CAI Responds to Biased ABC "20-20" Segment on Homeowners Associations
Comments by Jan Bergemann



Note : Original Release in Black, comments in Red


Community Associations Institute Responds to Biased ( in which way? Homeowners and board members were provided time to tell their side of the story!) ABC "20-20" Segment on Homeowners Associations.

Alexandria, VA, Apr. 24, 2002 – On April 19, 2002, the ABC newsmagazine program 20-20 aired a segment on homeowners associations that highlighted the stories of several disgruntled (here we go again, let's start the name-calling! ) homeowners association members, excluding the perspectives of nearly 50 million satisfied ( Another assumption, the same as the CAI claims in their advertising that they are the voice of the homeowners!) members of homeowners associations throughout the United States. The resulting segment was a one-sided and inaccurate portrayal of life in a community association. (It was a good report of events which happens in HOAs on a daily basis. 

Community Associations Institute’s (CAI) Chief Executive Officer, Thomas M. Skiba, has responded to the airing of this program with the following letter, sent to the program’s producers, host and correspondent. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

April 23, 2002 

Victor Neufeld, Senior Executive Producer 
ABC Newsmagazines 
ABC News 
147 Columbus Avenue, 10th Floor 
New York, NY 10023 

Dear Mr. Neufeld: 

Your 20-20 story which aired on Friday, April 19, 2002 regarding homeowners associations did a disservice to your (CAI) viewers and America’s homeowners by ignoring three key facts: 

1. People choose to live in community associations. 
   Since disclosure is very often lacking, absolutely incomplete or even knowingly false this
    statement is very questionable, to say the least!

2. Homeowners determine how their community associations are run. 
   This may be true in some associations, but often runs into serious problems when HOA
    attorneys and management companies get involved, as recent court cases have shown.
    Abusive boards often avoid communications with the homeowners and interested
    homeowners often have to go to courts to receive so-called public records and information.

3. Community associations successfully serve some 50 million Americans.
   "Successfully serve" is definitely at least a very questionable statement. The many, many law
    suits and media reports sure prove otherwise. The statement "serve successfully" is
    definitely true for the industry and the vendors.

The program’s theme was clear, as restated at your website: if you’re “…living in communities run by homeowners associations, you may find you don't have the freedom to do everything you like on your property.” Absolutely true. But in the presentation of several isolated* anecdotal stories of disgruntled** homeowners, 20-20 failed to provide a story up to its usual standards of journalistic integrity. 
*the word isolated was as well used after the facts of the Wenona Blevin's foreclosure were made public. After the research of the mass foreclosure filings in Harris County were made public in a well researched documentation (see: Houston Area HOA Foreclosure-related Filings ) it suddenly disappeared, having been proven absolutely false. But the CAI trade organization tries again and again to impress people with false propaganda. Just look at the nearly daily media reports about problems in HOAs.
** It seems that the CAI is using that word in order to avoid such nasty words as defrauded, abused or mistreated. According to the dictionary "disgruntled" means : "ill-humored or discontented". I don't think so many homeowners would spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees just because they are ill-humored! And losing your home to foreclosure definitely creates a more than "disgruntled" feeling.

Fact # 1 – People choose to live in community associations. 

People choose to live in an association-managed community for many reasons. Community associations offer a host of amenities – for example, a large percentage offer swimming pools, parks, recreational facilities, and other community services and features. Architectural and landscaping guidelines ensure attractive, well-maintained communities. In addition to being satisfied with these amenities and guidelines, the “National Survey of Homeowner Satisfaction,” conducted by The Gallup Organization in 1999 for the Community Associations Institute (CAI) Research Foundation, found that 75% of community association homeowners are very or extremely satisfied with their community; only 7% found their community’s rule enforcement very or extremely unfair. The Gallup survey also found that 85% of homeowners believe that property values in their association-managed communities are rising, which is an important factor in our uncertain economic times. 

Residents have every opportunity to become aware of the rules, regulations and guidelines before they make a decision to live in the community. Those same rules – which might preclude residents from doing things like opening an auto repair business in their driveway, painting their shutters in multicolored stripes, or dumping old furniture on the front lawn – are a primary attraction, because they help maintain property values and attractiveness. 

Community associations work well because the residents and their leadership are in agreement over the basic rules that guide the community.

Any statistic can be twisted in favor of the organization paying the bill. It just depends on whom you ask or how you phrase the question. It would be as well easy to produce a total opposite statistic. As an example : more than 2000 homeowners living in HOAs in Marion County, FL signed a petition to improve and enforce legislation for homeowners within a 2 weeks period.
That's obviously a lot of disgruntled homeowners in one place alone and it is definitely in Florida not an isolated case.

Fact #2 – Homeowners determine how their community associations are run. 

Community association Boards are made up of members of the community, in other words – neighbors – who are elected by their fellow neighbors. The Boards are not strangers telling anyone how to live. 

In fact, one of the Community Associations Institute’s (CAI’s) most important objectives is to help homeowners and their associations ensure that rules are made and enforced reasonably and fairly, and to ensure that homeowners have access to resources that help make better communities. To that end, CAI offers a variety of services for homeowners, the residents who serve on the Boards of their homeowners associations, and professional community managers. 

