Author’s Note: This is the original, unabridged version of the column published in the July 4 edition of Community Opinions, the Dallas Morning News.
“A man’s home is his castle,” a well-worn adage, is heard more often than “the check’s in the mail” or “I’ll call you back later.” Sadly, in some cases, it’s a statement as untrue as any uttered among us.
Some state laws hold that concept to be true; it’s your castle if an unwanted intruder invaded your property with a gun in hand and you use your legally-registered weapon to defend yourself – even with lethal force. Even anti-gun advocates have understood such thinking. But when the intruder goes through the courts and takes the property with a pen, it’s NOT your castle and you have little say about it. After all, because of various factors (such as the all-mighty dollar), it’s acceptable behavior.
The very existence of homeowner associations should be outlawed in Texas, but, because of the overwhelming influence of major political donors (including major Texas homebuilders, who create the HOAs), we’re left to read about such travesties that befell the Clauer family of Frisco.
Their $315,000 home, which was mortgage-free, was sold out from under them (for $150,000, but really for around $3,200) by their HOA (Heritage Hills) because the family was past due on its HOA “dues.” Mind you, the utilities, taxes and other basic debts were current, but that didn’t matter. And the head of the household was serving in Iraq at the time (compounding the tragedy by moving this story to a despicable level).
Personally, I don’t want to hear one peep from HOA defenders about unread notices and “she should’ve known better.” Hey, you have a spouse (National Guard Capt. Michael Clauer) go to a foreign land and put his/her life in danger every hour and see how well you deal with that stress! Only the most callous among you would spout “a deal is a deal.” How cold-blooded can you and the HOA be? It’s just a “club,” albeit on steroids; and clubs – non-taxing, non-governmental entities, like an HOA – shouldn’t have the power of foreclosure – period! Even in federal bankruptcy, one’s home is protected, but not from predatory practices and collusion between overbearing HOAs and the kind of home flippers scheming to “get rich quick” by making such deals. According to the Morning News (June 28, 2010 edition), the same buyer and new owner (Mark Disani and Jad Aboul-Jibin) have teamed up on several occasions, all involving the same HOA. As they say, near the bay, something smells fishy here.
These practices should be illegal under federal fair housing laws. To force someone to sign such an HOA pact, or else be barred from lawfully purchasing that property, is blatant discrimination.
Grosse Pointe, one of the more exclusive suburbs of Detroit, once employed a “numbers” system for homebuyers. If one had too many “points” in the disclosure process (and the highest amounts were reserved for “objectionable” area such as race and religion in their version of a credit rating), the sale would not be approved. It was done simply to keep “those kinds of people” out of the neighborhood for no other reason than skin color or who worshiped where. It’s being repeated all across Texas.
“Pay up or else” is not in the spirit of what this country, or state, should be about. Such attitudes and practices are immoral and unethical, but apparently very Texan. I hope the Clauers regain their home and other citizens become enraged enough to force their legislators to change the law and begin favoring the average homeowner over rich homebuilders.
Perhaps the Tea Partiers should direct their considerable anger where it needs to go – those living their neighboring castles!
The following is an addendum, further explaining my position on HOAs and other notes concerning this situation.
Simply put – foreclosure for nonpayment of “dues” should be outlawed; a lien would be acceptable. But to be able to take action because someone’s truck has a sticker on it, or there’s a boat someone else doesn’t like, or a political sign is placed in a yard supporting an unpopular candidate (which have ALL happened in this state) in totally immoral.
Under NO circumstances should an HOA be allowed to foreclose on a property it does not own and it owns nothing. An HOA is just an ASSOCIATION; but in Texas, such overreaching powers exist.
People really need to see how all that money spread in Austin – ALL for Republicans – buys lots of influence and a good amount of favored laws. Since the homebuilders established the subdivision and all its frills and whistles; IT should retain some measure of responsibility for what it created. God knows they made enough money off a fully built-out plan and in some cases, enough funds to grease the palms of every politico.
I believe each individual owner has the right to do with his/her property what they wish to do with it, barring violation of city/county codes. They PAID for that right and freedom. And forcing someone to sign an HOA and fork over MORE, just to live at that property, than the sale price is discrimination.
Some of the responses I received by e-mail simply demonstrated the kind of blindness that comes with too much suburban excess and the concept that their “world” is the only one that exists ... or should exist. To ask me who, but for the poor little HOA, will clean pools or cut grass or provide street lights (isn’t that the city’s job?) or maintain anything when homes are being seized over DUES is laughable to me. These are the same people who think that dropping a can at a food drive will actually SOLVE hunger or homelessness and that they’ve “done something.” They have NO clue.
