Living An HOA Horror Story?


Oh Nooooooo!

However, continue reading the blog and hopefully you’ll find some answers to the concerns you have and answers to some questions you didn’t even know you had before finding your way here!

PS (Thanks to the person in northern India who took the picture, which naturally went viral, of this squirrel losing his nuts while on the top of a electrical pole!)

WISER – Or So We Should Hope To Be

WISER – GETTING BEYOND GROUPTHINK TO MAKE GROUPS SMARTER is the title of a book by co-authors Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie. I caught the interview when the book was being promoted on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. A little while after that I bought the book and a longer while after that I actually read it.

It was on hand with me at the annual meeting when seats for my HOA Board of Directors were up for re-election. While, they were promoting the idea that they should stay as is because they thought they worked well together as a BoD, I was cautioning against groupthink.

Even Dorian McDougall cautions against groupthink in his HOA Primer that I wrote about in the blog post HOA Horror Stories.

Someone needs to be on the team who will ask the question, ‘What could go wrong?” You can’t troubleshoot if you optimistically think there won’t be trouble. That could be trouble a real problem.

“The principal focus is how groups may fail to obtain important information – and how their leaders and members tell dissenters, or people who have a different perspective, to shut up.”

Too much happy talk can lead to errors. If you were to hear, for example, that a city inspector would come out each day to check on an asbestos removal project, don’t you think someone should ask, “Are you serious?”?

Groups may amplify errors, falling victim to a cascade effect when members may think it’s more important to fall in line rather then point out potential pitfalls.

However, “if divergent thinking is nurtured and minority views are welcome” then “groups can be highly innovative”.

Truth and majority opinion may not be the same thing. When this is the case, sometimes majority opinion wins over truth and that’s not a good thing. If someone in the group is skeptical but remains silent, important information may not be shared. Reading through this section of the book, the old adage comes to mind of “shoot the messenger” which would explain the tendency of people to self-censor.

While the book as a whole, I would say, has corporations and government agencies more in mind for the groups it references, I am approaching it with just HOA  Boards in the forefront of my mind. And with such a small group, someone not presenting as a team player may be even more easily dismissed because of perceived difficulty. However, while, “misfits make the group uncomfortable, … wise groups take steps to protect them.”

We all like to hear opinions that agree with our own. Unfortunately, more often than not, those who are “cognitively central people” can have a disproportionate influence on discussions, while those people who are more peripheral can have unique knowledge that may not be heard.

“In the United States, the highest performing companies tend to have “extremely contentious boards that regard descent as an obligation…”

In the words of forecasting expert Scott Armstrong, referenced by Sunstein and Hastie and now by me thanks to them, “organizations often call on the best expert they can find to make important forecasts. They should avoid this practice, and instead combine forecasts from a number of experts.”

Thinking in HOA terms, this translates for me as: Don’t solely rely on your managers recommendations. After all, we not only have Google, we also have Bing and DuckDuckGo and god only know what else to easily do some reach ourselves!

My take away form this book is that a good mixture of personalities is necessary for a group to succeed – and if that means having a smart ass in your group, then so be it! It could prove to be a very wise choice.

Update 7/25/15: Earlier in the week I was told “No one wants to work with you.” Circumstances of the moment prevented my from asking, “Why?” and to please be specific. If I do ask at some point in the future, it will be irritating. I get that.

However, later in the week, watching the Syfy series Killjoys, episode title, One Blood, there was an exchange between two characters that went like this:

John: “Has it ever occurred to you that if you were even slightly less of a dick people might actually want to work with you?”
Fancy: “Can’t do that.”
John: “Because…?”
Fancy: Every organization needs a designated asshole. That is my gift to the Killjoy Collective. The asshole may not be liked but he will always be necessary because he does what’s needed.”

I smiled when I heard that exchange and at the end of the episode, Fancy does what no one else would do but what is the kinder thing ultimately.

Science fiction writers – the morality play writers of our age!

HOA Horror Stories

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:

    send them packing…somebody?

