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Tharp case still makes me cry

I initially blogged about this case as it unfolded, then re-titled the blog and condensed my comments. As far as I know, nothing has ever ...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Can homeowner associations suddenly make dues mandatory?

1/14/2018 update: A FEDERAL LAWSUIT has been filed against several of these neighborhood gangs in South Carolina, arguing that Homeowner Associations don't have the right to foreclose on people's homes. Stay tuned.

1/9/2018 update: Here's where my neighborhood is gonna wind up, thanks to residents who are DUMB enough to pay dues. Latest on this story.

5/17/2017 update: The gang suckered some residents into joining by promising to limit dues increases to 10% during any one year (cleverly implying that dues increases would be unlikely anyway). For 2017, the gang is now proposing a dues increase of a whoppin' 54% for a grand total of $85 bucks (they had already increased to $55). Never underestimate the gullibility of an American public that doesn't mind being taxed twice.

Over a thousand homeowners coming together to protest the way HOAs are being run in Horry County, South Carolina really got my attention. Lately, the HOA in my neighborhood, Quail Hollow, in W. Columbia, SC, Lexington County, has been demanding membership dues of $50 per year, adding late fees for anyone who doesn't pay, and threatening to "eventually" put liens on the properties of folks who steadfastly refuse to hand over the moolah.

This would be understandable - and believeable - except for the fact that for about 35 years, membership and dues were voluntary. Members were clearly earmarked in the Quail Hollow directory, revealing that almost half of the families - 'bout 150 outta 325 or so - declined to join. Then the economy took a dive, and efforts to increase membership started getting more aggressive. Then, within the past couple of years, a scheme was devised by which everyone in the neighborhood was to vote on whether or not dues would be mandatory. The "referendum" - many folks, myself included, refused to participate - was followed by a declaration that "the majority" had spoken, and dues would henceforth be required. Then came announcements of late fees and threats of liens - plus attorney's fees - for anyone who didn't cooperate.

The lawyer I spoke with placed a great deal of weight on what the understanding was when property was purchased. He thought the Association's "voting" scheme sounded like a bluff designed to intimidate residents into handing over their money. He offered to research the issue and provide a written opinion for $600. That would be one Jackson each for 30 interested families, and I've started a list.

Point is, if something's a good deal, ya don't have to force folks to support it. Fact is, the Quail Hollow Community Association is anything but a "good deal." I targeted the gang's ineptitude and wastefulness in a previous post. Moreover, while the $50 per year may sound paltry, only a fool would believe the amount isn't likely to increase. If the gang can suddenly force residents to hand over membership dues, increasing the amount of those dues would be an ever present possibility, along with no telling (literally) what else. The $50 per year smacks of a ploy designed to sucker people into being bullied, with more in store.

As things now stand, it's anyone's guess as to who's gonna sue whom, for what, and when, if at all. In the meantime, I'm finding out plenty of disturbing things about HOAs. State government is involved, either actively or passively, folks are being forced to pay for services ordinarily covered by taxes, and there seems to be fertile ground for some sort of takeover at the federal level. Is there a hidden agenda to put neighborhoods under the direct control of a federal agency such as the Department of Homeland Security? No, I'm not trying to be an alarmist. Amidst daily assaults on constitutional rights, I simply think it's a valid question. And the fact that "Neighborhood Watch" signs have popped up all over Quail Hollow hasn't done anything to ease my concern. Neither has this year's publication of "In the Common Interest: Embracing the New American Community," by the politically-well-connected-Texan, John Corona. Talk about propaganda. Talk about bald-faced lies...

A whiff of tyranny is in the air.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Homeowners associations amount to state-sanctioned racketeering

HOAs are a part of a state-supported racket intended to force homeowners to assume responsibilities and pay costs that should be borne by government. These bullying gangs - a problem all across Police State USA - are run by inept busybodies who delight in forcing homeowners to comply with inane interpretations of regulations, and equally inane - and never-ending - amendments to existing regulations. Membership dues - along with money obtained for cleverly promoted "donation projects" - are squandered on ill-advised "improvements," lining the coffers of those businesses "selected" to do the work. Government has a vested interest in expanding, not limiting, the control these neighborhood gangs have over the taxpaying public. No wonder tax breaks are granted to HOAs.

