I don’t get it.  We are bombarded with new laws being imposed to promote and encourage new condominium development but then a book entitled Escaping Condo Jail comes out explaining how condominiums are not the answer to the American dream because of the high risks involved.  As soon as I read the book I’m sure I’ll have more to say on whether purchasing a condominium will be in my future. What do you think, evil or essential?

7 responses to “Are Condominiums Evil or Essential?
  1. The fact that the condominium form of ownership is utilized for attached housing is, in itself benign. The problems arise from the joint ownership of the structural, electrical, plumbing and other systems that owned “in common” (undivided interests) by all owners in the condo. Because of the common ownership, owners of units not directly affected by the defect may receive damage awards by the court.That condition, coupled with historical threats of personal lawsuits against condo board members who are deliberate or reluctant to join class action lawsuits against the contractor, has resulted in financing and insurance limitations which deter developers from building new condo units. No developer/builder wants to face a situation where any defect invites litigation rather than arbitration or other forms of dispute resolution.
  2. An interesting question. While I do not think condo associations are essential evil, the benefits are often substantially overstated. There is no free lunch. Unfortunately, most buyers are promised that the Association will take care of the external maintenance. While generally true (perhaps after a substantial amount of arguing and wrangling), it does so only as a last resort. Associations largely are reactive; not proactive. They seldom maintain adequate capital reserves and are forced to pass large Special Assessments to deal with what should have been anticipated and planned for over the years. However, it is the rare board member who is willing to maintain monthly assessments adequate to provide for these reserve funds. It is much easier to maintain inadequate monthly assessments and let the next board deal with the issues.

    Likewise, board members often expect special considerations for their “voluntary service” to the community such as being first in line for maintenance items. This cause strife among the owners. In addition, cliques can form that result in unequal treatment among all of the owners.

    Similarly, the concept of “common element” non-partitioned property is foreign to most owners who view the area outside their unit as their personal property to do with as they please. They dislike architectural control boards and property managers and boards that dictate how they can use the property outside their front door. In part that is because the groups often become controlling beyond the point of being beneficial.

    I think clear and concise covenants that are limited to the esthetics of the development are useful if there is also an effective means of enforcing these architectural and esthetics standards. But having the Association acting as a “general contractor” to maintain exteriors, etc. is simply inefficient and wasteful. There is too much favoritism and too little long-term planning.

    I have lived in an HOA and in a neighborhood not governed by an HOA. If I had a free choice, I would opt to live in a non-HOA community. I have never seen any financial savings due to being a member of an HOA. What I have seen repeatedly is corruption, favoritism and wastefulness caused often by well-meaning boards that focus on their individual needs, but that fail to give sufficient attention to the needs of others within the community. These board members, in my opinion, seldom are as effective as the individual owner would be if they could take care of the areas surrounding their units.