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.

    sheep in wolves clothing

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.

    don’t let them hide

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?

Small Is The New Big

Floor Plan of a Small Open Studio – Architecture Studio Apartment in London: Remodelista

 

 ”A house is just a place to keep your stuff while  you go out and get more stuff.”  

                                                                     George Carlin                                              

George Carlin did a comedy routine about “Stuff” back in the 80′s.  Long before the increasing size of our homes proved so insufficient that now we have  Storage Wars as a reality show.

However, a trend is taking root for small, even tiny spaces for living. Spaces for which participating in “retail therapy” won’t be an option.  But not to worry, when you live in the moment you won’t miss your stuff — I lived out of suitcase with just the basics for 9 months – it can be done.

But back to sq ft: in terms of location, it’s relative.  As you should be aware, I have a pretty nice view here in Denver.  So it has been remarked on by friends, that if my 620 square foot space was located in NYC or Japan  - WOW!  Currently in NYC and SF and Japan and the Netherlands people like Rem Koolhaas and  Graham Hill  have been actively working on creating small spaces for dwelling as well as the flexible and innovative interiors to make them more versatile.

Trending being what it is, when you are becoming aware of something, suddenly it’s everywhere.  So here are some links to illustrate for you what I really mean by: Small is the new big.

Transforming An Apartment in De Rotterdam

Graham Hill’s 420 square foot NYC apt transformed into 8 rooms.

Tiny, Prefab $50,000 Homes Could Make Outrageously Expensive Cities Affordable.

One-Room Living: A Shape-Shifting Apartment in London: Remodelista

340 Square Foot Studio in Manhattan

MinImalist Studio in Sydney

Flexible Interiors: 13 Shape-Shifting Small Apartments

And if you wind up in a regular old apartment that is tiny: 8 Things Every Tiny Apt Needs

Full disclosure: I have been happily living in about 600 square feet of space for 2 decades. My condo now and my rental before that.  However, at the beginning of the year I was poised to move to a place where where the smaller offerings in my price range could have netted me an additional 100 – 300 sq ft.  The big draw was the amenities that my current living situation lacks as well as the possibility of a second bedroom.  A “work” or “hobby” room where one could create chaos before order, knowing that closing the door to that room would give the impression that all is serene elsewhere.

If you go backwards in reading this blog you will discover why the kabosh was put on my plans.

I can continue to live without “a room of my own”.  It just takes organization and making choices.  I’d love to own a Crock-Pot, but I have no where to store it.  That’s okay, because one can adapt as needed.  Besides, what matters more?  How I cooked something, or that I had people over for dinner?  And experience has taught me, it makes for a better party to put more people in a small space!

BTW: What is currently under construction in Denver can be viewed at the blog:  DenverInfill

And OMG – Tiny Houses!  If you are like me, when I think a of tiny house (of the 21st Century; not of fairy tales) my minds eye does tend to place them out in the middle of “nowhere”.  I have a friend who is working on working on building a tiny home in just such an out of the way place.  Because Zite (the app)  features articles on them, I have been paying more attention to the amazingly clever ways they are being constructed.  The tiny house is indeed big, right now.  So much so that, here’s something (or somewhere) else  to be on the lookout them, as cities get ready – the tiny houses are coming! The link you just passed over is a great read that I didn’t write and just may be something to really inspire you.  Just think, a home of your own (be it “so humble” and well, small)  for possibly less than 2 years of rent payments. Or you could wind up in a SCADPad – for at least the short term…

Then you might be able to afford to travel and stay in hotel rooms that have more sq footage than your home – just in case claustrophobic panic attacks become a thing!  Being mortgage free (so you can pay off student loans and still be able to afford food).  Could be worth it!

Renters Rights

Well, I live in a small HOA and currently there are more renters in residence than owners.  In fact, as there are no HOA Board Members residing in the building at present, I am feeling a little like a renter myself – in terms of getting attention paid to the common areas of the building.

As to the inside of a unit, one common complaint that renters have about their landlords is the flat out refusal or very slow compliance to “fix” what needs to be done to make a space a properly functioning and comfortable home.