As residents along South Carolina's Grand Strand appeal to - yes, state legislators - for help, I've reflected on the unlikelihood of meaningful change. It's noteworthy that state legislators held statewide hearings on problems with HOAs three years ago, obviously to no avail, which should surprise nobody who's studied the matter. Reading about the government's relationship with HOAs, at least I realized what the underlying motivations were for a recent "voluntary donation project" cleverly promoted by the HOA gang in my neighborhood.

I thought it wuz kinda strange when the gang wanted homeowners to voluntarily make donations to pay for fancy new replacements for stop signs and street signs when these items, plus maintenance, had already been paid for via Lexington County taxes. Apparently, the HOA gang never thought of requesting the county to fulfill its obligation to replace delapidated signs. Instead, the HOA gang breezed right ahead with colorful flyers promoting ultra expensive, privately financed signs - touted as an "improvement" for the neighborhood - and pulled it off by suckering enough people to donate. Many residents - myself included - thought the idea was ridiculous and simply declined to participate. Seemed innocuous enough at the time. After all, donations were voluntary. What was the big deal?

Now that I've taken a closer look at HOAs and their relationship with government, I realize that it was a very big deal indeed. Lexington County was not only relieved of replacing signs, but Quail Hollow residents foolishly obligated themselves to maintain the new signs in the future. Real hoot when ya start payin' for stuff that's already been paid for. Worse yet, the new signs are an eyesore. The things are as hideous as they are humongous, combining stop signs and street signs in the gaudiest fashion imaginable. Oh, well. What's a measly $18,000 if it helps the tax-hungry, bloodsucking power structure of Lexington County? And just think how happy it made the business people who were selected to do the work. By what process such contracts are awarded, of course, is anyone's guess. To top the joke off, the Quail Hollow Community Association put the original street markers up for sale as "souveniers." Talk about a thigh-slapper.

The stop sign and street sign fiasco is a prime example of the cozy relationship twixt the power structure and so-called homeowners associations. Foxes will be guarding the hen house when state legislators tackle the HOAs problem, prodded by the MASSIVE crowd of irate homeowners who showed up at the 10/29/2014 meeting in Horry County. Expect a grand performance as legislators make a few cosmetic adjustments to the HOAs scam. Perhaps homeowners will be given permission to spend time, money and effort fighting HOAs in magistrates court, while the "people's representatives" feign unawareness of the nature of the racket. And depend on groups such as Realtor organizations - part of the problem from the outset - to take "leadership" roles as they consort with powerful political interests, tossing out a few more bones in an effort to placate an outraged public. Will Realtor groups finally get around to requiring sales people to present documents pertaining to HOAs prior to closing sales? Whoop Dee Doo. For decades, purchasers should have been advised of the details and risks of HOAs not only "prior to closing," but prior to signing sales contracts.

Hundreds of homeowners coming together - over a thousand according to several reports - to protest the dishonest, bullying tactics of homeowners associations is encouraging, and the massive turnout must have terrified the power structure. Hopefully, those folks will come to realize the dimensions of the HOAs scam, and will thereby make their displeasure known when elected officials (don't blame me - I quit voting long ago) refuse to make meaningful changes to one of the best government rackets money can buy. Otherwise...

