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July 9, 2011 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Neighbor vs. neighbor as homeowner fights get ugly. 'As more are unable to pay homeowners' fees, associations pit neighbor against neighbor'. Today, one in five U.S. homeowners is subject to the will of the homeowners' association, whose boards oversee 24.4 million homes. More than 80 percent of newly constructed homes in the U.S are in association communities. And of the nation's 300,000 homeowners' associations, more than 50 percent now face "serious financial problems," according to a September survey by the Community Association Institute. An October survey found that 65 percent of homeowners' associations have delinquency rates higher than 5 percent, up from 19 percent of associations in 2005.'

'Before now, associations rarely, if ever, foreclosed on homeowners. But today, encouraged by a new industry of lawyers and consultants, boards are increasingly foreclosing on people 60 days past due on association fees, says Evan McKenzie, a former homeowner association attorney who is now a University of Illinois political science professor and the author of the book "Beyond Privatopia: Rethinking Residential Private Government."'

'The government does not keep statistics on how often homeowners' associations initiate foreclosures. But a nonprofit research group found that association-initiated foreclosures in the Houston area jumped from 500 in 1995 to 2,200 in 2007. Most association-related foreclosures in Texas do not go through the judicial process, so the group's analysis represented only a fraction of the foreclosures that housing associations have initiated.

In exchange for adhering to the rules, homeowners got safe communities with clubhouses, pools and tennis courts. But what many didn't realize when they bought their homes was that the fine print gave the association the right to foreclose -- even over a few hundred dollars in unpaid dues.'

'The problems in some communities are resulting in more scrutiny. In Nevada, the FBI is investigating corruption in elections of association boards. In Utah and Arizona, legislators are trying to pass bills that would root out the use of debt-collectors who are alleged to have used thug-like tactics to strongarm residents into paying fees.

State legislatures in California, Arizona, North Carolina, Texas and Florida have taken up legislation that would clamp down on foreclosures.'
posted by VikingSword (167 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by The Whelk at 12:10 PM on July 9, 2011


Always thought it ironic that rich white Republicans who despise government interference seem to always be the ones supporting homeowners' associations. That's irony, right Ms. Morissette?
posted by punkfloyd at 12:12 PM on July 9, 2011 [18 favorites]


From the ending:

Why else would 20 per cent of the population voluntarily place themselves under their control?

Earlier in the article...

Local governments liked getting property taxes from developments that cost them nothing, so states such as Texas, California, Nevada, Florida and Virginia saw to it that little else was built.

I love it when people don't seem to have read their own articles when they make their conclusions.
posted by Grimgrin at 12:19 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


More than 80 percent of newly constructed homes in the U.S are in association communities.

If I ever buy a house, it will in all likelihood be a creaking wreck out in the middle of nowhere or a townhouse in the middle of an urban free-fire zone. Partly because of my income and partly because of shit like this.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:21 PM on July 9, 2011 [19 favorites]


Homeowner's associations are one of the few institutions in the world I can point at as being unmitigated evil. Even fundamentalist megachurches do charity work and help build communities, but HMAs are wastes of time and money to do nothing, except when they are spending that time and money doing active wrong. There is nothing good about them. I've worked as a criminal defense attorney, defending confessed criminals, and defending restrictive covenants is something I couldn't ethically justify.
posted by kafziel at 12:27 PM on July 9, 2011 [36 favorites]


Grimgrin, could you please elaborate on what you mean? Disconnected fragments of citations interspersed with your cryptic commentary are not helpful in deciphering your point(s).
posted by VikingSword at 12:28 PM on July 9, 2011


Having lived in a neighborhood without a HOA, I would not have traded the control I had over my own house for the ability to make my neighbor clean up his--not for the world. HOAs scare me. It seems like they are quickly taken over by the most petty people in the neighborhood, because those are the people who are naturally the most invested in what their neighbors do.

Local governments liked getting property taxes from developments that cost them nothing, so states such as Texas, California, Nevada, Florida and Virginia saw to it that little else was built.

This just pisses me off. It's the perfect example of how the whole "freedom of choice" thing can become empty so quickly. Sure, you can choose not to live in a HOA--if you can find affordable housing somewhere that isn't ruled by a HOA. Which is getting harder to do because HOAs have an unfair advantage.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:33 PM on July 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


The HOA was conceived of as a way to keep property values up. Years ago I swore off ever buying a property in an HOA, and most everyone I know has as well. As more of these stories come to light, I imagine that being in an HOA is just not a good selling point.

Though I generally despise the suburbs, I used to live in a nifty little suburban neighborhood. The houses were well kept. As were the enormous RVs that almost everyone seemed to have. And the boats. And the work trailers. And the basketball hoops in the street. And the odd house that was painted funky. I loved that neighborhood.
posted by Xoebe at 12:36 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Always thought it ironic that rich white Republicans who despise government interference seem to always be the ones supporting homeowners' associations.

Not ironic at all. Modern 'conservatism' and 'libertarianism' is not about having freedom from government control, it's all about gaining the 'right' to be a privately-owned petty tyrant over others. The long-held point that only governments have 'life-or-death' control over people (while never really true) is becoming a bigger lie every day.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:38 PM on July 9, 2011 [24 favorites]


All I know about HOAs is from an episode of the X-Files I watched years ago where this creepy HOA family used some kind of Tibetan golem-like spirit to kill anyone who broke a set of ridiculous rules about things like mailbox positioning. Interesting to see that it wasn't that far off the mark.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:39 PM on July 9, 2011 [52 favorites]


The HOA was conceived of as a way to keep property values up.

Pssst....

I don't think it's working.
posted by Lord_Pall at 12:46 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


The best fiction about a HOA I have ever read: "A Flock of Lawn Flamingos." The work of the always-inventive Pat Murphy. Go ahead, read it. It will brighten your day.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:47 PM on July 9, 2011 [21 favorites]


A guy I know is a lawyer who works for HOAs, defending and enforcing restrictive covenants. Nice guy, but his work is actively evil.

He was defending HOAs on facebook once, arguing as his example of the good that they do a time where a neighbor of theirs was trying to build an addition to their house, and after a little investigation he learned that they were doing it so that a family of relatives could live with them, and since the HOA restricted the neighborhood to being a single-family neighborhood, he was able to stop them. And this was supposed to be an argument in favor of HOAs.

But it's okay, the house didn't look up to standards and was being an "eyesore", so it's perfectly okay! You should be able to force your neighbors to structure their homes around what will increase the sale values of their neighbors' homes!
posted by kafziel at 12:48 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The worst is assessments. Let's say you've had "deferred maintainence" (ie no one has wanted to face the fact that the roofs are shot or the common driveways need re-surfaced or other major expenses) and now the situation has gotten bad enough that it's GOT to be fixed. So, raise the monthly dues, right, and in a reasonable way and in a reasonable time-frame, put together the money to fix the problem, one section at a time if needed, maybe roof four buildings at a time, whatever.

But what can be done -- and you've got no way to say no, buzz off, go jump in the river -- what *can* be done is a special assessment, which you have to come up with right now, and no way out. How can you possibly budget for that? You can't.

Want to get to know your neighbors? Serve on your HOA board. Or elect them to serve on the HOA board. And watch it get berserk, which it will.

I took over a term presiding over the HOA board here where I live, the guy moved, I took it, no problem, right? Ohmygod, what a horror show, neighbors who'd been friends now showing up to knock on my door at whatever hour, insisting on this or that. Rusty, The Wonder Dog and I used to stroll the condo complex all the time, take cookies or whatever to neighbors -- I couldn't even walk to my pickup without someone jumping out and barking at me about this or that.

It started off easy enough, I'd say "Well, hey, that's great to hear about -- come to the board meeting and we'll discuss it there." That is called naiveté. No one wants to *do* anything; they want to complain, moan, be unhappy. And then blame you, no matter what.

I will never, ever serve on another HOA board. Ever.

And even when people go insane when they are on the board and start leveling assessments or whatever else, I do have a bit of compassion for them, as I know the stress they are under from every side. But mostly I want to choke them of course, and toss them in the river.

Human nature at it's worst.

Oh, and all of this in a city that is not in the real estate downtown; Texas has not been hit like the rest of the country has. If it was in a downturn here, such as the one in the mid-80s through early 90s, it'd be fifteen times worse. And in a downturn, with vacant units, the owners will rent to absolutely *anyone* for any reason, and then real trouble starts; hard enough living cheek to jowl with a citizen that can and will take care of their finances and cars, but living with crack-heads and whoever else just can't be fun, I'd almost rather live next to a baptist.

"The treacherous part is that homeowners' associations are acting like a local government without restraints, and they have this extraordinary power," says Marjorie Murray, a lawyer and founder of the Center for California Homeowner Association Law.

It absolutely can be treacherous. If you get a particularly hard-hearted money-motivated bit of scum and he/she wants to raise trouble, they can absolutely do so. And if you get two or three of them in cahoots, and no one knows it until after they are elected onto the board, they can just do whatever; it's like Washington, except without suits and ties or intelligence.

