An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 

Published March 11, 2008

Millions of owners living in associations have been brainwashed by the service providers, such as attorneys and managers, that associations protect property values -- even increase them. They believed this false -- and undocumented -- propaganda and willingly paid lots of money into the association coffers, making service providers rich at the owners’ expense.

Many of these owners ignored that fact that these "association dues" are double taxation, because owners outside these communities receive many of the services that the associations charge extra to provide -- it's already included in the county property taxes. 

Under the cover of protection of property values, owners even surrendered some of their private property rights to neighbors called association board, often ill-equipped to deal with financial issues. But these private neighbors were even given lien and foreclosure rights, more power than our government has. 

But many owners were only too willing to believe this propaganda. It gave them an excuse for paying often very high association dues -- not even talking about the special assessments -- and allowing neighbors to make serious decisions about their private property and their personal financial welfare. 

Associations created a serious legal mess and overburdened our court system. When talking to judges, you will hear that disputes among neighbors in former times dealt with tree branches reaching over property lines, dogs barking too loudly or the neighbor's kid playing the radio too loudly on the patio. All of those cases could be easily dealt with by judges with swift rulings -- and low legal fees.

Nowadays association boards send fancy high-priced law firms to court to fight their "battles" and owners are forced to spend their life savings on often frivolous lawsuits, much to the delight of these law firms that have made it a science to draw out small problems into huge lawsuits. There is a whole array of bad examples of lawsuits that have cost owners a fortune. The only winners -- the attorneys. 

But the real problems of associations can now be seen on a daily basis. Just open your local newspaper and you see an example for the actual fact that associations can be very detrimental to an owner's financial health, even if these owners always paid his/her fair share.

The bad economy and the more than just "slumping" real estate market are causing associations to collapse, forcing owners to pay for bills left unpaid by neighbors whose home were foreclosed upon -- or who just gave up paying their dues. 

Need some examples? Here are some recent headlines:

And the list grows daily.

The House Select Committee on Condominium and Homeowners Association Governance heard an array of horror stories of owners left in a big financial mess by foreclosed homes in their neighborhood, unpaid association bills causing utilities to be cut off and bankrupt developers. During the Orlando hearing the legislators heard the sad story of the owners in the THE CASCADES OF GROVELAND HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION, INC., where developer Levitt & Sons declared bankruptcy and left 229 owners to deal with living in a neighborhood that looks more like a war zone, an unfinished clubhouse with more liens than walls, unpaid bills that caused contractors to file liens and utility bills that need to be paid! Please see the news report of Channel 9, Orlando: HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION HEARINGS IN ORLANDO. It tells the whole story!

And you can be sure it will get worse. This is just the beginning, believe my words!

Owners in good standing will see their association dues going up and up, causing even more owners to go into default and leaving more unpaid bills and neighbors with even more problems. 

You will say, "Oh, if they don't pay their dues, associations can lien and foreclose." Yes, they can, but in many cases it's throwing good money after bad money, because if there is no equity the associations will be stuck with the legal fees and there are still no monthly dues forthcoming!

Association contracts for utilities and other services, always touted as the great "savings" for association members, are now coming back to haunt the owners in good standing, who are now suddenly required to pay bills for their neighbors who are not paying their share.

Is that what was meant with the often used propaganda of "associations protect property values”?  Believe me, those same folks who told owners about the great advantages of associations will not lower their fees when associations suffer financial problems.   Frequently, those financial problems occur when many owners don’t pay their share of the dues or because of empty homes in the association.  Actually, many management firms have raised their fees due to increased cost of living and bigger workload brought on by the enormous financial problems of associations. 

Who cares about the INCREASED COST OF LIVING for the owners who are suddenly facing the fact that association living increased their financial liability and they have to pay for the financial problems caused by their neighbors? 

It's all a "CATCH 22" situation for the owners! No matter what they do, their neighbors will drag them down -- if they're living in an association that is supposedly protecting their property values!

What does it take to convince certain board members, who are still fighting on the side of these service providers, to stop supporting the folks that are after the owners’ money and even spending much needed association dues to fight owner- friendly bills? Or is it just a matter of their not wanting to give up the power afforded to them with the help of attorneys and managers?

Owners surely can't afford to see any more association dues wasted on supporting service provider trade organizations, such as the COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS INSTITUTE (CAI), COMMUNITY  ASSOCIATION LEADERSHIP LOBBY (CALL -- Becker & Poliakoff) and COMMUNITY ADVOCACY NETWORK (CAN -- Katzman & Korr).

Those organizations were the ones that promoted the fairy tale of "associations are protecting property values" for many years.  Maybe they should now do something to help the owners in associations who are under financial siege caused by liabilities of their associations!