We are a group of concerned Shavano Ridge residents who feel our community could greatly benefit from more homeowner participation than has been exhibited during the past twelve years. We feel there is a need for more open communication as well as an outlet for the expression of diverse points of view. To insure that we all live in a community of our own design, we would like to see the homeowners included in the decision making process.
Our goal is to reinstate the
simple principals of American democracy, and eliminate the influence of
developers and CAI backed management companies and lawyers. In the process, we
hope to create the best informed, most community spirited group of residents of
any subdivision in San Antonio. Ours is a vision of openness and inclusion, and
to that end, we have created the “Shavano Ridge Observer.”
Sooner or later, most people who live in common interest developments become disenchanted with their management company or board of directors, or, most likely, both. Yet, they will often endure their resentment in silence; they don’t know what to do, and so they do nothing—they become apathetic.
What these homeowners don’t realize is that the most powerful weapon that overzealous management companies and/or boards of directors have against the homeowners is the homeowner’s own apathy towards community involvement. The old, well established management companies have learned this lesson well and they count on it to give them a free hand in the governance of your community; they have seen it happen again and again: the control of a homeowners association is passed from the developer to the homeowners; an overwhelming majority of the homeowners quickly become disinterested, and a small clique becomes entrenched on the board of directors. Problems begin to occur when the entrenched board becomes convinced no one knows or cares what is going on in the neighborhood. It’s an extremely common situation all over the country. You will see this scenario played out right here in Shavano Ridge in the story "Wish You Were Here." below.
Apathy exists throughout our society, but it is particularly damaging where homeowners associations are concerned. Homeowners associations lack the system of checks and balances necessary to provide oversight and accountability. There are no provisions in the CC&Rs that address these issues. The only measure of oversight and accountability that can be brought to bear on a homeowners association has to come from the homeowners themselves. If their presence is not felt, it’s likely abuses will occur.
A small, but growing, group of concerned homeowners have decided to attend every meeting of the board of directors; it would be in the best interest of every homeowner in the community if you would join them. The next scheduled meeting of the Shavano Ridge Homeowners Association is set for August 10, 2004.
The following article was written in response to an article published in the April 2004 edition of Out on the Ridge.
Homeowners associations or Common Interest Developments (CID) came into being in the mid 1960s, but by 1973, this unregulated system of neighborhood governance led to so much mismanagement and fraud that consumer demand for CID housing was in danger of collapsing. To reverse this trend, the National Association of Home builders and the Urban Land Institute organized the Community Associations Institute (CAI). The purpose of the CAI was to encourage professionalism in the management of homeowners associations, and to convince the public that CIDs were a better way to live.
Five constituencies were created composed of developers, property managers, homeowner association directors, lawyers, and other professionals. From the beginning, developers were concerned that the influence of homeowner members would present them with a likely source of opposition, so they convinced the organizers to keep the homeowners in check. This led to a weakening of homeowner support for the organization, which became even more apparent when the homeowner members found they were often not able to afford the costs in money and time necessary to attend local and national meetings. This left support and funding for the CAI largely up to the developers who realized, if support was not provided for the running of the associations they created, their ability to sell the concept of CID housing to the public could be compromised by stories of lawsuits from disgruntled homeowners.
But, as time passed, and the developers become more secure in the public’s acceptance of CID housing, they also contributed less and less of their time and money to the CAI. This left the management companies and their associated lawyers as the most active members of the CAI at both the local and national level; their economic interest in the success of the CID industry encouraged them to take an active role in CAI affairs.
In 1992, the CAI was restructured, and the property managers, who bore the financial burden, took control of the decision making process. Emphasis was shifted to legislative advocacy through paid lobbyists and grass roots mobilization of its thousands of members.
Today, the CAI is viewed by most outside the industry as a trade organization for management companies and association lawyers.
Although the CAI continues to publish many articles, pamphlets, and books on the subject of responsible governance of homeowners associations, in practice, its management company members routinely ignore the advice given. In effect, these publications seem to be nothing more that public relations tools. In fact, one of our own residents, seeking help with an HOA problem, made several calls to the local chapter of the CAI—none were returned. A call to the national office yielded a promise to send some, “helpful informational packets,” which never arrived. Again, the story below "Wish You Were Here," provides a graphic example of this inconsistent relationship between the procedures that the CAI publicly recommends and those that are actually observed by it's followers.