If Americans are dumb enough - and cowardly enough - to tolerate tyranny, so be it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Quail Hollow Community Association threatens homeowners

I was thrilled to read that along South Carolina's coast, folks from the Grand Strand are targeting state lawmakers with complaints about the way "homeowners associations" are being run. These folks have lots of company, not only in South Carolina, but all across the nation: "Over the past decade, a citizen movement has grown to curb the power of homeowner associations, which remain largely unregulated." As the economy spirals downward, expect a barrage of shenanigans aimed at making you hand over your hard-earned dollars to these gangs, along with the businesses involved when you're forced to alter your property to comply with inane, unceasing "amendments" to regulations. What it amounts to, as the above-referenced article points out, is state-sanctioned racketeering: "Homeowner associations first took off in the 1970s as local governments looked for a way to offload costly services, such as snow removal and road repair. Municipalities have encouraged their growth since through tax incentives and zoning laws." Raising taxes is risky political business. Better to quietly pass numerous costs along to homeowners. Note: My 11/6/14 blog post targets the cozy relationship twixt government and HOAs.   

My neighborhood - Quail Hollow, West Columbia, South Carolina, Lexington County - is a case in point.

Folks are sick and tired of being harassed by the Quail Hollow Complainers - er I mean Community - Association. I've lived in Quail Hollow for about 35 years, and supported the gang - with misgivings - for most of that time, even though dues were not mandatory. Several years ago, I decided that the Association is nothing more than a high-falutin' social club run by busybodied troublemakers, and to invest my money elsewhere. As things now stand, only about half the neighborhood - about 150 households - joins.

If any one thing confirmed the correctness of my decision, it was the installation of two traffic circles (roundabouts) along Ephrata Drive, unfailingly highlighted in the Association's newsletter, nary an objection raised. Not that there had been vehicle accidents to justify the undertaking. The roundabouts resulted from plain, old-fashioned stupidity on the part of not only the Association, but also Lexington County's political powers. What a wasteful, annoying, and dangerous mess the roundabouts turned out to be. Initially, the intersections were tampered with by adding obnoxious "all way" stops. But alas. That failed to produce accidents, so the next step was installing roundabouts.

County workers couldn't even install 'em correctly. Had to tear one out and start over (not to worry, what's an additional waste of taxpayer money?), and still wound up with something that poses an obstacle to emergency vehicles, school buses, and anyone who needs to negotiate the intersection with a trailer. Entering the roundabouts - visibility is poor, right-of-way iffy - is downright scary. County "leaders" who mandated this idiocy were not deterred by the fact that the intersections are way too small for such contraptions in the first place.

But the real punch line to the joke isn't the least bit funny. An unfortunate out-of-towner ran her car smack dab into a newly-installed roundabout one night, and it's rumored the car was totalled. Indeed, the driver was lucky her vehicle didn't explode. Not hard to understand. When ya start buildin' obstacles in the middle of a road, it doesn't take a genius to figute out what's probably gonna happen. Voila - at long last, the much sought after, serious accident finally occurred. For a long time thereafter, blinking lights and warning signs were placed around the roundabout, ringing the ol' cash register once again at taxpayer expense. And the Association? It wuz suddenly afflicted with a "roundabout silence" that spoke volumes. If asked, the Association will now say it had nothing to do with the roundabouts being built, which, of course, is technically correct. To say the roundabouts are a sore point in the neighborhood is an understatement.

Then there's the matter of homeowners' dogs that ran loose all over the neighborhood for years. Some had a nasty habit of runnin' into the street at you, teeth bared, then chargin' from behind the minute you turned your back. At least one person was severely bitten, yet all the Association ever did was timidly mention the problem in newsletters, and presumably contacted one homeowner directly, to no avail. Being wunna the residents who frequently walks the area for exercise, I finally filed numerous, formal complaints with Lexington County Animal Control to get the problem resolved. Kinda strange when a neighborhood association can't even deal with violations of leash laws.