For example, homeowners can choose to live in communities run by – or encourage their boards to hire – association managers who have expert credentials, such as Certified Manager of Community Associations® (CMCA®), Association Management SpecialistTM (AMSTM), Professional Community Association Manager® (PCAM®), Reserve Specialist™ (RSTM) and others. CAI-trained and certified professionals are an important part of ensuring safe, successful and well-run communities. 

Homeowners and board members can also study some of the educational materials provided by CAI, such as our innovative guide, "Be Reasonable! How Community Associations Can Enforce Rules Without Antagonizing Residents, Going to Court or Starting World War III," and "Community First! Emerging Visions Reshaping America’s Condominium and Homeowner Associations," and "Decision Making in Communities: Why Groups of Smart People Sometimes Make Bad Decisions," which guide associations in reasonable, common sense – not overzealous – rule-making and management. 

Communities can learn from the findings of events such as the March 2002 CAI-sponsored "Communities of Tomorrow Summit II," which brought together 100 of the nation's key leaders and experts in the fields of community planning, design, development, governance, security, and management – including keynote speaker Professor Evan McKenzie, author of "Privatopia," who appeared on your 20-20 segment. The group continued the groundbreaking discussions begun during our 1999 Summit. 

And there are mechanisms in place for residents to have a voice in changing rules they deem inappropriate or outdated. This was seen in the wake of the September 11th tragedy, when residents and associations who wanted to fly the American flag were able to quickly revise their older rules and regulations – with the encouragement and assistance of CAI, via our Operation Old Glory program for homeowner associations. 

These are just a few of the many publications, training programs, educational opportunities, events, and other resources CAI offers to help homeowners ensure that their community associations are well-run, and that the homeowner experience is not only positive, productive, and responsive – but neighborly. 
The many law suits filed all over the country definitely contradict this statement. Boards are fighting in courts to keep their positions, sometimes even with very questionable methods, assisted by HOA attorneys, most often on the CAI membership roster. The "Operation Old Glory Program" was by many homeowners considered a joke, since it was limited for 180 days. Did the CAI think the scars of the terrorist attacks would vanish within 180 days or patriotism would just disappear?
Considering the fact that many of the well known flag law suits were initially filed by prominent CAI attorneys, long before September 11, makes these statements even more ridiculous. And even getting an award for it? CAI members were the ones who pushed for these law suits in the first place! Does that mean we should give in the future awards to people pushing babies in the well and then saving them?

Fact #3 – Community associations successfully serve some 50 million Americans. 

In various contacts with 20-20 Executive Producer David Sloan and Producer Bonnie VanGuilder, CAI sent numerous informational materials, and made many offers to connect them with community managers, homeowner association board members, and homeowners who could share perspectives representative of the vast majority of community associations. The fact is, the vast majority are quite satisfied with their communities and associations. 

Failing to include that perspective and actively ignoring the majority opinion left viewers with an unbalanced, distorted and inaccurate perception. It also effectively silenced the voices of millions of satisfied homeowners who live in community associations, and who are happy and proud to live in vibrant, responsive, competent communities that promote harmony, community and responsible homeownership and leadership. 

On behalf of CAI and our members, if at any time you would like to again explore the topic of community associations, our offer of further materials – as well as the chance to hear from homeowners, board members and community managers who can offer their personal perspectives – still stands. We would welcome the opportunity to help illuminate this issue further for your producers and viewers. 
Comments see below!

Thomas M. Skiba 
Chief Executive Officer 
Community Associations Institute 

cc:  Barbara Walters, Host, 20-20 
Arnold Diaz, Correspondent, 20-20 
David Sloan, Executive Producer, 20-20 
Bonnie VanGuilder, Producer, 20-20 

My personal opinion:
The show was very balanced and gave both sides, homeowners and board members, ample time to tell their side of the story. The fact that some board members refused to comment can't  be considered the fault of 20/20. 

The name CAI was never mentioned in the whole segment. This was a show of problems in homeowners associations. Florida problems were never mentioned and could definitely fill some more chapters of ridiculous examples of ludicrous problems. The CAI is a trade organization trying to advance the monetary interests of their members, mostly attorneys, management companies, landscaping companies etc. For them HOAs are in existence to make money for them, since they have no invested financial interest. Having their opinion in a newsmagazine about homeowners association would be comparable with having the janitor having a say in the stockholders' meeting of the corporation he is employed with. If anybody should have the right of any additional input it would be the many homeowners' activists groups from all over the nation, who definitely have a vested interest in these problems. 

I think that the CAI is absolutely overestimating their rights for any input, even considering the fact that they are misrepresenting themselves by stating that they are "The nation's voice" on their Website banner. Replacing it with ""The tradespeoples' voice" would come much closer to the truth!
Or may be discussing the problems in homeowners' associations created by CAI members would make a whole new interesting segment of this chapter.
A big cheer for 20/20 and the producers of this long overdue show!