The CAI is very influential in Shavano Ridge. Our management company is a “platinum” member of the CAI, and the company’s owner is a CAI lobbyist. Both our current association attorney and our previous attorney are CAI “gold” members.
In 2003, the CAI and its membership lobbied the 78th Texas State Legislature to defeat several bills and recommendations presented by Houston Senator Jon Lindsay. Below, we have included just a few examples to give homeowners an idea of what the CAI has done for them lately.
Recommendation 1.6 would permit a homeowner, in a case brought against the homeowner, to recover reasonable legal fees from the HOA if the HOA is found to have no reasonable basis to sue the homeowner. No provision exists for owners to recoup their legal defense fees in cases where HOAs unreasonably bring suit.
Recommendation 1.12 would repeal ¤202.004, Property Code, which provides that a court may assess civil damages up to $200 a day for deed restriction violations. Although most HOAs do not ultimately seek such damages, some associations cite this statute when they notify owners of violations, which lead to unnecessary adversarial posturing.
Recommendation 1.14 would authorize the Office of the County Attorney and/or the Attorney General to investigate complaints and bring suit against HOAs in certain instances. It is unreasonable to expect an individual owner to bring suit against a HOA board to compel them to act appropriately. Enforcement of statutes should not be left to citizens.
Recommendation 1.16 would subject HOAs with mandatory dues, to the Open Meetings and Public Information Acts. Most HOAs argue that associations carry out many of the duties and responsibilities of small governments and should be recognized as quasi-governments. As such, it is not unreasonable to mandate comparable public disclosures.
Senate Bill 949 would give homeowners unlimited
access to HOA records.
It seems clear that the CAI’s legislative activity
reveals its true character, and for that reason, we believe Shavano Ridge should
discontinue its association with the CAI.
“The CAI successfully amended bills or worked toward
killing bills that could have been harmful to our industry.” Connie Heyer, lead CAI lobbyist
At the general meeting last March, a motion from the floor was made and seconded to change the by-laws to require that complaints made by homeowners against other homeowners by documented, and signed by the complainant. The measure was voted down by a count of 46 for, and 65 against.
Now, as in the past, complaints against Shavano Ridge homeowners can suddenly materialize without any documentation and therefore no accountability on the part of the person making the complaint. This is a policy that encourages irresponsible behavior and undermines the civility of the entire neighborhood; it breeds suspicion, resentment, and hostility.
This policy absolves neighbors of their obligation to use direct communication as a means of resolving disagreements. This “neighborly” method of dispute resolution also presents the added benefit of allowing neighbors the chance to get to know one another, and hopefully, foster a little more understanding and tolerance. Today, in place of openness and communication, we maintain a policy of secrecy and intimidation, which often leads to threats of litigation.
Even the CAI recommends that complaints be documented.
"Complaints from neighbors
should be submitted in writing; this avoids changing stories and failing
If homeowners in Shavano Ridge felt a moral obligation to stand by the accusations they made in an open hearing with all witnesses present, as is required by U.S. law, then there would probably be allot fewer accusations made. It’s not wise to leave the responsibility of creating a harmonious community up to a management company; they have other interests.
So how do we, once again, end up looking more like a people’s republic than an American democracy? That can probably be answered in one word —proxies.
Actually, those who may find this policy of “phantom complaints” distasteful may have unwittingly helped to sustain it. The board collected 16 proxy votes from Gordon Hartman Homes, which made the developer the single most influential entity at the general meeting; there is almost no question that those proxies supported the status quo; however, the board also collected many proxies from individual homeowners. Many of these homeowners may be unaware that when a motion comes up from the floor of a meeting, proxy holders have a right to use the proxies they have collected to vote in any way they want, even if the issuer of the proxy had no knowledge of the vote.
Moral of the story; if you want
“your” own voice to be heard, you have to be there—it really does make a
When disputes have developed between homeowners and the board of directors, the board has often invited the homeowner to an “informal meeting,” to try to settle the disagreement. Board members describe these informal meetings, usually held an hour before a scheduled bi-monthly meeting, as neighborly discussions just between the board and the homeowner.
However, nearly all of the homeowners who have attended such meetings describe them as being anything but neighborly. These homeowners also complain that soon afterwards, the details of what was said and done at these meetings fall into dispute as well.
We feel all parties would be best served if witnesses were present to document these meetings, and so, a group of SR homeowners have offered their services to all residents.