Overall, it's a good enough trade-off -- at this time, in this economy ie the way it is here in Austin -- for me that I've stayed here a while; I could not afford to buy, on my own purchasing power, a piece of land right on the river, and I won't want to mow lawns or paint, etc and etc. I don't know that I'd do it again though.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:49 PM on July 9, 2011 [7 favorites]




When I was in the market for the house I'm in now, my realtor told me he didn't think he would be able to find me something that wasn't HOA controlled. I persisted and let him know it was a really big deal for me, and I did find one. It was, however, pretty difficult in this area. So if you work for any of the big tech companies right near here, sometimes it's going to come down to either buying in an HOA community or committing to a ridiculous commute. So I'd argue that that 20% of the population isn't buying in HOAs entirely voluntarily.

And in my experience, a lot of people really downplay the evilness of HOAs until they experience it themselves. (I had a hard time controlling my schadenfreude when a friend who'd been so dismissive of my warnings ended up dealing with a bunch of crotchety old men climbing over her fence into her backyard while on weekdays looking for violations.)

And the older non-HOA community I live in is much more aesthetically pleasing than the HOA communities surrounding it. We have a little variety here, from landscaping schemes to house colors, but even the ugliest property in my neighborhood looks worlds better from the HOA that butts up against us, fenced off with a gigantic WHITE VINYL fence the texture of cheap lawnchairs, with big blank houses in a narrow range of feces colors.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:50 PM on July 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


As someone who has lived in HOA-governed homes, I will just add to the chorus saying that HOAs are fucking demonic cesspits of shit, run by petty scumbags with sick fantasies of abusive power. They can all eat a bag of baby dicks.

Carry on.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:54 PM on July 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


Saxon Kane: "As someone who has lived in HOA-governed homes, I will just add to the chorus saying that HOAs are fucking demonic cesspits of shit, run by petty scumbags with sick fantasies of abusive power. They can all eat a bag of baby dicks."

You're not angry about this, are you?
posted by dancestoblue at 12:56 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Even fundamentalist megachurches do charity work and help build communities, but HMAs are wastes of time and money to do nothing,

They also maintain/build neighborhood facilities such as pools, tennis courts, etc. At least in the ones I've lived in. They're not just about making your neighbor cut their grass. Nor are they all equally power-crazy / restrictive.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:57 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


More than 80 percent of newly constructed homes in the U.S are in association communities.

I understand the need for fees if there is a community pool or clubhouse but you can't tell me that 80% of the newly constructed homes in the US have those amenities. Most of the new developments where I live have two things in common: vinyl siding (usually white) and houses jammed close together-- this in an area with plenty of land. On the other hand, the neighborhood where I live (that is too old to have an HOA) nobody's lot is less than 1/3 of an acre and there lots of old, mature trees. The bad news is, the street that I live on has 16 houses in total and 6 of them are for sale-- some of them have been on the market for years. Nobody wants to buy old homes, everybody wants to live in the new ticky-tacky developments with vinyl siding and tiny yards.

So if you want to escape the tyranny of the HOA look for an older neighborhood.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:04 PM on July 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


It can get worse than that, from Glasgow Scotland: Our factor (HOA) has sacked us. Our flats are a den of crime. And it's all down to absentee landlords. Residents at a plush riverside development have been sacked by their factor - because so few of them are paying for communal areas to be maintained.
posted by Lanark at 1:04 PM on July 9, 2011


I am not a lawyer , but I guess I don't understand this from a legal point of view. How can a HOA force you to sign a HOA agreement? Otherwise they won't allow the house to be sold? Isn't that restraint of commerce? I mean, they don't own the house on sale, so how can they determine that you must sign a HOA agreement to be able to buy? Clearly, there are limits to this - a bunch of neighbors can't get together, form a KKKLeague and refuse to sell to someone of race X unless they sign onto the KKKLeague, so how can they get together and form an HOA, and then have the power to deny you to buy a house on the open market in their neighborhood. A city government can regulate things through zoning and the like, but a non-governmental entity like a HOA, that does not own the property should not be able to control how that property is used unless the use of the property violates city codes (health, nuisance, zoning etc.).

I don't know, but it seems there are legal challenges aplenty here. But - obviously! - I'm not a lawyer and really don't understand this. Can someone give a thumbnail as to why there aren't legal challenges up the wazoo?
posted by VikingSword at 1:08 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


HOAs, like "managed care" and video-game "licenses", have fuck-all to do with making your life better. They are a way to siphon money to the people who want that money.

I've owned in HOA communities that didn't look half as good as the non-HOA neighborhood I live in now. Contrary to what the nazis who run HOAs would have you believe, most people take a good bit of pride in their houses. Do they do things to your level of satisfaction? Maybe not, but it's their fucking house.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:11 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I took real estate law, the professor said that the reaction in his classes was almost uniformly negative, other than people who sat on their HOA boards. I wonder if things are different in co-op buildings? In those cases, you do have significant private common areas, there's no way around that .
posted by wuwei at 1:12 PM on July 9, 2011


How can a HOA force you to sign a HOA agreement? Otherwise they won't allow the house to be sold? Isn't that restraint of commerce?

The HOA agreement is not attached to the house, it's attached to the land.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:13 PM on July 9, 2011


The HOA agreement is not attached to the house, it's attached to the land.

Does the HOA own the land? If not, what's the difference?
posted by VikingSword at 1:14 PM on July 9, 2011


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restrictive_covenant
posted by kafziel at 1:15 PM on July 9, 2011


I should clarify. Basically, it's like a contract made between the initial owner of the property and the HOA, which includes among other things that the HOA has the right to void any sale and reclaim the property if it's sold to someone without that person also agreeing to all of it.

I believe the only way to get a covenant off a property is for both parties to agree to remove it - which with an HOA will never happen - or for the property to be sold with the seller actively concealing the existence of covenants and opening themselves up to hefty lawsuits from the HOA in the process.
posted by kafziel at 1:18 PM on July 9, 2011


Many moons ago I was working for a temp agency in Phoenix and one of the jobs I had was working for a HOA Management Company.

Yes, that's right, HOAs hire out a lot of their dirty work to businesses. My particular job was to send out registered mail to people who hadn't taken in their trash cans or who had an RV parked beside their house, etc. The letters I was sending out were to inform the home owners that there had been a lien placed on their property because of their HOA infractions. If memory serves, the lowest lien was $50 for not taking in your trashcan, and it went up from there.

I also was sending out notices of unpaid fines and overdue HOA fees. I also think that there was some kind of penalty assessed if you didn't keep current, so percentages would be added regularly to the total. Some people would easily end up owing thousands of dollars, and since it was all assessed as property liens, there was no escaping it.

I quickly came to realize that HOAs are truly evil and that I was doing the devil's work. I got the temp agency to transfer me to a new job as soon as one came available. I still feel slightly tainted by the 3 or 4 months I put in working at that place. I never had heard of an HOA before that, and hope never to encounter one in real life. *shudder*
posted by hippybear at 1:20 PM on July 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Water sharing and road maintenance are two legitimate uses for a HOA. Anything above and beyond is just asking for trouble.

No HOA was our biggest criteria when buying. You'd think out here in the sticks it would have been easy, but every sub-development has an HOA imposed upon it when the land is subdivided; they all say largely the same thing, no junk, no mobiles, no renters, no rental units.

Every place we visited in one of those HOAs broke some or all of the rules; we were in "no rental unit" places where the agents bragged about renting out the studio over the garage "just like Bob does over there" or talked to the HOA president about my car hobby versus their rule of no more than 3 cars per house (President completely mis-quoted the rules). You can laugh and say "well, if everyone winks at the rules it can't be that bad" but I kept pointing out that all it takes is a disagreement with a neighbor or a busy-body moving in to the neighborhood before the casual rules become strictly-enforced.

A couple of neighborhoods didn't even have a venue for disputes; they simply said all disputes would be settled in the local courts. So now you have a lawsuit about whether your new garden shed is "consistent with the rural character of the property."

Many of the bylaws we reviewed were horribly, horribly written, with vague language and no definition of critical terms. If you draw up a legal covenant and use the term "rural character" or "appropriate material" you really need to define what those mean. Note, if you're going to live in an HOA neighborhood, you really, really want one of the anal ones, where grass height is defined as 4" and allowed colors are x, y and z.

(Don't get me going on architectural review boards in these communities, perhaps the ultimate bastion of the unqualified passing judgement on topics they know nothing about.)

My parents lived in an HOA which had a completely corrupt board, down to the ability to thwart elections of new board members. They continually had special assessments to pay for attorneys whose job was to sue their own members for minor violations, while ignoring major violations--up to building over property lines--for their cronies.

Buying in an HOA neighborhood with the idea you'll get on the board and fix things is like dating a drunk loser with the idea of turning their life around. Ain't going to happen.
posted by maxwelton at 1:20 PM on July 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


Thanks, kafziel. Now I understand - and as I suspected, it's rife with possibilities of abuse in the very way I gave as an "outlandish" example.. From the link you provided:

"In many cases before the 1960s, these covenants were used for segregationist purposes.[3] A covenant might promise that only members of a certain race would occupy the property. In the case of Shelley v. Kraemer, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it would be unconstitutional for the courts to enforce racially restrictive covenants, and such covenants no longer have any force."
posted by VikingSword at 1:20 PM on July 9, 2011


I spent my renting years hating the idea of HOAs and never thought I'd dip my toe in that pond.. but I did anyway. I live in a 147 year old brick building in the middle of town and the entirety of the HOA is the six units in the building. Our dues pay for heat, common electric, natural gas for the two shared water heaters, master building insurance, maintenance, snow removal, and a monthly cleaning service.