Other obnoxious behavior from the Association includes attacking a homeowner over a small, decorative fence around a mailbox. The gang's mindless, Orwellian battle cry was "Regulations prohibit fences in front yards." The gang took similar action against property owners who dared to install quaint, wooden "corner" fences. Dangerous dogs? Relax. But put a picket fence around a mailbox, and the gang is up in arms. Speaking of mailboxes, the rules-obsessed Association has been known to violate federal law by having volunteers use mailboxes to distribute newsletters and announcements. And I'm appalled at the mess the Association has made in the neighborhood park. Used to be a couple of narrow little streams running across a dirt trail through the woods. Pretty. Easily negotiated. So the Association bombarded the trail with gravel - making it upleasant to walk on - and put canvas "linings" - topped with more gravel - into the streams. But water is pesky. Doesn't like being ordered around, and now we have bonafide eyesores, 'specially when the streams are dried up. And when there's water, one of the streams is now too wide to easily get across. The Association's next "project" will probably be an expensive bridge. Fact is, short of special events, hardly anyone uses the park. But that didn't prevent the illustrious Association from forking over big bucks to have not one, but two brightly colored metal seats installed, set in concrete. Never mind that there were already benches galore that go with the picnic tables. And then of course there's the glare from lightpoles, ruining the natural splendor of dusk and the glow of fireflies. Wow. Talk about wasting money.

In my case - and perhaps that of others - the Association's annual pig-pickin' is especially repulsive. Festivities revolve around factory-farmed, cruelty-laced "food" that I certainly don't wanna pay for or promote. Much less eat. Likewise for ice-cream socials that pander to the horrors of factory-farmed dairy products.

No well-informed person buys property in a neighborhood that has legal authority to set and collect association fees from homeowners. I got that advice from an attorney who specializes in homeowner associations. He said such groups usually wind up charging exorbitant membership dues, and contract with their business friends for unnecessary services.

As one might guess, the Association is not happy with that half of the 'hood that wants nothin' to do with 'em. Past several years, the Association has been threatening and cajoling residents into forking over membership dues. Easy to ignore until the Association's latest stunt, comprised of a loudly proclaimed "amendment," supposedly forcing dues-payin' membership on all residents. Thrown in for good measure, folks with back yard cyclone fences extending from the sides of their houses have been ordered to have that portion removed or replaced. No, there were no such requirements when the vast majority of folks bought their property. Meanwhile, the Association has filed intimidating paperwork at the Lexington County Courthouse, which may deter folks from buying property in Quail Hollow. Goodness knows, the roundabouts are reason enough to avoid the area, and now the Association is demanding not only membership dues, but also "late payment" penalties, complete with a promise to file liens against residents who refuse to acquiese. Apparently, an underlying objective is to acquire peoples' homes by quietly filing liens and arranging sales for a fraction of what properties are worth. Worse than a schoolyard bully.

What it boils down to, if something is a good deal, ya don't have to force folks to support it. A fellow who lives on my street summed the situation up quite well. He said there are two kinds of people: those who like to tell other people what to do, and those who like being told what to do. Neither of us are in either category.

There's a name for what's going on with homeowners associations and their friends in state legislatures. It's called tyranny, and it's incredibly encouraging that more than a thousand homeowners took a stand at last Wednesday's meeting in Horry County: "Those attending had a variety of complaints concerning homeowners groups including that association governing boards change rules at will, don't take homeowners' concerns seriously and are arbitrary in enforcing rules."

Stay tuned.

Update 11/2/2014 - VIDEO of irate homeowners  from along South Carolina's Grand Strand at last Wednesday's meeting in Horry County. Here's a link to April Baker's complete report

Update 11/3/2014 - As South Carolina wakes up to the horrors of homeowners associations, a TV station in Nevada presents the "HOA Hall of Shame" on their website.

Update 11/5/2014 - Folks all across the country are organizing opposition to HOAs. Found a GREAT website in Texas that tracks various actions in other states, including a link to an article about the meeting in Horry County.

Update 4/9/2016 - The Quail Hollow Community Association's latest stunt - underscoring how they delight in wasting money - was to send threatening letters "Certified - Receipt Requested" to those of us who refuse to be intimidated into handing over membership dues.  

Update 7/25/2016 - The Quail Hollow Community Association has mailed out its standard dues demand, complete with a $25 late fee for every year a homeowner has declined to hand over the moolah, calculated from the time the gang suddenly determined that dues are mandatory.