Chapter ElevenIIIChapter Thirteen

12. Deception: Keeping the Scam Alive

Before we discuss the website, you should understand the reasoning for having one in the first place. In my opinion, the reason to have a website is to expose board wrongdoing of any kind. Because this industry is propelled by a lack of legal accountability and thrives on the exploitation of that loophole, industry operatives seem to always be engaged in activities most people would not approve of; therefore, they do a lot of lying and covering up. They have to keep secrets⎯lots of secrets. Here, for your amusement, are some random anecdotes exposing some of the most common industry deceptions and secrets.

the CC&Rs slight of hand
The biggest industry secret, of course, is the true implications of the CC&Rs. We have already discussed this in chapter two and I only mention it now as a jumping off point. From this major deception springs the thousand other deceptions necessary to keep this vile system afloat. It is obvious in watching the HOA industry operate that they feel the less the public knows about their activities, the better.

the CAI suffers a memory lapse of convenience
On the CAI’s website, they recount the history of their organization, at least part of it. They proudly tell the tale of their noble beginnings, but fail to mention anything at all about their 1992 restructuring into a trade and lobbying organization representing property management companies and association lawyers. Now why do you suppose they would want to keep that a secret?

the secret of the informal meeting
HOA boards want to keep everything they do a secret from the homeowners. Our board, like all HOA boards who are very much aware their activities are best conducted in the dark, liked to hold secret meetings with homeowners who would disagree with their practices. They liked to call them “informal meetings” but what that really meant was there were to be no witnesses. Watch out for this one; they all do it.

I was once invited to one of these informal secret meetings and agreed to attend even though I was inadvertently warned by the invitee that I would actually be taking part in a secret meeting.

just us…OK?
My board member neighbor stopped by one afternoon to invite me to one of these board ambushes. He described it as an informal meeting (there’s that word again) between my wife and I and nine members of the board, one management company shill, and as many board supporters as they could muster. Yes, they do feel more comfortable with a numerical advantage.

This board member stressed it was only to be an opportunity for us to try to resolve our differences, and he stressed it was to be “just us.” I agreed. And although he tried to make it sound like there was to be some reasonable negotiation, I knew enough about HOA boards by then to know that would not be the case.

Then he confirmed my suspicions by reiterating that it would be “just us.” He seemed a little uneasy, and by the fourth time he stammered that it was to be “just us,” I began counting. In the three or four minutes it took him to deliver his invitation, he interjected the phrase “just us” six times. Of course I knew by then that he really meant no witnesses.

I did consider bringing along a few of my neighbors who were not board members just to keep everybody honest, but I naively decided I needed to give them the benefit of the doubt and play it their way at least once. Did I ever mention just how incredibly naive I can be?

My advice to you is to never ever meet with your board of directors for any reason without witnesses⎯never! You have a right to have witnesses present regardless of what your board members tell you⎯they lie a lot.

secrecy is a necessity
Board members have very good reasons for trying to hide their activities. I had never before, nor probably never will again see people as old as they were behave in such an unhinged and juvenile manner, but I’ve already told you this. The point is that HOA boards want to keep these conflict dispute meetings a secret because they know their behavior and reasoning would not meet anyone’s definition of what would be considered thoughtful, rational conduct.

witnesses come, witnesses go
I mentioned the subject of secret meetings in my “Notice to Homeowners.” I had stated that I thought we should resolve all future disputes in regular (not “informal”) meetings with witnesses present.

Soon after I distributed the Notice, I got a letter from a board member who wished to correct my misinterpretation of the “informal meeting” by saying that homeowners may bring witnesses if they feel they need them. I thought that was a very noble position to take. But the board’s attorney considered it to be a little too noble. He quickly restated the board’s position on the presence of witnesses at board meetings by claiming that these meetings were not open to other parties. In other words⎯no witnesses!

no comment, no pictures, no evidence!
In one of our annual meetings, one of our supporters thought it would be a good idea to video tape the proceedings to create an accurate record of the event. This was in reaction to several past incidents where the board often denied what they had said at board meetings as you will soon see.