What to do?  What to do?  Who hasn’t either gone ahead and paid for the “fix” themselves  and then deducted the cost from the rent payment – or at least thought about doing it.

But should you – and is that a good idea anyway?  I am not the person to ask.  But a little Google search netted me a person to whom you can actually ask your questions concerning your rights as a renter.

Lucas Hall has put together an easy to navigate website that will give you the links you need to find out the info you want about Colorado Landlord Tenant Laws and best of all – he will answer your questions.  In fact, maybe he already did: scroll through the bottom of the site and skim the Q &A’s.  I think is it a safe bet that your problem has already been experienced by someone else.  If not, express yourself, and have Lucas Hall help you and someone else too.

Then again, you could do some searching on you own and come up with something like this: Colorado Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent. (The right to hold rent payments in escrow varies from state to state.)  Unless you are thinking, “To hell with it!”.  In which case, the Security Deposit Law Guide For All 50 States, might be more of more interest to you.

But wait a minute: As a renter should you feel some empathy toward your landlord?  I came across this article that might help you see both sides of your living situation. The 5 Fastest Ways to Lose Money with a Rental

Also, I came across this article that discusses what it says in the title: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Owning a Rental Property

If you really want to nest in your rental and have your space reflect you ,there are Temporary Ways to Make a Rental Your Own - even a Rental Bathroom!

I was trying to come up with some sappy close to this piece – but I’ve got nothing.  ….Maybe a reminder?  A good neighbor, be it renter or owner, keeps the noise at a level that no one needs to complain about when living in a community.  As in a sort of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Well, I guess I do have a sappy close after all!

There Is No Reason For This…

There is no reason for this blog post, in that it has nothing to do with HOAs, the raison d’être for NXNWView.com.  And while I might at times express my opinions about HOAs – I do want to inform it, especially if it is for a reason as fun as this App!  Getting to the reason for this post, I just got a new app: Waterlogue.

I am having such fun with doing Watercolors From My Photos I decided to share some of my results. (Yep, that was a slideshow you were suppose to link too!) The app lets you try out different types of stylings, which I suggest you do as the first try may not be the best result and believe me when I say, some photos just won’t transfer well at all.  Below is what the sample bar on the app looks like and below that are several images I got when I altered a photo I took in a museum in Brussels and a photo from Civic Center Park in Denver.

See what I mean?  Yes, this app is going to suck up lots of time!

But if you think this is cheating, and you might, because I sort of do, check out: Why Are Some People Better at Drawing than Others? Can You Really Learn to Draw?

 

Pot – CO – HOAs – Dude…

This week the question was raised on the front page of The Denver Post: Can HOA’s ban pot?  The take away from the piece by Carlos Illescas was, maybe…

Last year a renter friend of mine, who resides in a second floor unit of her condo building, was complaining to me that with her windows open due to the fine summer weather, she was getting unwelcome pot smoke wafting into her space from her neighbors residing in the garden level below her.  As I said, last year, well before the new openness regarding pot, because it isn’t as if all those people who lined up to purchase pot for recreational use on Jan 1st were first timers. But now there is the very real possibility that one will become (even) more aware of your neighbors inclinations to imbibe.

Or grow their own.  I have friends who own a free standing home with enough yard for a small garden.  Their home is part of an HOA association. Will they try their hand at planting and harvesting? Maybe. I will ask.

What I am getting at is what Mr. Illescas was getting at in that as concerns and questions arise, lawyers will be consulted. Banning may be doable but enforcing may not be doable. Time will tell how this is all going to shake out.

Follow Carlos Illescas (cillescas@denverpost.com) for the updates I am sure he will do and if you are in CO once again I say to you, “Call Gary Kujawski over at DORA with your HOA questions.”

A little more info:  Turns out there is a column in Westword : Ask a Stoner  by William Breathes.  Mr. Breaths answers the question, “Can you grow pot outside in Denver?”  and many other questions I would never think to ask.