The dues are probably a bit high, but then we build up funds for things like fluctuation in oil prices and major repairs. Despite the age of the building (and the fact that it has a problematic section of stucco) there has never been an assessment in 12 years, there are over 8 months of dues in our emergency fund, and things run smoothly.

All six tenants are "on the board" - we just sit down at someone's dining room table once every six months. There are somewhat draconian rules written into the "official" condo rules, but nobody cares about them and we all let people do, mostly, what they want to do.

I suppose it could all turn ugly fast but a large part of why this works, I think, is that there is only six of us, there is only one building, and there is no "ruling class" -- we are all the ruling class. I certainly made sure that I met everyone before I purchased my unit and that went a long way to easing my mind - not that my intuition about people is always right by any means.

Nevertheless, the large sprawling HOAs with dozens or hundreds of units I see just scare the bejesssssus out of me and I'd never in a million years.

tl;dr - Reasonable people in managable groups can make an HOA work.. for awhile anyway.
posted by mbatch at 1:23 PM on July 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


Water sharing and road maintenance are two legitimate uses for a HOA. Anything above and beyond is just asking for trouble.

These are legitimate uses for local government, not private HOAs.
posted by kafziel at 1:24 PM on July 9, 2011 [43 favorites]


Always thought it ironic that rich white Republicans who despise government interference seem to always be the ones supporting homeowners' associations.

No. Many Republicans love nothing better than for Mommy or Daddy to tell them what to do. They just don't like the government, because those dirty hippies aren't Mommy and Daddy. This also explains why they never complain about being told what to do so long as the people telling them are cleancut and wearing uniforms.

HOA's exist partly because they've so uncomfortable without someone being in charge.
posted by tyllwin at 1:24 PM on July 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


When looking into buying my present house, I looked at this one place, absolutely gorgeous, a bit more than I wanted to spend, but nice enough that it almost won me over. Had I bought it, I no doubt would have payed list or more, since during the tour I practically fawned over the stonework, the light, the kitchen, the presentation of space in general. No doubt, the seller's agent had great big dollar signs in her eyes halfway through.

Then, looking out from the back patio, she made some comment about how the property technically went to such-and-such a point, but the covenant allowed for common use of another thousand or so feet beyond that.

I swear her jaw almost hit the floor when I stopped her halfway through her next sentence with "Yup, done here, thanks for your time".
posted by pla at 1:26 PM on July 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


My wife's sister is having a war with her HOA in Florida over one month's assessment (like $60) that they claim she didn't pay. She has produced a canceled check showing that she not only payed it, she payed it early. They still claim they have no record and refuse to remove the lien, demanding payment in ten days or they will start foreclosure proceedings. So legally, they don't even have to have an interest in the property to foreclose. That is all kinds of fucked up.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:27 PM on July 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


These are legitimate uses for local government, not private HOAs.

kafziel, we barely have a local government. It is closed on Fridays, due to the retired folks and the tea partiers vetoing every tax assessment. We had a dangerous tree on the county land behind us that the county couldn't find $75 in their budget to pay to have felled.
posted by maxwelton at 1:28 PM on July 9, 2011


mbatch : tl;dr - Reasonable people in managable groups can make an HOA work.. for awhile anyway.

...Right up until one owner sells to non-locals... At which point, either everyone else freaks about the pink lawn furniture, or the newcomers freak about Big Dave's daily rifle practice. Then it all goes to hell, as such things inevitably do.
posted by pla at 1:29 PM on July 9, 2011


Another HOA story. A couple I know is looking at buying a house, and wanted advice on what to do. I suggested not buying anything subject to an HOA, because they're weird hippie types that are exactly the sort to piss off HOA busybodies with everything about them, and the HOA agreements are always weighted to give power to the busybodies. Someone recommended a particular community, suggesting that they read through the rules and see if they're things they can live by. I pointed out this part of the rules.

See, the wife of this couple keeps a pet rat. By those profoundly undefined rules, she is allowed to keep a pet rat only so long as nobody decides to give her grief for having a pet rat. If someone does, it is entirely up to the whim of the Board whether she will be allowed to continue to have a pet rat - it says they shall weigh certain factors but gives absolutely no guidance or appeal about the final decision, so it will be whether they personally like her or not - and if they decide she can't, they can literally levy as many fines as they want until she gets rid of her rat, and she'll have to pay them all or lose the house.

*That* is the evil of an HOA. However well-meaning it seems, however reasonable the people are, it is ultimately only as fair as the Board feels like being on a particular day, and you have no recourse about anything. It is unlimited power held in trust that it won't be abused, but with no check on its abuse.
posted by kafziel at 1:34 PM on July 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


I hadn't really ever thought of living in a community with a HOA, because they weren't that common where I grew up, and I thought of them as being for richer neighborhoods or those that want lots of conformity in appearance. When my husband and I moved to our current town, we found that they were common here, even in lower cost housing. So we have one, and honestly it hasn't been bad. The dues (~$450/year) pay for road, pool, and lake maintenance, along with trained security and a sensor-activated gate system. I think we're supposed to let them know if we're painting the house, to avoid crazy colors, but from the looks of the houses out here, I think it would have to be neon before anyone cared. Oh, and we can't raise chickens.
posted by bizzyb at 1:34 PM on July 9, 2011


I wonder how long it will be before the decomposing carcasses of HOA board members begin to be dicovered in those nicely trimmed hedges...
posted by c13 at 1:39 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


pla - thus the "for awhile, anyway".. also, we're downtown.. there is no space for pink lawn furniture (who the hell cares anyway?!?) and nobody is shooting rifles downtown either.. If I wasn't in town, I also wouldn't care about rifle practice... if I'm not vested in caring about these petty things then it isn't my problem, it's other people in the association that have to be petty and try to fight them.

Might I add - I have a 70yr old next to me and a 50-something below me, both women. I regularly have rowdy groups back to my place till 3 or 4am in the morning. Nobody has complained once.

Again, having a group of people with a reasonable set of expectations goes a long way (e.g., I live in the middle of downtown, it isn't going to be quiet - whether due to ambulances flying by, rowdy drunks on the street, or a neighbour with friends over late at night).

I am NOT DEFENDING HOAs - I'm not sure I would buy into an HOA again, only because I am not sure I will want to buy/live in a multi-unit building again - as I age I long for the woods and the fields of a more rural abode.. I AM saying that they aren't always so horrible and may work for some people.

Large associations are probably always a bad idea.
posted by mbatch at 1:41 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whenever I see a yard that is densely packed with pink flamingos, I know someone is pissed at the HOA.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:54 PM on July 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I helped a few friends deal with an HOA - and, never having been a party to that kind of conflict, I had no idea what what in store. My friends bought her home with a beautiful pine tree in the front yard; she lived right on the association's edge, and not only was the tree prominent in a beautiful way, but it shielded their home from a particularly ugly patch of the adjoining neighborhood.

My friends had been in their home no more than three months when they arrived home one day from work to find that tree cut down to a stump. They were incredulous; they made it to a board meeting where they were told that their tree was "too close to the house", yet on close inspection they noticed that other homes in the complex had trees similarly close, or closer to homes; those trees had not been touched. I wrote a letter to the board, and accompanied my friends to the next meeting; we pointed this out. They jumped all over us; asking in a snotty way if I was an attorney (I'm not), and pointedly making a show that one of the HOA Board members was, indeed, an attorney. That guy went about frilling us like we were on a witness stand for murder. I couldn't believe it. After the meeting, one of the HOA Board members approached us and said that he could "have taken care of this" is we'd only make him a small contribution (i.e., a bribe). I was stunned.

Then, we started hearing about how they made the guy across the street from us remove the curtain from his kitchen window, because it was the wrong color (red). They sent a letter to my friend's home stating they had to remove their satellite dish, because although the prior owner had permission to put it where it was, they had not sought an easement as the new owner. My friends were threatened with a fine; they had to spend 3-4 hours of their time looking at code and groveling before the HOA Board to gain permission to keep the satellite dish where it was.

Then, my friends asked to have the Board consider appropriate signage near the main entrance to the HOA, because approaching cars were driving down the wrong side of the road, led astray by poor signage. They had a fit; they resisted. My friends had seen 4-5 near head-on collisions there and insisted; they went to the City and asked about what could be done. "Nothing", said the City Transportation people; it's the HOA Board's decision; this, even though the city's transportation engineer came out and confirmed that the intersection was very dangerous. My friends were outraged and sent a note to the HOA Board stating that they had notified the Board, and the City, and if an accident should occur at that intersection leading to injury or death, that they would support an civil lawsuit made against the Board. Well, that did it!

The Board put in better signage, but then threatened my friends with fines if they didn't cut back the garden vines on their backyard fence, because vines are not permitted on fences. With tears in her eyes, one of my friends, who loved her garden, complied; she cut down most of her roses and other greenery that bordered the fence.