If you are invited to one of these informal meetings, and you
would like to have witnesses present to document the proceedings, send your
request to [firstname.lastname@example.org or to The Shavano Ridge Observer PO Box 692266
TX 78269] and we will arrange to have a small group of homeowner
Many Shavano Ridge homeowners are upset over the Gordon Hartman Homes development now under construction on our southeast border with the Vulcan quarry. A recent homeowner opinion poll found that 74.5 % of the respondents felt that this development would result in a decline in Shavano Ridge property values. What many residents may not remember is that we once had an opportunity to construct a much different future for Shavano Ridge.
At the general meeting of homeowners in March of 2000, one of our residents came up with the idea to buy the property that Gordon Hartman Homes is now building on and construct a park and recreation area. The board, as well as a few of the homeowners in attendance, raised several objections to her plan; they stated that parks were magnets for crime and drug use; parking and increased traffic would be a problem; there would be the added expense of the purchase, re-zoning, insurance, and upkeep on the property; they also expressed concerns that children would be a source of noise and mischief.
However, a straw vote was taken that resulted in 15 votes for the proposed park, and 15 votes against. The 50/50 vote indicated that there was at least enough interest in the plan to warrant further investigation. The board then advised the resident that if she intended to pursue her idea, it would be up to her to do all the necessary legwork to determine who owned the property and how to proceed with her plan should she find that the property was available; to learn how to do this, the board instructed her to contact our management company because they had the records and legal descriptions she would need. Immediately after the meeting, several homeowners not only offered her support for her plan but also offered to help in the construction of the proposed park.
Throughout the year following the March 2000 meeting, she made numerous attempts to contact our management company representative, but in all those attempts, he was never available to come to the phone and he never returned any of her calls.
Nearly a year had passed when, at a meeting of our cellular on patrol group, a board member told her that the statute of limitations had run out on her plan and the board had decided it was a dead issue.
Whether the majority of homeowners would have shared the board’s concerns, or whether the board’s misgivings would have proved to be justified or not, we will never know; Gordon Hartman Homes acquired the property, and the rest you already know.
How should this situation have
played itself out? Well, if our visionary homeowner would have been able to get
the procedural information she needed from the management company, a proposal
should have been drawn up and put to a vote of the homeowners. Had we followed
this democratic procedure, we might have an asset on our southeast border rather
than, what many homeowners consider, a liability.
McKenzie was one of the first to see the dangers of the new trend of private
government in common-interest developments (CIDs) (a/k/a mandatory homeowners
associations) and his treatment remains one of the most thoughtful available.
Especially useful is his history of the development of the industry’s
powerhouse trade organization, the Community Associations Institute.
CAI started long ago as a balanced entity serving the interests of homeowners as
well as others; it has turned into a lobbying arm for professionals who make
their livings off of mandatory assessments and the associated legal machinery of
collection and foreclosure.
Touted as a selling point to potential buyers by realtors and builders,
CIDs exist, as McKenzie cogently points out, primarily as a means for developers
to mitigate the rising cost of property by squeezing more dwellings on to less
land and bypassing local zoning restrictions and ordinances. The author explains
the real motivation for keeping property values high is so that the lenders
courted by the developers will be confident that their investment is secure; the
homeowner’s interests are irrelevant. The author not only examines the
resultant effect upon the individual homeowner, but the long-term sociological
and political ramifications as well. "Privatopia" contains some of the
horror stories experienced within the CID scenario.
Some issues causing disputes are so trivial as to be laughable were it
not for the severe penalties incurred by violators, including huge fines and
legal fees, or even loss of ones home in certain situations. This book will be a
real eye-opener to many, and should be required reading for anyone currently
living in or considering the purchase of a home located within a CID.
holds a law degree from the University of California at Los Angeles and a Ph.D.
in Political Science from the University of Southern California. He is currently
an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois at
Chicago and an adjunct instructor of law at the John Marshall Law School.
His research specializations are in the area of law and public policy,
and particularly urban policy.
Privatopia can be purchased from Amazon, Borders, and
Barnes & Noble booksellers; it is also available from the San Antonio Public
Wish You Were Here
There is probably no more convincing evidence that homeowners really need to take an interest in what goes on at board meetings, than what went on at our last board meeting on June 8. In the last issue of Out on the Ridge (April 2004), the board invited homeowners who had issues they wished to discuss to send them to the management company for consideration. The board received such a request on May 24, 2004.
was suggested that the board consider establishing term limits for board
members, and implement a democratic, homeowner voting process to create, amend,
and abolish rules and regulations in Shavano Ridge.
