienced in the industry about the actions of a new board member and while others to whom I told the same story said, that it looked to them that the board was hoping no one would attend the meetings, this one friend added the question, “Has he gone over to the dark side yet?” She knew of what she suggested!
11. What to Do
Mr. McDougall created a website (and a Newsletter). I created a website that among other things is telling you to read his website and heed his words. I agree with the action plan he lays out as follows:
What this industry fears most is exposure. It cannot stand up to public scrutiny. In persuit of that goal, here are some of the measures we will be examining:
Build a neighborhood website not controlled by the board.
Publicly notify the other homeowners of the board’s questionable activities.
Organize the opposition in your neighborhood and others.
Organize “watch dog” groups to attend board meetings.
Publish your own neighborhood newsletter.
Contact the media and state and local lawmakers.
It’s odd. These people (HOA board members, management company representatives, and association lawyers) insist they only work for the benefit of the homeowners, and yet they go to such great pains to keep their “good deeds” a secret from those same homeowners.
12. Deception: Keeping the Scam Alive
No doubt you have been to meetings, so – agree or disagree with this statement?
Board members have very good reasons for trying to hide their activities. I had never before, nor probably never will again see people as old as they were behave in such an unhinged and juvenile manner, but I’ve already told you this. The point is that HOA boards want to keep these conflict dispute meetings a secret because they know their behavior and reasoning would not meet anyone’s definition of what would be considered thoughtful, rational conduct.
Big tips is this chapter are to take a witness and tape the proceedings. (I checked with DORA, not a problem in CO)
13. Build a Website: Add a Voice of Reason
I knew nothing of how to set up a website, so I did what most do when seeking answers to “how to” questions. I went to You Tube. There I found
Tyler Moore. I used a video from a couple of years ago that was just over an hour. This one is 2 and 1/2 hours, which is good because he really goes step by step. I was watching the video instructions on my iPad and creating the site on my Macbook. Then with a little help from Host Gator, I had a website much sooner and cheaper than I ever could have imagined and so can you.
Tip from this chapter that I intend to work on, a community conflicts page.
14. Notify your Neighbors
You will still have to fight apathy but you can fight with petitions and surveys and remind your members that board members can be recalled.
15. Get Organized
You have taken the first step in that you are reading this. Don’t stop now, do something to educate yourself both about the by laws and policy procedures and just pay attention to what is going on around you. When my building had a big meltdown and people showed up to what I refer to as the “irate owners meeting” I was saying to those who showed up, some for the first time in years, “Didn’t you see that on our buildings website?”. The response I got from everyone was, “We have a website?” Yes you do. Read your minutes, and if you find yourself saying, “WTF?”, well then, GET ORGANIZED.
16. Attend the Board Meetings: Try to Keep’em Honset
Advice here, since you know you really don’t want to go the meetings but you also know you really “ought to go”, take turns, take your own minutes (tape them) and then share them. Mr McDougall also brings up executive sessions in this chapter. First hand experience for me here because (this is one chorus of the “singing to the choir” that I mentioned) owners were starting to come to the meeting as they never had before, suddenly we were being “dismissed” in order to have an executive session. And yet, no mention of it in the agenda, no general reference to the very few and very specific reasons to call such a session and no mention that it even took place in the minutes. Will Robinson, you are still in danger! So show up and shed light!
Also file a complaint with the DORA in your state. Politicians need statistics in order to create change.
17. Publish a Newsletter: Reclaim your First Amendment Rights
Admittedly, I have not looked that far into this – but I will. Just as I know you will because you got through 2500 words so far that don’t even include the actual chapters!
18. Alert the Media: Sic the News Hounds on Them
Perhaps easier said than done, but always an option to try.
19. Dial-a-rep: roust your representatives
In CO they had created DORA for us. As I said at the start of this post, I am just now revamping this site. More DORA info will be posted soon.
20. Is there a cure for CID corruption?
How can I spoil the summation of Mr McDougall’s booklet?