  3. Loura, you are too funny! I’m sure any condo community into which you would purchase would be a wonderful place. This is an interesting topic, and I will be reading the book, but I do have an opinion on this. (When do I not?) I have said for many years that the condominium form of ownership is a perfect concept–but a concept only, as in reality, it doesn’t work, and there are several reasons for this. First of all, the communal form of ownership does not jive with the mindset of most Americans. Being the selfish, egotistical, demanding people that we are, most of us resist anything that smacks of “communism” or “socialism,” which is exactly how many describe this form of living. (Which, of course, it isn’t.) But it does require a certain amount of communication, understanding and cooperation, and these traits seem foreign to most of us in this day and age. People do have to get outside of themselves, and try to do things that would be for the greater good, which they are either unable or unwilling to do, and therein lies the very basis for dysfunction. That many choose to move into a community which has covenants and rules with which they disagree and then try to change has always amazed me. Then we have the boards–those folks who view themselves as the boss of everyone, and quickly discover the glee of being able to make life miserable for others without compunction. And then they realize they can do things for their own benefit, so they make it their mission to remain on the board forever. Or, at least, until someone tries to throw them off, and then the real fun starts. Widespread discord in any community is not a good thing. First of all, it causes negativity, like a black cloud, to settle over the community, and people’s souls feel it. Living there becomes uncomfortable. If you happen to be one of the unlucky ones who happen to be on the wrong side of management and the board, your life will be pure misery, and you’ll come to regret the day you were ever born. If you’re fortunate, you’ll run from your home in tears. If you’re not, you’ll have a breakdown. Contention is not a good thing, and in the communal setting, there can be no winner or loser–everybody loses. Especially if the parties happen to resort to legal action. Once you enter that realm, the dispute, however minor it may have begun, takes on a life of its own and grows out of control. The attorneys seem more-than-happy to protract the dispute to the nth degree, while funding their new homes and cars. And then there are the managers. While seldom the cause of any problem per se, they do contribute by taking sides and by doing whatever the board tells them to do, instead of advising the board on what action is appropriate while trying to keep discord and confrontation to a minimum. Instead, they join the fray, and gleefully heap defamation upon whomever happens to be the latest victim of the board’s wrath. So people end up eyeing the Legislature as the solution to their problems, and representatives listen in shock at the terrible things that HOAs do to people. While knowing little or nothing about the industry, they nonetheless have all the answers for their constituents in the form of laws to (and, oh, God, I love this one) “reign in” the “out-of-control” HOAs. Which ends up solving nothing, and only makes matters worse, especially since the only way to enforce the laws is to hire an attorney and go to court, WHICH IS EXACTLY THE SAME RECOURSE THE HOMEOWNER HAD IN THE FIRST PLACE! So those who try to administer and govern communities appropriately and fairly (We are few and far between.) end up saddled with thousands of pages of legislation that we must try to keep in mind at all times, while others just ignore those pages and carry on as if nothing has happened. So then comes the dreaded regulation of big government that so many decry, yet so few resist. Oh, yes, they proclaim “Licensing will solve everything.” Stay tuned on that one! So there you have it. Here we are in 2014 with an excellent concept that has fallen prey to the very same traits that leads our country down the road to failure. The concept, it seems, is unable to be translated into reality.
  4. With all due respect, evil or essential is not the question. Condos and HOAs are here to stay and ensuring their proper and ethical governance is the biggest challenge. Far too many untrained volunteers are in charge of a $90 billion a year industry. That’s five times what the federal government spends to run NASA. Escaping Condo Jail does not condemn all association-governed communities. The book is part expose and largely instructional. Further, it offers multiple solutions to assist board members, owners and purchasers. The 35-point checklist on How to Bulletproof Your Association’s Biggest Asset: The Money, is worth its weight in gold. Visit the Escaping Condo Jail website and go to the resources page to get your free guide. Following the guidelines alone will prevent a myriad of potential problems.
  5. Living in any sort of town or community involves a social contract. The problem of recent years is that our towns and communities have been infected by the extreme politics of polarization, where some attempt to silence others. Communities mirror society at large.
  6. I have had good and bad experiences, so feel it really is not all or nothing. One can easily have serious problems in a non-HOA governed community if they care how their community looks. If they don’t, then that kind of community is perfect for them! And my wish would be that all of those folks would move out of HOA communities into non_HOA ones. But I digress. The community I am in currently is an owner run board and has been since the inception of the community. And it shows! The homeowners do not keep up their homes, they flaunt the rules and complain loudly anytime they get a simple warning letter because they have clearly broken a realistic Covenant. In addition, in a misguided effort to save money, the Owner Board likes to “self perform” most of the work. Usually ending in disaster. The neighborhood has become so bad, I am moving. On the other hand, I have lived in HOA controlled communities that were “on top” of the Covenants, but not to the extreme. The neighborhood looked gorgeous and remained so. I wish I never moved. Yet, I have heard the horror stories of the extremist Boards. I feel it is like anything in life. One hopes to get into a good community where the HOA does it’s job that is up to YOUR standards. So, before you purchase, do your homework. Talk to neighbors. See if they have a website and read the minutes for the past 6 months. Do what you can to find out if there is a problem before you sign on the dotted line.
  7. My perspective is from owning two condos and having served on two HOA boards, one with 400+ units and the other with 23. Running an HOA is like running a business. Problems arise if the majority of the board lacks business skills, whether that be how to conduct a meeting, use modern communication tools such as email, or how to read a financial statement. The HOA concept is good, but it’s not for libertarians or those who desire firm control over all of the expenses of maintaining their home.
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