It was pointed out that these issues received overwhelming support in a March homeowner opinion poll.
Do you think there
should be term limits for Board members? Yes[ 57 ]
No[ 14 ]
Do you think the Board
should add new rules and restrictions without the approval of the homeowners? Yes[ 3 ]
No[ 69 ]
second issue that was suggested concerned apparent double standards regarding
violation enforcement where homeowners received complaints and violation notices
for actions that were ignored when committed by board members.
last issue suggested involved an incident at the general meeting on March 10,
2004. At that meeting, the board’s attorney barred a homeowner from recording
the proceedings with a claim that it violated state law as well as the by-laws
of SR. Being unable to find any verification of this claim, it was suggested
that the board provide verification that this claim was lawful and correct.
the Board nor the Management Company responded to any of these requests.
the June 8th board meeting the board claimed their agenda was too
full to discuss the topics suggested and that the board did not understand the
can read this document yourself by going to the website [see web address below]
and then going to Board Monitor >
Meeting Minutes June 8, 2004.) See if you have trouble understanding what is
board did, however, discuss these topics in the “open forum” before the
meeting with the understanding that
what was said would not be recorded in the minutes.
regard to the issue of the recording of the General Meeting, it appears that the
board’s attorney was not being honest with the homeowners: no law or
association by-law could be found that prevents homeowners from recording the
minutes of a meeting. The board then denied the incident ever took place saying
it was only “hearsay.” Fortunately, the incident was witnessed and confirmed
by another homeowner who was present at both meetings. This situation clearly
points out the need to have witnesses present at all times. The board then
admitted that it was really their own policy not to allow the recording of the
the subject of the independent homeowner opinion poll, the board, obviously
unhappy with the results, made every effort to discredit the poll and the
homeowners who participated. The board claimed that a sampling of 28.4% of the
homeowners was too small to be valid. Some of the homeowners present pointed out
that national opinion polls base their results on 3 to 4% of the population.
Another homeowner then made the claim that he had heard from both sides that
they had stuffed the surveys, and so the board claimed the numbers were not
valid. This claim is false. Precautions were taken and the results have been
preserved. Only one incident of cheating was recorded. An examination of the
documents would certainly cast aspersions upon the board. On the subject of term
limits, the board indicated that they were not interested in establishing term
limits. This opinion ran contrary to that of the homeowners who voted 57 to 14
in favor of term limits. The board stated that polls should be conducted by
third parties. Several of the homeowners present thought that was a good idea
and suggested it be pursued. The board responded by saying that they were not
interested in polling the homeowners. This opinion is in direct contrast with
the published opinion of the CAI. In their book, titled “Be Reasonable,”
they state that “surveys are important
tools when making important community decisions.” And that “as
with almost all rules, it is a good idea to survey the community.” They go
on to say “residents should have a role in establishing rules, since they’re
the ones who must live by them.”
is a striking example of the statement made in the earlier article “The
Truth About the CAI,” that the writings of this organization, supporting
common sense solutions to HOA problems, are in reality hollow public relations
tools intended to do no more than to convince the unwary homeowner that the
intentions of the CAI and its followers are honorable.
meeting also served as a vivid example of the homeowner’s own apathy being
used against them. It should be all too clear that, up to this point, the board
has been given little cause to consider the opinions of the homeowners. The only
way to change that situation, if you think change is warranted, is to take part
in the process.
you would like to know more about what happened at the June 8th
meeting you will find it by going to the website, clicking on “The Board
Monitor” and then on “Meeting Minutes for June 8, 2004.”
If you would like to know more about the meeting scheduled for August 10, join us there.
The Unofficial SR Website can be found at http://home.satx.rr.com/usrw. The website is dedicated to reinstating common, democratic principals of government in Shavano Ridge through homeowner awareness. The website includes several articles by outside observers of an industry many believe is destroying the American dream of homeownership.
Information is gathered from numerous book, magazine, newspaper, and Internet sources. The website features an Opinions page where homeowners can let other homeowners know what’s on their mind as well as the Shavano Ridge in the News page, where you’ll find articles specifically about Shavano Ridge. If you would like to know how independent observers view the phenomena of Common Interest Development regimes, this is a good place to start.