Of course, the board and their attorney had a major conniption fit. The attorney claimed it was illegal to record board meetings (he lied). He also claimed it was prohibited by the association by-laws (he lied again). We looked for this particular prohibition in the by-laws and could not find it. We ask the management company to point out the particular entry in question⎯they declined. We did some checking and found that there was no law, or association by-law that prohibited homeowners from recording association board meetings. When pressed to explain this error at the next board meeting, the board finally admitted that it was their own policy not to let their activities be recorded. Once again, people with nothing to hide, don’t try to hide.

to tape or not to tape?
I never did this myself, but I think if I still lived in a CID I would probably wear a wire to all meetings I attended, especially if the meeting involved some dispute with the board. If you’re not a fan of detective stories, wearing a wire means that you conceal a small tape recorder on your person and record a meeting.

crazy solutions for crazy behavior
I know it sounds crazy, and if there was the remotest chance an HOA board would display some small measure of integrity I would never consider such a ridiculous undertaking, but you have to realize (and I was very slow to do so) that you are dealing with some very crazy people.

Probably because they know the homeowners are not interested in what goes on in board meetings, HOA board members just do not feel compelled to tell the truth when their agenda can be better served with a lie. But as apathetic as our community was, had I recorded just the one meeting I took part in, I truly believe our problems with a rogue board would have been solved within days.

Here’s an example of what I mean taken from that same confrontation.

spinning a tangled web
The same board member, in the same letter mentioned above, took exception to my description of the board’s reaction to being confronted with their written statement which revealed that I followed their own rules for house painting. In the meeting, they simply brushed it aside by claiming they were not accountable for their printed statements in the neighborhood newsletter.

In his letter he said, quoting me, “…When confronted with this written statement, they claimed that they could not be held accountable for anything they put in print. Then he asked, “Who said that to you?”

Obviously, he was claiming that what I say was said was not said. But he hadn’t thought his plan through very well. He let the need for deception run too far ahead of the need for reason. This was a perfect opportunity for me to lead him into another embarrassing integrity trap but I didn’t do it. I think I just got tired of catching them time after time up to their ears in corruption and all the while no one in our neighborhood really cared what went on. You must try not to let that feeling of futility ever overtake you like that.

Anyway, so how do we solve the mystery and expose the lie? It’s simple. If they would have stood by their words, which stated that I had followed the existing rules, we would not have had a conflict, and I would not have repainted my house at that time. In order to pursue the conflict a make a threat to sue, someone at that meeting had to deny that awkward statement. This board member knew exactly who had done the deed.

This is only one example of why it is important to have some accurate record of what goes on at a board meeting, but I leave it to you to decide whether your situation warrants this sort or extreme measure. I do advise you to make sure you are not infringing on anyone’s rights. States have different rules; get some legal advice before proceeding.

preserving the one-party system
We once had a homeowner who opposed the board’s policies try to run for a seat on the board. She made up fliers and left one on every doorstep. The next day, a special courier delivered a warning from the Management Company stating that she was in violation of the neighborhood’s protective covenants banning soliciting.

At the same time, the board’s block captains (every block had its block captain appointed by the board) were going door to door and asking the apathetic homeowners for their proxy ballots. This practice of collecting proxies and voting oneself and one’s cronies into office had been going on in our neighborhood for 13 years. This is how all entrenched, rogue boards stay in office.

Once again, we checked the covenants but could not find a reference to soliciting of any kind. Again we ask the Management Company to point it out to us and again they declined.

We checked with an attorney, who informed us that the Management Company’s ban on solicitation was in violation of the first amendment and contrary to a recent Supreme Court ruling. If fact, real solicitors worked our neighborhood frequently. It turned out that our board and Management Company didn’t have as much of a problem with soliciting as they did with competition and free speech.

integrity traps you can set at home
Here are a quick series of random integrity traps that served to expose the rogue character of our board. I’m sure you will find similar situations occurring in your neighborhood. These are mostly little incidents where the industry operative has a choice to go one way of the other. They can be big, or crawl under a rock. If you truly have a rogue board, they will always choose the later.

Integrity trap 1: When I agreed to repaint my home I went around to several of the neighbors and collected the paint color numbers of six of the homes the board had approved. I got color samples and submitted them to the board⎯all were rejected. I invited the management company representative to tour the neighborhood with me and select a non-rejectable color⎯they declined.

Integrity trap 2: After a particularly unruly meeting with the board of directors, I thought it might be better if I spoke with the board’s attorney directly. I ask the board for the attorney’s contact information⎯they refused to give it.

Integrity trap 3: The board was asked to allow professional arbitrators to settle neighborhood disputes at no cost to the association⎯they refused.

The pattern is clear; all attempts to bring some reason and rationality to the workings of a HOA threatens to wrest some control from the board members and spoil all their fun. It’s not going to happen unless your association makes it happen.

You can help the members of the association reach the conclusion that something must be done by making known to the public all that the industry would wish to hide.


Chapter ElevenIIIChapter Thirteen