What’s more important? Pools and perfectly-mowed grass OR the emotional protection of a family and the physical protection of this country? Barking dogs and junk cars and a boat? ALL of that should be, and is ALWAYS, covered by code and standards are set forth by the governing city. What the HOA does is duplication in that area and adding FAR more restrictive caveats that more often than not become personal intrusions above an individual’s freedom and liberties.
Golf course fees should go toward course maintenance, not some nebulous DUES. As for pools, if I were to use that facility, I’d pay for the privilege; if I don’t want to pay, I don’t get to use it. But it should NOT be forced upon me!
And I’m SOOOOOOOO tired of hearing about how this and that affects “property values” – the single most over-used politically correct term improperly employed these days. Scores of other factors determine value, and ONLY matters when the property comes up for sale. Otherwise it’s meaningless if you plan to live there for a long period of time. At THAT point, time determines value.
As to this particular situation some added thoughts:
Certified mail is too flimsy of a notification method. The law only stipulates that a certified letter be SENT, but acknowledgement of receipt is NOT required by law (which is strictly ass-backwards). Meaning all that must be done is to send a letter and nothing stating it has to be received. And with the history of the postal service, delivery is NOT guaranteed nor is notification all that prevalent. I NEVER get a notice that a package is waiting at my local postal office if and when an unsuccessful delivery attempt has been made (hence I have NO knowledge of such an attempt).
While it might be seen, at best, as distasteful to profit from someone else’s misery, house flipping is not illegal. DiSanti is probably a student/graduate of all those infomercials on getting rich through real estate which LAUD such practices as home flipping foreclosed properties. If he bought and sold four homes with the same profit margin, he made around $500,000 in just that short amount of time. All those mousse-haired geeks with the trophy wives and huge yachts did the same damn thing and it is all OK because homebuilders WANT it that way.
Of course, not everything can be auto-debited; hell, my electrical provider requires a written check. Makes no sense but it happens that way. Perhaps the HOA in question doesn’t do that and there could be other undisclosed reasons why the Clauers were behind on dues.
And none of the responders bothered to hold an ounce of sympathy for the wife, suffering from depression, probably rendering her unable to properly function. How sad that there’s no empathy when their spouse is in a place where he can be killed at a moment’s notice. The real pathetic part is how none of the neighbors seemed to give a shit about this family. Shameful!
Yes, the military component IS important and no one has bothered to ask this: why were the Clauers behind on “dues?” Could that have been military-related too? But all the HOA defenders completely missed my point! You cannot STEAL someone’s property over unpaid DUES.
Because HOA boards are NOT subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act, because “public money” is not involved, exactly HOW do homeowners get informed about meetings? Boards are NOT then required to publicize such meetings, adhere to quorums, etc., or even conduct business in a “legal” or ethical fashion. Frankly, most people don’t know HOW to hold a proper meeting. And once the homebuilder exits and leaves the subdivision to its “owners,” what if things change? Like the economy? Or standards? etc.
If homeowners wish to gather ... voluntarily ... to make their community better by voluntarily agreeing to maintaining a level of standards, that’s fine. To seize someone’s house goes beyond the pale.
To force agreement to HOA membership before permitting purchase is clearly blatant discrimination – it’s a way to PREVENT certain people from buying homes in certain places. It has become obvious to me that this is a way to skirt the federal Fair Housing Act and it should be outlawed.
This is NOT an isolated case; there have been other foreclosures in other communities with service personnel overseas. While space limited the discussion as printed in the Morning News, there is an awful smell of collusion between the HOA (or its management firm), the home flipper and new home owner – the fourth such flip within this HOA involving ALL those parties.
Finally, all politics are truly local. The now-famous Tea Party movement gets practically rabid about matters in Washington over which it has almost no control. BUT ... matters closer to home – such as runaway budgets within school districts, ridiculous salaries paid to administrators, lack of amenities for municipalities, local highway repairs and construction, tolling free roadways, etc. and, yes, HOAs – don’t seem to grab the same headlines or study time.
Yet local citizens and local voting would have a far greater impact upon peoples’ lives than the outcome of a single state representative race. That is why this issue – a man’s control over his OWN property – should become a Tea Party priority. If it would, I’d have more respect for such a movement unless ... the Tea Partiers and the HOAs enablers are one and the same.
But it doesn’t change my stance on HOAs; they are a pox upon society – a symbol of suburbia gone mad. Foreclosure is immoral, akin to outright thievery, and should and MUST be outlawed in this state which professes to love liberty and freedom so much.
It’s time for homeowners to be heard and followed instead of rich homebuilders.