I visited them one day and they told me about what had happened. That day I went on a walk through her association (about 400 homes) and saw at least 85% of homes with vines growing on their fences. I took photographs, ot's of them, being careful not to include addresses, because I didn't want to directly incriminate anyone. My friends took this to the board (with photos). The Board said they could not enforce those violations because there were no addresses attached to the photos!

I could go on about things like how the HOA changed to pool and tennis court keys without telling anyone, and if you missed the day that the security guard was "handing them out", you had to trip down to the HOA Management office (miles away) to pick them up - and they only gave them one key ($50 fee to replace the key, if lost).

One last thing: these HOA's hire HOA Management groups to "run things". Talk about slime! I can't substantiate it, but I"m almost sure that these groups are run by people who are often taking kickbacks from contractors who do repair and maintenance work. I don't have time for details, but I have seen things that make my assertion probably true. The group that manages my friend's HOA has something like 64,000 units all over the region; they employ about 40 people - the HOA fees in their "territory" go from $250, to roughly $600 per month, with most near the higher end of the range. Do the math. The management group, as a for instance, has a problematic employee on the grounds most of the time. People have complained, but the outsources that the management group uses to administer this employee cannot fire her, because the management group has clearly stated that if she is fired by the outsourcing group, they will end their contract with the outsourcing group. Oh, yeah, the person they won't fire is the person who goes around with a pad and pencil all day, noting all the little "violations" that people get fined for, including large $$$ items like having your pickup truck towed, if you park it inside HOA limits (meaning, in your driveway, garage, or in the parking space on the street), because "trucks" of any kind are not permitted inside the HOA.

Warning: do not EVER live in one of these communities, if you can help it - and, if you do, make sure you read the association rules before you move it. HOA can actually - in the law - foreclose on a home that owes the association *anything* (even $5) that has been in arrears for more than 18 months. I have read of seniors being put out on the street because they could not afford their association fees.

HOA Boards are essentially above the laws of your city, or county, in many essential ways. Elections - if you want to call them that - are largely inbred. Meetings about essential matters can be held in secret; there are no laws stating that more than a majority of the board cannot meet in private - away from noticed meetings. Seriously, it's the land of Kafka, made real in America.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:56 PM on July 9, 2011 [47 favorites]


*That* is the evil of an HOA. However well-meaning it seems, however reasonable the people are, it is ultimately only as fair as the Board feels like being on a particular day, and you have no recourse about anything. It is unlimited power held in trust that it won't be abused, but with no check on its abuse.

Kafzeil, your statement is the absolute, perfectly well said, unvarnished truth.
posted by Vibrissae at 2:04 PM on July 9, 2011


I had no or little idea, OMG, I have seen stuff in T.V. and a few people I knew had problems but holy smokes. I lived in one of those double-wide death trap "communities" for a while, they got anal at times but the corp. replaced the manager every year which was funny because people would cite this fact and slowly the "authority" of the 'park manager' waned. The place was safe and clean. Nice pool and woods near nice farmland...still.

my lord, it's like Glengarry Glen Ross meets Motel Hell.
posted by clavdivs at 2:05 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Manufactured Home Community it was called and never-ever buy one. Rent if you must but never buy.
posted by clavdivs at 2:07 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The HOA agreement is not attached to the house, it's attached to the land.
Does the HOA own the land? If not, what's the difference?


The HOA only 'owns' the people who own the land and the houses. And being non-governmental entities, that's 'perfect Capitalism'.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:15 PM on July 9, 2011


My subdivision is one of the last built (in the late 1970's) before the HOA wave took over most new construction in the area. For awhile we had an informal neighborhood association which we kept tabs on. Sure enough, some of the neighbors were wanting to form a HOA so we could "keep up standards."

I told them point blank I'd torch the motherfucker before I'd be inducted into a HOA. Enough of my neighbors felt similarly that the idea quickly faded. It is a silver lining of the Katrina and housing market clouds that enough of my neighbors are now renting that the HOA idea is dead for good.
posted by localroger at 2:19 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never heard of an HOA. Are they uncommon in Massachusetts? Granted, I'm a renter but it sounds like the type of thing you'd hear mentioned, like condo fees.
posted by emd3737 at 2:32 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I swear her jaw almost hit the floor when I stopped her halfway through her next sentence with "Yup, done here, thanks for your time".

I had a similar experience. When Mrs. Deadmessenger and I bought our house, we had three rules which were spelled out to each agent we spoke to: no houses over our maximum price, no swimming pools, and no HOAs of any kind. The very first house that I was shown by our first agent broke all 3 of those rules, and I fired her on the spot. She had the gall to act astonished.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:32 PM on July 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


kafziel,

The first half of the summer after my first year in law school I was interning with the City of Houston legal department. Houston is unusual among big cities in that it has no zoning laws; everything is handled through private restrictions in the property deeds. However, the state has empowered cities to enforce these private deed restrictions, and I wound up in the division that handled this. (It was a strange catch-all division that did things that didn't fit in elsewhere; it also handled alcohol and strip-club licensing issues, which yielded more interesting work...).

We'd gone over Shelley v. Kraemer in Constitutional Law, but I was simply floored to find that literally every deed I looked at the summer had racial restrictions built into it, and sometimes religious ones as well. They weren't enforceable, but it drove home how widespread that kind of discrimination was back then. Though now instead of writing it in the deed the owners would just find some excuse not to sell to a black family...

Also, the way the deed restriction system worked is that people could anonymously report violations, and we were obliged to go out and take a look for each one. Of course this drew us into endless petty neighbor squabbles and HOA bullshit, since someone would call us one day, we'd go investigate, and the next day we'd get a call to investigate a house two doors down, etc.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:38 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


torch the motherfucker before I'd be inducted into a HOA

This is 'natural rights' policy in Flint if one gets real nosy.
posted by clavdivs at 2:39 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Grimgrin: "Local governments liked getting property taxes from developments that cost them nothing, so states such as Texas, California, Nevada, Florida and Virginia saw to it that little else was built.

I love it when people don't seem to have read their own articles when they make their conclusions."

VikingSword: "Grimgrin, could you please elaborate on what you mean? Disconnected fragments of citations interspersed with your cryptic commentary are not helpful in deciphering your point(s)."

Underlined portion is quoted from the article by Grimgrin.

VikingSword, what Grimgrin means is that, at least in Texas, almost every city has made a homeowners association a condition of getting land subdivided into residential lots. The reason for this is so that the city doesn't bear the cost of building a lot of the infrastructure in the subdivision. Those costs are lumped onto the HOA (usually by the HOA taking out a "loan" from the developer; conveniently enough, the HOA is controlled by the developer at that point but they are separate legal entities) and then must be paid off by the HOA through dues it charges subsequent buyers. However, the city and county still get their cut of property taxes.

Even more insidious is, again in Texas, when a property developer works some legal magic and gets an entire subdivision placed under a Municipal Utility District or Freshwater Supply District. These districts have all the taxing and bond issuing authority of cities, yet none of the requirements or authority needed to actually be a local government (such as have a police or fire department, pass city ordinances, etc). Property taxes in these districts are usually $1 per $100 of property value; compare that to most cities in North Texas being well under $0.75 per $100 AND residents of those cities get things like police, fire, EMS, a library, public parks, etc. Oh, and property inside those districts? Usually still part of an HOA and, some time down the road, will be annexed into a city, so those people get to pay HOA dues, city, county, school district and freshwater supply district property taxes (as well as anything for community college and public hospital districts).

But, hey, Texas has no state income tax, woo!
posted by fireoyster at 2:40 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


One last thing: these HOA's hire HOA Management groups to "run things". Talk about slime! I can't substantiate it, but I"m almost sure that these groups are run by people who are often taking kickbacks from contractors who do repair and maintenance work. I don't have time for details, but I have seen things that make my assertion probably true.

Anecdotal: I once worked for a small family company that had brought in an investor who owned a lot of properties, and also ran or was on the board of not one but several large HOAs in a prominently suburban and affluent county.

He was the scummiest, least honest person I've ever met in my life and I've met honest to God crack dealers. It's like he wasn't even capable of speaking without lying about something. What he had for lunch. Which way he drove to work. Where he went to school. Whether or not he actually graduated from so and so school, or whether or not he really served in the military.

Turns out that the money he "invested" in this company was money he'd been siphoning into a variety of slush funds from the HOAs and he had all kinds of triple and quadruple-dealing going on between those slush funds, his properties, our business and whatever other businesses he was investing in.

When you get that kind of access to cash you can leverage it into buying properties or securing commercial loans and leases. Which is what he was doing to secure the line of credit he was "investing" in our company. He wasn't ever actually putting up his own cash, he was just signing for loans. I overheard a lot of this while he was in the office he'd set up in our company so he had a place to do business. None of it was actually business for our company, it was all about the HOAs and his house of credit cards, and it was amazing to listen to. Because it was all very hush hush and below the table and sounded like ambiguous business patter, but when you connected the dots and decoded the hidden subtext it was a constant stream of "How can we rip people off even more, or who else can we rip off?" or "No, you don't get the huge painting contract without a little something for me and here's what you should bid..." kind of crap.

