If you’ve travelled on the turnpike in South Florida, you’ve probably seen the signs talking about HOA syndrome. You’ve looked at the signs once or twice, and thought “what is this syndrome, and why haven’t I heard more about it?”
Well, the syndrome was first diagnosed by Dr. Gary Soloman, a professor of psychology at the College of Southern Nevada. He and is the first to write about the disorders caused by harassment by homeowner’s associations. Now, you may or may not agree with his science, but he does make some excellent points. Below is his interpretation of how homeowners associations came into existence, and where, in his opinion, they started to go wrong.
“Once Upon A Time
…there was a place called the United States of America. It became the United States of America after an uprising against those who wanted to control and charge people for living in a place that they already owned. The uprising was deadly and bloody; many were hurt; many died. But in the end, well, in the end things got better. The people of the new United States of America had a place of their own; a place to call home.
…and things were good. And people were happy. And people liked living in America. And people often wanted to live the dream: They wanted to own their own home. So they built houses and created little towns and came together to discuss the day’s events. They enjoyed others while others enjoyed them.
…and things were good. And people were happy. And in time, someone came up with an idea: Build houses for those who could not build houses for themselves. After the houses were built the people who built the houses would sell them to those people who wanted to own a piece of America.
…and things were good. And people were happy. Many houses were built and sold. And people loved to own their own home. They felt like they owned a piece of the place where they lived. They gave birth to children, raised their children, and sent them on their way so that their children could own a piece of the dream.
…and things were good. And people were happy. Home builders built the homes and sold the homes to others. And in time one builder had an idea: He would build a community of homes. And after the homes were built and sold they would still be part of a larger community. And those who built the homes would call themselves developers.
…and things were good. And people were happy. People had neighbors and lived in the neighborhood. And raised their families in the neighborhood. They had parties to celebrate birthdays and other special days, especially the 4th of July, the day America was no longer ruled by those who wanted them to pay money for the right to live in the neighborhood and on the land that they already owned.
…and things were good. And people were happy. Communities grew and cities grew. More and more homes were built. More and more people bought homes. But you see, the developers were not completely happy. Because, once the developer built the home and sold the home the developer had to build other homes to make more money. Hmmmmmm the developer thought. Hmmmmmmmm?
…and things were good. And people were happy. And in time the developer had an idea: The developer would build a home and a community at the same time. People would buy a home in the community so that the community would live as one. And for a small fee paid to the developer–dues they were called–home owners would live in the peace and comfort of their own, private little community.
…and things were good. And people were happy. One community after another grew out of dirt and dust. Communities gave birth to other communities. Developers collected dues from the home owners so that the developer could maintain the communities; the entrance and exit; the corner that the community owned; the tree and bush on a community owned property. You know, the common parts of the community.
…and things were good. And people were happy. The communities looked nice. And there were those who envied others who lived in the community because they did not. And in time the developer had an idea: If the developer charged just a little bit more the developer could make a profit from the home owners, kind of like an annuity for developers who want to make money even though they no longer own the homes. How clever. And since the community never went away the developer would continue receiving annuity until the end of time.
…and things were good. And people were happy. So, once a month members of the community would come together to meet and talk about their families, and their work, and their travels and… Well, you get the idea. Just your average group of people living together in a, you know, average community.
…and things were good. And most people were happy. Only a few seemed to mind that they were paying more money than necessary to live in their own communities. Because, you see, they got to say that they lived in a community not like those who lived outside the community. The people who lived in the community were community people; the upper class.
…and things were good, most of the time. And people were happy, most of the time. “The person across the street has an old car”, one homeowner would complain while seated at the community meeting. “The guy next door to me has weeds,” bemoaned another. “The light on her porch is burnt out.” “His trash cans are on the side of the house.” “They need to paint their fence”. And, “What about those garage doors that are open?” “What shall we do? What shall we do?” they cried. And that gave the developer another great idea.
…and things were good. But a few people were not happy. You see, they thought that they could run the community better than the homeowners themselves. So a Board of Directors was formed. The communities new organization was called a Home Owner’s Association, HOA for short. Because they were an organization now they needed rules for the home owners to abide by to make sure that the communities were yar. And those rules, well, let’s just say for simplicity sake; rules are rules and home owners must live by those rules. Got it? Are you sure? Are you sure you got it?
…and things got better. And most people were happy. You see, the developer decided to create a management company to oversee the communities. It was clear the HOAs could not take care of themselves; the HOAs were, how shall I put this, incompetent. That’s it. Home owners were incompetent and the HOAs were incompetent. So, what would the management company do? Well, the management company would drive up and down the streets of the communities where the home owners lived. And when they saw a problem, you know, a trash can, a weed, a bicycle, a pot, etc., the management company would send the home owner a letter asking them to take care of the matter.
…and things were okay. And many people were happy. Now the community was as they intended. The community was yar. And it would stay yar. And in time the developer had an idea: Pay the management company out of the community’s dues. To do this the developer would add just a little more money to the monthly HOA dues. For that little stipend the developer would not have to take money from the developer’s business. The developer would make more money and now, the management company, you know, the company that never existed before, was born; the developer gave birth to a bouncing baby, money-making machine and called it, Property Management.
…and things were good again. And some people were happy. And management companies grew from the dust and the dirt. And they drove through the communities waving hello to people whom they did not know and as they did they made notes about the weed, or the pot, or the toy or the… and sent letters to the people who transgressed in their own communities on their own property. You see this was not a problem for the management companies for they did not live in the communities; they just policed in the communities.