Fast forward about 3-4 years and we're having major cash flow problems. Of course he's brought in his own mousy little toy of an accountant from the beginning. Turns out they've been keeping double books. They've been failing to pay local, state and federal business taxes for years. We're talking over 200k in debt, past due. On top of pocketing the taxes he's been taking his huge monthly cut cash out of the business in return on his "investment" which wasn't his money to begin with. Not even the funds and property collateral he used to originally sign for the line of credit was his in the first place.

In retrospect over the years I've pieced this together because it was one hell of a snow job. His entire person was fabricated. We'd found out he never went to the school he went to. The awards and plaques and diplomas he loved to decorate his office with were probably all fake. Somehow he'd wedged himself into the real estate and HOA game from some very early point, extending tendrils, collecting loose funds.

And he was basically using this business as a cash-generator. Not even a filter or laundering scheme. It literally turned cash into more cash without having to really risk much of the original cash and investments. By the time the bank providing our line of credit figures out what's going on he's restructured his assets to limit liability and damage, and he's already extracted 10x what they'll ding him for when the business fails and defaults, except it's now in liquid cash instead of properties or HOA slush funds.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

And the motherfucker was teflon, like some kind of dark Jedi Sith Lord. It's rare I describe someone as pure evil, but he was pretty much pure evil, the essence of the banality of evil. Totally unremarkable to look at. After a conversation you wouldn't call him interesting, or even of above average intelligence. Cheap suits, piece of crap "luxury" car. Bad taste in cheap desk accessories and office furniture. It's like he didn't even care about the money, or maybe he had a bad gambling habit or was a bigamist in 50 states or something, I don't know.

But he seemed hell-bound by the motivation to fuck over as many people as humanly possible, like that's really what it was all about. Like it was just a game for him. He basically constructed elaborate paper machines designed to fuck people over and steal from them.

If Kafka were alive today maybe he'd write a story about that machine instead of the gruesome cutting machine in The Executioner.
posted by loquacious at 2:47 PM on July 9, 2011 [57 favorites]


Thanks, fireoyster. If that's all Grimgrin means, I am going to ignore it totally on account of this:

"I love it when people don't seem to have read their own articles when they make their conclusions."

I reached no conclusions in posting the FPP other than it was interesting. I posted the FPP article, and then looked around for something that explored the subject from both a pro and con side and posted that as a link to the words "homeowners' association" (in addition to the other link which simply defined it). I certainly read all the articles, and I certainly did not editorialize anywhere - the entire FPP is composed 100% of cites from the original article, with no personal contribution. If someone sees anything in the FPP as "reaching conclusions" (and I made no other post previous to Grimgrin's entry), they're an idiot, and I have no further interest in what they may have to say. Any further impression of HOA's I formed and expressed were subsequent to the discussion here.
posted by VikingSword at 2:50 PM on July 9, 2011


VikingSword, I think Grimgrin was talking about inconsistencies in the article itself, not your presentation of it. He quotes two quotes from the article that contradict each other. When he refers "people [who] don't seem to have read their own articles" he's refer to the writer of the article, not the FPP.
posted by kafziel at 3:00 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


VikingSword: you're being defensive about something which wasn't even directed at you.

Grimgrin was pointing out that the article contained the question which was quoted first, about why would people put themselves under HOA terms, and then earlier in the same article it was already stated that many places didn't want to invest in civic infrastructure so they only allowed HOA communities to be created, so people had no choice.

There is nothing in what Grimgrin wrote which was directed at you. The statement about people not having read their own articles was directed at the authors of one of the linked articles, not you or your post.
posted by hippybear at 3:01 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


the entirety of the HOA is the six units in the building.

The dynamic is significantly different when your "HOA" is a condo or co-op board of people who all live in the same building. It is perfectly reasonable to accept that outside walls of the building and the common areas as "shared." It doesn't encroach on your personal space when there are rules about what can be placed in the common areas or what repairs need to be done to the shared walls and roofs. No one walks into my unit and complains about the posters on the walls.

The dynamic is significantly different when the very air and lines of sight between single family homes become regarded as "common space." Then you get people hopping over fences to report violations, complaints about the colors of the curtains, etc.
posted by deanc at 3:02 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sorry. I wasn't sure, so that's why I put in "if". But it was still out of line, and *way* too defensive. My sincere apologies to Grimgrin.
posted by VikingSword at 3:05 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


VikingSword :Does the HOA own the land? If not, what's the difference?

Any land-owner in the US can add deed restrictions that say just about anything short of discriminating against a federally-protected group. They can either affect just the next buyer, or can "run with the land", meaning they continue essentially forever.

HOAs attach themselves in the latter manner, such that although they don't (necessarily) get a say in who can buy, you simply don't have a choice on whether or not to "accept" the restrictions (other than not buying). Thus, all future buyers, forever and ever amen, get to enjoy the perk of having the worst busybodies in the area micromanage the appearance of the neighborhood.

You can't, however, easily get such clauses removed from a deed. No one except the entity that put it there, or presumably their descendants, can have it removed - Meaning that even if every single current owner in a managed neighborhood voted to dissolve the HOA, they (except in very rare cases) wouldn't actually have the power to do so.


Benny Andajetz : How can a HOA force you to sign a HOA agreement? Otherwise they won't allow the house to be sold? Isn't that restraint of commerce?

No one can force you to agree to such restrictions if they didn't come with the property. Even if everyone else in a 10-mile radius agrees to a covenant, you can still tell them where to stick their BS rules. But once you have them in the deed, game over.

A friend of mine likes to brag about his uncle ending up in exactly such a situation. They badgered him for months to sign, and eventually gave up and created the HOA without that single, fairly prominent, piece of land included. Then a few years later, the HOA had the balls to try sending him one of their pseudo-legal nastygrams over some pointless crap like the color of his fence; Ever since, he's had a lime green VW-bug carcass "on display" in his front yard, as a great big middle finger to the HOA.


* IANAL, but I did research this exact issue rather thoroughly before buying my own home.
posted by pla at 3:17 PM on July 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


FOAF / Apocrypha disclaimer applies above
posted by pla at 3:18 PM on July 9, 2011


Every time I hear or read about a homeowners' association, it's invariably a horror story. They seem to be almost universally despised, including among people who belong to them. So, I always get to wondering:

Why don't people in a particularly egregious HOA campaign to elect board members on the platform of disbanding the HOA?
posted by Flunkie at 3:23 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Any land-owner in the US can add deed restrictions that say just about anything short of discriminating against a federally-protected group.

From what I understand, this is why often large retail buildings just sit empty after the original company has pulled out of the property. Properties will have odd restrictions on them saying that, say, once K-Mart has pulled out of that particular building, nobody else can use that building as a retail space.

Supposedly it's meant to keep another business from benefiting from the investment made into the building and therefore using a retail company's outlay to compete against itself, or something.

The real result is that in a lot of places you end up with huge buildings sitting empty but maintained for ages. In this area, a couple of dead HomeBase stores have been turned into churches, but there's still quite a few dead departments stores just sitting there, thanks to deed restrictions.
posted by hippybear at 3:27 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Flunkie: "Every time I hear or read about a homeowners' association, it's invariably a horror story. They seem to be almost universally despised, including among people who belong to them. So, I always get to wondering:

Why don't people in a particularly egregious HOA campaign to elect board members on the platform of disbanding the HOA?
"

Because of two things: Voter apathy and it's very difficult to dissolve a HOA. Most deed restrictions I have seen have terms that prevent even attempting to remove the requirement of an association before some long term (20 years is the most common) has passed. If the legal instrument that put the HOA and/or deed restrictions in place lacks a provision for removing those terms than the HOA cannot be legally (due to contract law) removed absent intervention by a court or the state legislature.
posted by fireoyster at 3:28 PM on July 9, 2011


Well, if not dissolve it, then campaign on getting rid of the idiotic petty tyranny.
posted by Flunkie at 3:30 PM on July 9, 2011


Well, if not dissolve it, then campaign on getting rid of the idiotic petty tyranny.

It may be impossible to dissolve an HOA, but do they HAVE to exist for any purpose beyond taking care of the basic services which should have been put in by the municipality (roads, water, fire service, etc)?

If they could be stripped down to simply being a non-governmental form of property tax which will maintain the common areas but won't get all puritanical in-your-face about how people want to live aside from that, that would be the best possible outcome under the egregious circumstances of having HOA requirements in the land deeds.
posted by hippybear at 3:34 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem is that the HOAs in new subdivisions are controlled by the builders, so you can't get enough people on the board to ditch the builder influence.

And nthing the folks upthread who talked about the situation in Houston, my hometown. I grew up in a house built in the 1960s. When my mother sold it in 1987, I was shocked to read the Jim Crow racial restrictions that had been severed due to unenforceability in the deed restrictions. Also in the deed restrictions in that neighborhood: No two-story houses. It wasn't that the ground wouldn't support them, but the builder didn't like the look, so they weren't permitted. The Civic Club (HOA) enforced that restriction; I can remember one family that had to tear down an already-finished garage apartment because the Civic Club didn't approve. But, of course, the house I grew up in stood between two "1 1/2 story" houses.

I worry about the HOA here eventually going tyrannical, but they're building and selling in our subdivision and will be for a long time, so they have to keep the neighbors sweet. So far they've been very responsive to the few complaints we've had. But part of our reason for buying here was that we didn't want outside maintenance. The house is blandly cute from the street and somebody else mows the lawn and that's all right with me. I've seen nothing to equal the Civic Club, and that was the actual neighbors, not builder reps.
posted by immlass at 3:45 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Kafka were alive today maybe he'd write a story about that machine instead of the gruesome cutting machine in The Executioner.

I read this as: "The Last Confession of Doug Wilson"


Dean: "Mr. Wilson, what zoning laws do you plan to enact to combat suburban sprawl?"

Doug: "Next question."

-Weeds

posted by clavdivs at 3:52 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem is that the HOAs in new subdivisions are controlled by the builders, so you can't get enough people on the board to ditch the builder influence.
How does this work? Does the builder just have a certain number of seats on the board by contract? That may decrease over time? Or do unsold homes count as having votes for the board elections, and those votes go to the builders? Or something else?
posted by Flunkie at 3:54 PM on July 9, 2011


There has got to be a middle ground between shotgun wielding keep your toes off of my land folks and the privacy invading NSA wannabees of HOAs. Like everything else we seem to be drifting to those dualities though
posted by edgeways at 4:03 PM on July 9, 2011


I fucking hate HOAs. (My condo currently is in one and I was on the board for a year.)

The current one seems to decide that not having elections is a good thing and that they can have secret meetings. (Maryland has all sorts of stuff about 'closed meetings' and how they can only be held for specific reasons, which have to be documented.) They also suck at maintenance (since I have stairs on my building which have rusted to the point where there are HOLES IN THEM) and according to the financial documents, have used unlicensed workers and spent shittons of money on the tiny bit of landscaping that we have. It pissed me off when I was on the board because I tried to do things legally (and spent a lot of time reading various MD code/law stuff to try and figure out the way things are supposed to be done) and NO ONE GAVE A SHIT BUT ME.

There's also the little quirk that everyone says in MD that you have to have a management company if you're a condo (which I've had a bitch of a time trying to get a straight answer about). The current management company (which is the 3rd one in 4 years) is incompetent at best and negligent at worst, but at least they do may some attempts to try and reign in the current BATSHIT president, who likes to do things such as put nastygrams on people's cars and 'visit' those who are behind on their fees just to 'talk' to them, which is really more like screaming at them for being delinquent.

It doesn't help that my association has been in the hole for many years, partially due to someone having a leak coming in through the siding (due to the fact that the buildings were shoddily built) and getting mold in their house and the association tried to fight them over it because the owner was wayyyyyyy behind on their fees. (This happened long before I moved in, but the effects of it are still being felt.)

We've got the second attempt for an 'annual meeting' on Monday, but the notice for it wasn't sent out in time and there's no agenda or election information, which is hilarious since the bylaws outline when all that shit is supposed to happen, which is at the annual meeting. My father (who co-owns my unit and outright owns another one that he rents out) has been going after the association like a fiend, because he's retired and loves nothing more than to be in everyone else's shit. I'd feel bad for the board, if they weren't being malicious.

Fucking trainwreck. If I can avoid it, I'll never live in another place with an HOA. I've tried to be proactive and be on the board, but there's just no fixing it.
posted by sperose at 4:03 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


There has got to be a middle ground between shotgun wielding keep your toes off of my land folks and the privacy invading NSA wannabees of HOAs.
Uh, there is? It's called "the vast majority of homeowners who aren't in homeowners' associations.
posted by Flunkie at 4:07 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


The dues (~$450/year) pay for road, pool, and lake maintenance, along with trained security and a sensor-activated gate system. I think we're supposed to let them know if we're painting the house, to avoid crazy colors, but from the looks of the houses out here, I think it would have to be neon before anyone cared. Oh, and we can't raise chickens.

Considerably farther along the spectrum. Ahem. I pay $798 a month and have not been assessed less than $2000 a year for the past 19 years and as much as $6600 in a single year.
Yet I am by and large OK with the situation.
I have to contend with TWO hoa boards. One governs the amenities; golf course, tennis courts, marina etc. that are available for use by the fourteen 'villages' within the community and the other is the hoa of my particular village.

The thing I will never understand is why people retire to Fl. and then commit to spending endless unpaid hours as members of these hoa boards.
Between tennis, golf, boating, biking, bridge and in my case also beach volleyball I should think no one would have time to voluntarily serve on these boards. When I suggested turning the whole thing over to a professional management company you would have thought I committed some sort of heretical sin.
posted by notreally at 4:10 PM on July 9, 2011


How does this work? Does the builder just have a certain number of seats on the board by contract? That may decrease over time? Or do unsold homes count as having votes for the board elections, and those votes go to the builders? Or something else?

I'd have to wade through the by-laws to talk about the exact mechanisms. I skimmed it last year when we bought the house to make sure there was nothing I couldn't live with and I don't remember all the details. But the builder's rep was up-front that they controlled the HOA and would continue to control it until most of the houses in the subdivision were sold. As part of controlling the HOA, though, they also continue to subsidize the amenities (fences, roads, pool, etc.) while they're building and selling the houses. Amenities in our case also include lawn maintenance and exterior home maintenance, but our development is technically condo even though the houses are freestanding.

Since we're technically in a condo, the mileage here may vary a lot from HOAs with non-condo ownership (as well as varying from other condo rules).
posted by immlass at 4:15 PM on July 9, 2011


Oh, also, I think the point of the builder's rep being up-front about the ongoing builder control was that it would limit any rise in condo fees for as long as the subdivision was being built. So he considered it a selling point that the fees wouldn't go up as much barring an emergency that really wrecked the place, like a hurricane that destroyed pool, trees, houses, etc.
posted by immlass at 4:18 PM on July 9, 2011


The stories in here make me want to go and kiss my neighbors, and pretend that there is some organized god I can praise that none of the boards since I've lived here have gone totally, completely psycho. After kissing them, I'd still want to choke them and throw them in the river, a lot of them, but still...
posted by dancestoblue at 4:23 PM on July 9, 2011


Block wars!
posted by Joe Chip at 4:26 PM on July 9, 2011


A friend of mine lived in one, back in the maybe '70s, and her Dad painted the house blue.
The HOA took him to court because the agreement stipulated only "earth tones".
Well, her Dad asked them to define "earth tones" clearly, and they probably said something about mineral colors or maybe even mineral pigments, and he told them that by that definition (whatever it wound up being), he was completely within his rights, as he had painted the house cobalt blue.
The court agreed with him.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:36 PM on July 9, 2011 [24 favorites]


"Good" HOAs seem to fall in the same category as "good" rule by a monarchy; possible, but rare. And subject to change every time the old king dies/there's a new board member elected.

Thankfully, we live in the poor part of our HOA-loving suburb town. Our neighbors are hardworking hispanic families and retirees, for the most part. They never bitch at us about letting our yard die in the hot months or having parties now and then. Also we have sidewalks. It's worth having to deal with a smaller/older house, but then again, we're renting, so we'd never be in an HOA anyway.

My inlaws have a neighbor who is known unironically as Shithead. He's not mean, but has a property full of junk cars he's "renovating" and occasionally tries to kill fire ant mounds with gas and matches. He had to be dissauded from firing his .22 at squirrels in his backyard by my father in law, who was afraid he'd kill somone. But they'd still rather put up with his shenanigans than an HOA. For one thing, the HOA would probably frown on their McGyver'd rainwater capture system and make them get rid of the chickens and the greenhouse.
posted by emjaybee at 4:43 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and we can't raise chickens.

Well I can (up to four, iirc), and I live in one of the densest major cities in the country. I don't happen to raise chickens, but I can and you can't. So there.
posted by zachlipton at 4:45 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Our factor (HOA) has sacked us

Factors are more property managers than HOAs. I had no problems dealing with them, and there was none of this community policing drama.
posted by scruss at 4:46 PM on July 9, 2011


An NPR story about HOAs that forclose over fees and then sell the house to their buddies for a couple thousand dollars:

He was halfway through his deployment when he got a bolt from the blue — a frantic phone call from his wife, May, back in Texas. "She was bawling on the phone and was telling me that the HOA [homeowners association] had foreclosed on our house, and it was sold,"
But by the time he got back to Texas, it was too late. The Clauers' four-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot home had been sold on the courthouse steps for just $3,500 — enough to cover outstanding HOA dues and legal costs.
The new owner quickly sold it for $135,000 and netted a tidy profit.


"David Kahne, a Houston lawyer who advises homeowners, says that in Texas, the law is so weighted in favor of HOAs, he advises people that instead of hiring him, they should call their association and beg for mercy.

"I suggest you call the association and cry," he says. "
posted by 445supermag at 5:03 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wait, so

uh

how the fuck are people not getting fucking shot over this

i mean taking someone's home or land is like horse-thievery level, a real cardinal kind of thing. why am i not seeing stories about people flipping out over this? you'd think it'd really set off something, especially in the american character.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:12 PM on July 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


I...just can't get my head around this. We don't have HOAs in Australia. The close I'm aware of are some gated retirement communities, like my father lives in, in which he really doesn't even own his house or land, but has a long term lease from the company running the retirement village. They come and change his lightbulbs and do his maintenance, and in return he has to ask them permission if he wants to modify his flat.