…and things were good. And some people were happy. And the management companies had an idea: Charge the individual home owners for their weeds, burnt out lights, open garage doors, etc. Just a little charge. Kind of like a fine. You know, like a traffic ticket. This would ensure that the problems would be taken care of quickly so that the community stayed yar.
…and things were good. And some people were happy, except those people that were fined. They were mad; they wanted it to stop. And they complained. And they refused to pay. What were the developers and the HOA board members and the management companies to do? They had to get their money. They could not stand for this kind of disobedience. So, the developers and the management companies got together to create laws and rules that would govern the communities where they themselves did not live. Oh, there were some rules before but these rules would give them the power to make sure that the home owners lived the way that the developer and the management companies wanted them to live. They called these laws the CC&Rs. And, if by chance a home owner disagreed with the fine, the home owner could take their grievence to the HOA meetings where they could stand before their HOA board and speak for up the three minutes. Oh yes, the home owners had their rights, make no mistake of that fact. And after seeing that their fellow home owner’s rights were attended to, the HOA would continue to fine the home owner because there was a big machine called the management company that had to be feed.
…and things seemed okay. And fewer people were happy. But the developers kept building. The management companies kept managing and home buyers kept buying while the home owners paid fines. People still wanted into these communities because they were yar; they could say to their families and friends: “Look were I live.” “I live in a community.” “I live yar, do you?”
…and things seemed okay. And fewer people were happy. Each month less people gathered for their monthly community meeting. The mood of the meetings were not as social; they had changed from being light and fun to being serious and hard on their fellow neighbors. The board had important business to talk about. No time for chit chat. There was an agenda. Property managers needed to keep the board on track. You know, they needed the board to stay focused; they needed to maintain an agenda about home owners and dues and fines.
…and things appeared to be okay. And still fewer people were happy. The developer was happy because the developer got to build more houses. The management companies were happy because they got to tell people how to live their lives and they made more money. And some homeowners were happy because, well, people were living by the standards that a few home owners wanted them to live by, and darn it, that’s just the way it should be. But, the management company needed a way to collect the dues and fines from those who were disobedient. And so, the developer and the management company came up with an idea: Create a collection company that would go after those terrible, obstinate homeowners.
…and things appeared to be okay. But fewer and fewer people were happy. You see, the new collection companies, the ones created by the management companies, and the developers, told home owners that if the home owner didn’t pay the collection company would put a lien on the home owner’s property. And since it was now in the hands of the collection company the original fine was now five times greater: A $100.00 fine became $500.00 plus mailing fees and filing fees and notification fees, and… well, you get the idea. It sure was good to be a collection company.
…and things got bad. And a couple of people were happy. To make things a little better for the developer and the management company and the collection company they went to the state government and got the right to foreclose on the deadbeat home owners; the ones that fell behind on their dues. It didn’t matter that the home owner lost their job or their was a death in the family or they had health problems. And when the collection company foreclosed they got more money than ever before and the HOA board members, you know, the people who lived in the community, well, they got to take ownership of the houses that were foreclosed on and made sure that those fines and dues were paid. And it got so good and so predictable that the management companies could project how much money they were going to make off of fines and penalties in the years to come.
…and things were good for the management companies and the collection companies and the developers. And a couple of people were happy because, well, they got pleasure from seeing their neighbors be hurt. In fact, their pleasure even got its own name. It was called, Schadenfreude. And so, a few HOA board members would get together and laugh and applaud as they watched their neighbors being kick out of their own homes in their neighborhood. And the management companiesand the collection companies and the developers, well, they could buy their families anything they wanted because now they had all the money and power where they once had none.
…and things were good for the management companies and the collection companies and the developers. And a couple of people were happy. And then, a stroke of genius. The management companies and the collection companies and the developers and the HOA boards got together and asked: “What if we go after the elderly and the sick? We could get their money and their homes much more easily. They will never say anything because they are too old and too sick. And by the time their families learn about what we have done to the elderly and the sick it will be too late. Plus, the courts have no say over what we do so they can’t stop us from taking homes from the elderly and the sick.”
…and things were good for the management companies and the collection companies and the developers. And a couple of people were happy. Money came in like the sky had opened. HOA board members would gather chanting their power and control while the management companies and the collection companies and the developers laughed and laughed. You see, the HOA board did everything to their neighbors for free. But, all the money went to the management companies and the collection companies and the developers. And this, well, this was very, very good for them.
…and things got bad for the home owners. And very few were happy. You see the home owners wanted to stand up for their rights. But, the HOA board–you remember them don’t you?; those who live in the neighborhood and hurt their neighbors–well, the HOA board got scared because some home owners lost their temper and yelled at the HOA board members. Some home owners screamed at the HOA board members and still others pounded their fists on tables and chairs and walls and cars demanding to be left alone.
…and things got better for the management companies and the collection companies and the developers and the HOA boards. They decided to use the communities money to hire armed guards. And those armed guards stood ready and waiting to stop any home owner, from getting out of line. And all was good for the the management companies and the collection companies and the developers and the HOA boards. They had their communities, right where they wanted them. And the HOA board members felt safe. And as for the management companies and the collection companies and the developers, they were going to be just fine. They had lots of money and power and control without anyone to stop them from what they were doing. Yes, all was good for those people for they did not live in the community that they controlled. And so they laughed and danced and laughed while home owners sat in their homes waiting for the next fine or lien or foreclosure. And, in time, the home owners came out of denial; they came to realize that they never really owned their home. And, they believed that they never would own their home.”
There is at least a grain of truth in this, part one of the history of HOAs. Stay tuned for part 2, dealing with the definition of HOA syndrome.
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