But from reading this thread, it appears that in the land of the free, in the land where private property rules, property owners voluntarily sign over their rights to plant certain types of trees in their yard or chose the colour of their curtains? Someone can come along and fine you for parking your car in the wrong place on your own property?! And forclose on you if you don't pay? For real? This is a thing that people do?! Jesus H Fucking Christ, what happened to you people?

Someone up above said that their HOA wasn't so bad - it was cheap, and they provided electronically-controlled gates on the community. You enjoy living in a community behind gates? What is this, the Baghdad Green Zone, or America?

They fix the roads? Why isn't the local or state government fixing the roads?
They provide pools and tennis courts? Why aren't these run by the local government? Hell, why aren't they just run by private enterprise? There's plenty of public swimming pools and tennis courts around here, as well as commercial sports and fitness centers. No big deal. A private citizen, on private prroperty, should have to put up with some arsehole telling me how high I can build my fence in order to have the right to go swimming?

Geez. Y'all should give up and swear allegiance to Queen Liz. Your great democratic experiment has failed.
posted by Jimbob at 5:15 PM on July 9, 2011 [59 favorites]


Stuff like this is one of the few reasons I'm glad I live in Maine, where you can live in a purple house with seven rusting Chevy Novas piled in the yard and nobody will stop you. The rest of the country has always seemed so fucking uptight.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:19 PM on July 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


it appears that in the land of the free, in the land where private property rules, property owners voluntarily sign over their rights to plant certain types of trees in their yard or chose the colour of their curtains?
No, they're purchasing property with the stipulation that they don't have those rights. There's a difference.
posted by Flunkie at 5:31 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The end effect of which is...you save up a deposit, put yourself massively in debt for 30 years in order to "own" a "property"...and once you are in "possession" of that property, you're not allowed to put red curtains in your kitchen window or someone will come and nullify your mortgage and take your house away.

Mmmm.
posted by Jimbob at 5:37 PM on July 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


I didn't say it was smart, Jimbob. I said that it was different than what you implied - i.e. that people who already own property voluntarily give up their rights on it.
posted by Flunkie at 5:45 PM on July 9, 2011


Jimbob, your conflating and projecting. Believe it or not, most signed the line in all hopes that democracy might work IF you paint your door black-sorry thats somewhere in London, so that the 'take out the papers and the trash' lifestyle prevails in a gated version of ozzy and harrietville, we did not invent the theme park sir, nor the scam.
posted by clavdivs at 5:47 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well true, I saw your point. They are buying property without rights, rather than buying property then surrendering rights. I just find it hard to believe people would have any reason to want to do that.
posted by Jimbob at 5:48 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's is the question isn't it.
posted by clavdivs at 5:51 PM on July 9, 2011


It's because it's really hard in some parts of the country to buy a house that doesn't have a HOA along with it.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:56 PM on July 9, 2011


So you've got yourselves in a feedback loop.

Decades of starving the income of local and state government means services aren't provided, so HOAs become the only way for people to obtain basic municipal services, and it becomes harder and harder for people to buy property that isn't controlled by one.

Decades of removal of workers' rights, stagnation of wages, means a drive towards people putting all their eggs in one basket, namely a house, that must explode in value no matter what. People therefore sink into obsession with neighbourhood property values, everyone being afraid that the house that looks "different" is ruining their property price, everyone being concerned that they never appear to be the weird ones, which leads to suburbs of identical ticky-tacky houses, with conformity enforced by fear of forclosure.

HOAs given rights as a fourth level of government, with laws that appear to put them above the law, and make it impossible for them to be shut down, while requiring no actual responsibility from them.

These are all the impressions I've got from this thread. Add them all up, and I can see no democratic, legal way out of it.
posted by Jimbob at 6:06 PM on July 9, 2011 [21 favorites]


Put the fuckers up against the wall?
posted by dunkadunc at 6:12 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread makes me want to give my HOA-free home a hug.
posted by drezdn at 6:17 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


This thread makes me want to buy a house in Maine, or perhaps Australia.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:20 PM on July 9, 2011


I love you, apartment.
posted by The Whelk at 6:28 PM on July 9, 2011 [27 favorites]


Someone up above said that their HOA wasn't so bad - it was cheap, and they provided electronically-controlled gates on the community. You enjoy living in a community behind gates? What is this, the Baghdad Green Zone, or America?

Amen. I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees gated communities and thinks security fences and urban dystopias. It's one thing if it's an apartment building in the middle of a city (like mine) locking the parking garage and lobby. It's another thing when you can't enter a whole village without being on a guest list (my cousin's home).
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 6:28 PM on July 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Every time I hear or read about a homeowners' association, it's invariably a horror story

Well sure, but partially for the same reason this is true of many things --- people who are content rarely write articles, it's not a good story, etc. I know a lot of suburbanites who are fine with their HOAs. I certainly don't think it's unreasonable that they exist, and they can sometimes be useful (mostly in providing shared amenities like pools and such).

It is unfortunate when they crowd out other options. Not really the case where I live now but this is highly regional.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:35 PM on July 9, 2011


Then, looking out from the back patio, she made some comment about how the property technically went to such-and-such a point, but the covenant allowed for common use of another thousand or so feet beyond that.

I swear her jaw almost hit the floor when I stopped her halfway through her next sentence with "Yup, done here, thanks for your time".


Worth pointing out that restrictive covenants do not necessarily include creating a HOA. It's entirely possible, at least just based off that anecdote, that you really would have had a right to use that land (conservation covenant or something) that wouldn't be enforced or protected by any kind of HOA. Likewise, lots of places just have restrictions saying "No trailers" or "No tin roofs" or whatever, without any HOA to enforce this stuff. In practice it just means that if someone's violating the rules or restrictions, and doesn't back down when you show them the rules on paper, you can take 'em to court and it'll get sorted out pretty quickly. (For certain values of "quickly"; this is still court we're talking about.)

How does this work? Does the builder just have a certain number of seats on the board by contract? That may decrease over time? Or do unsold homes count as having votes for the board elections, and those votes go to the builders? Or something else?

In many cases (at least around here, in New England) HOAs are created at the time the development is first created, but the developer's rights (most of the power) are kept by the builder until the builder has sold the last house in the development; at that point the developer records a release or assignment granting all developer's rights to the HOA. Varies a lot from one particular set of bylaws to the next, though.

They fix the roads? Why isn't the local or state government fixing the roads?
They provide pools and tennis courts? Why aren't these run by the local government?


The breakdown began once local governments realized they didn't need to provide these services - they could get the homeowners' associations to collect the cash for it all and provide the services, and yet still collect the same amount of property taxes on the houses as they would any other houses (or more property taxes, since the HOA will ensure property values stay high!) And the towns still control the zoning and planning boards, so any developer who wants to put in a bunch of houses still has to convince the town that it fits in with the "comprehensive community vision plan" or whatever other methods for extorting developers the local town has handy.

End result of this is you get two kinds of developers: ones which make nice with the town (and likely create a HOA) and ones which completely, utterly ignore any and all zoning laws they don't like, do whatever they feel like, and pay the fines later, which isn't exactly ideal either.

Don't even get me started on what a mess most federally-mandated affordable housing projects turn out to be, in practice. Just imagine all this with an extra side helping of bona-fide grade A Beltway bureaucrat. And So. Much. Paper.
posted by mstokes650 at 6:37 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


He was halfway through his deployment when he got a bolt from the blue — a frantic phone call from his wife, May, back in Texas. "She was bawling on the phone and was telling me that the HOA [homeowners association] had foreclosed on our house, and it was sold,"
But by the time he got back to Texas, it was too late. The Clauers' four-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot home had been sold on the courthouse steps for just $3,500 — enough to cover outstanding HOA dues and legal costs.
The new owner quickly sold it for $135,000 and netted a tidy profit.


The good thing for this couple is this: he was deployed.* According to the rest of the article they are going to court-there is a very real possibility they will have to give the house back.

And if I were the judge I would find a way to throw in some punitive damages.


*you cannot legally foreclose on a deployed military member.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:54 PM on July 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


The Clauers' four-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot home had been sold on the courthouse steps for just $3,500 — enough to cover outstanding HOA dues and legal costs.
The new owner quickly sold it for $135,000 and netted a tidy profit.


How does this work exactly? Doesn't the bank want the house to be sold for something closer to fair market value in order to recover its costs? Selling a house for $1/sq. foot and less than 3% of FMV is insanity (ignoring the whole "let's take away the home of a deployed soldier and his family over a couple hundred dollar debt to a bunch of sanctimonious busybodies with all of the power and none of the checks and balances of government, which is simply unspeakable).
posted by zachlipton at 7:04 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


This thread makes me want to give my HOA-free home a hug.

Oh yeah. A near neighbor recently spent a weekend building an aviary in his backyard. A few days later I went outside to find a flock of white doves on my roof. What a great surprise! I can imagine why that would piss some people off as totally anti-social, but I think it's great. Keeping birds is not something I would ever do, but I can still enjoy watching his flock flit about. Not to mention a little joy at his often vain attempts to round them up in the evening.

It must be so sad living in a HOA.
posted by Jehan at 7:04 PM on July 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Someone up above said that their HOA wasn't so bad - it was cheap, and they provided electronically-controlled gates on the community. You enjoy living in a community behind gates? What is this, the Baghdad Green Zone, or America?

They fix the roads? Why isn't the local or state government fixing the roads?
They provide pools and tennis courts? Why aren't these run by the local government? Hell, why aren't they just run by private enterprise? There's plenty of public swimming pools and tennis courts around here, as well as commercial sports and fitness centers. No big deal. A private citizen, on private prroperty, should have to put up with some arsehole telling me how high I can build my fence in order to have the right to go swimming?


I'm one of those people, who also happens to be lucky enough to live in one of the poorest and also one of the most crime-affected small urban areas in the southeast US. It's an area where many people don't have much to pay in taxes and the people who do fight tooth and nail to avoid paying much in taxes. Before the gates went in, when our house was broken into, it took the county law enforcement 45 minutes to show up after the 911 call even when we stated that the person might have still been in the house. I'm sure there might be some public pools in town, but they're most likely in one of the falling apart rec centers that happen to be located in neighborhoods where you stand a good chance of getting shot. I can pay $3 to go swimming at a local state park, which is typically what I do.

Again, though, I haven't experienced anything bad with my HOA. They don't seem to care about fences, or keeping a lawn up, or fixing your car in the front yard, etc.
posted by bizzyb at 7:09 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I laugh at HOAs, because this economic downturn has given me the same advantages of a HOA (getting rid of deadbeats and "undesirables") without any of the negatives. Gated communities are a similar folly.
posted by readyfreddy at 7:10 PM on July 9, 2011


The Clauers' four-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot home had been sold on the courthouse steps for just $3,500 — enough to cover outstanding HOA dues and legal costs.
The new owner quickly sold it for $135,000 and netted a tidy profit.

How does this work exactly? Doesn't the bank want the house to be sold for something closer to fair market value in order to recover its costs?


Read the article, they had paid off their mortgage ($350,000).
posted by 445supermag at 7:16 PM on July 9, 2011


So what, readyfreddy, would you say is an "undesirable"? Just curious.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:25 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can't help but assume the purchaser of their house was related to someone on the HOA board.

That setup stinks to high heaven of collusion on the part of the board and the buyer.
posted by winna at 7:25 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I find it vaguely amusing people rail on apartments for lack of freedom then move into places with more restrictive clauses than any apartment complex would bother putting up for the sake of "mah property value".
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:46 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


In case you're curious, this is the summary of a typical rural HOA, as we found them. This one was somewhat reasonable, but still gave us the heebie-jeebies.

Article I - Definitions
Owner, association, lot, plat are defined.
1/2 page

Article II - Membership and Voting Rights
If you own a lot or house, you're a member.
1/4 page

Article III - Covenant for Annual Assessments
You owe an annual assessment and any special assessments, with the penalty for non-payment being a lien against the property and possible foreclosure. Spelled out in some detail. Rules about how much the annual assessment can go up, etc.
2 pages

Article IV - Architectural Control
All new construction must meet the restrictions of the next Article, and must be approved by the board or architectural control committee if there is one. Approval is good for one year, but if the board doesn't respond within 30 days with a yea or nay, the project is considered approved by default, assuming it meets with Article 5's restrictions.
1/2 page

Article V - Restrictions
Summary of each point, #5 quoted in its entirety:
(1) No temporary structures except for limited use during construction. Mobile homes are considered temporary structures.
(2) Once you start building, you must complete your project within a year. Completion is defined as being done on the outside, including landscaping.
(3) Fences: Nothing over six feet.
(4) Trees: Nothing over 18 feet, unless it is original growth (pre 1960 in this case). Board can have trees trimmed and owners charged upon complaint.
(5) "No noxious or undesirable thing shall be permitted on any Property within the Plat nor shall any undesirable or illegal use of any Property be permitted within said Plat. If necessary, the Board shall have the authority to determine what consists a noxious or undesirable thing and/or what constitutes an undesirable or illegal use of Property within the Plat. The use of off-road all-terrain vehicles, off-road motorcycles, go-carts and other similar vehicles shall be prohibited on any Property within the Plat." (Also known as the Catch-22 clause.)
(6) No trash may be stored or dumped.
(7) Storage - no commercial materials or vehicles.
(8) Cars, RVs and boats must be stored out of sight of neighbors and streets. No street parking, no driveway parking unless it is screened.
(9) Animals: No livestock, maximum of 2 total dogs and cats. 90 exception for litter of pups or kittens. Dog house, one per lot, no closer than 30 feet to neighbors.
(10) No outbuildings except as approved.
(11) Dwelling size: minimum of 1500 square feet.
(12) Dwelling height: maximum of 15 feet.
2 1/2 pages

Article VI - Enforcement
They can enter your land to seek enforcement; the board or any owner can enforce the restrictions "in law or in equity", attorney costs for all parties are the responsibility of the violator; as long as board or member is "acting in good faith" no liability for acts or omissions in enforcement.
1/2 page

Article VII - Amendment
Restrictions run with the land unless extinguished or amended by 2/3rds of members. One vote per lot owned.
1/4 page

Article VIII - Severability
If one clause is proven invalid, the rest still bind.
posted by maxwelton at 7:56 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


HOAs appear to have been invented because someone thought city governments weren't corrupt enough and felt they could do better. They've succeeded wildly, since I've never seen one that isn't shadier than an old maple tree. I took a look once at a friend's HOA documents, specifically their "budget" and immediately decided the treasurer was fucking them over. No expense reports, only a vague budget that included 60 dollars a month in web hosting fees, substantial office supply fees, and an estimated amount for the big contracts they secure annually that actually matter. Of course Treasurer was also Webmaster. And given the president had an MBA, he'd have to be an idiot to not to see it. Having met the guy, I cannot discount the idiot possibility.

Certainly glad I didn't take the President up on an offer to host their website, given that they're in court now, and the treasurer is asking for a trial by jury, presumably because the rest of the Board is pointing the finger on him and filing separately and he's facing separate criminal charges that would probably ruin his public traffic engineering career. For a matter estimated, last I saw, of under a thousand dollars by a person who posted his own bond.
posted by pwnguin at 8:36 PM on July 9, 2011


Huh. Most of that is heebie-jeebie-inducing, but I can kind of see their reasoning. But what do they have against trees?
posted by zeptoweasel at 8:36 PM on July 9, 2011


maxwelton: I can totally see why you got the heebie-jeebies. (Not to mention the creepy-crawlies, the screaming fantods, and the emphatic fuck-offs.) Article V is a fine example of pecksniffian control-freakery. And I would be most interested in learning how one defines and determines "good faith," as mentioned in Article VI.

But I am curious about your definition of rural. My parents bought land well outside the limits of my TX hometown, specifically because they'd rather shit bricks than let anybody else tell them how tall their trees can be or how many* animals they can have and what kind. (And no unapproved outbuildings? Them's fightin' words. Sheds are not far behind firearms in the cold-dead-fingers category.) It's pretty much the same with most of the landowners I know in upstate NY. Maybe you mean exurban?



*What's the exception for litters? It can't be 90 actual puppies and/or kittens, unless the people who drew up the article think dogs and cats propagate like dandelions, which may indeed be the case.
posted by dogrose at 9:22 PM on July 9, 2011


I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees gated communities and thinks security fences and urban dystopias.

I'm nominally in a gated community. "Nominally" because my house faces onto a street that is currently not gated (the garage is behind the house and inside the gates), but supposedly eventually will be when the HOA gets all the signatures it needs to move the gates out past our house to encompass the next building zone. My sense is that moving my street entirely inside the gates is more about the perceived property value and/or the FHA loan value* in a gentrifying neighborhood than it is about actual security. While the gates at our end of the property are closed, unless, of course, you follow a resident in or a guest who's buzzed in, the gates at the other end of the property are open all day so people can get to the sales office.

Our security is pretty nominal here but I have friends in greater metro Houston who have a security guard at their gate. Instead of buzzing in or following someone in the way people do in our community, when we visit them we have to sign in with security. It's not like they're in the middle of a war zone, either; they're out in the suburbs with not that much besides other housing developments nearby.

I'm not defending the gating of developments, which I think is at best a mild deterrent to property crime. I think the security companies have sold housing developments and homebuyers on the idea that gates are a standard community amenity even though they're not necessary or even particularly helpful (how much of a deterrent can they be if every development has them?).

*we got a bit of a deal on our house because the FHA thought the builder was overestimating the value of the house and we wouldn't budge on the down payment.
posted by immlass at 9:27 PM on July 9, 2011


I don't get that story of the military dude who lost his house (he is still fighting this, the article says). If you have PAID OFF a $300,000 house, why are you going to let a few hundred or thousand dollars of bullshit fees and assessments and crap the HOA nazis come up with lose you your home? If worse came to worst and the bill was higher than your monthly paycheck and you had to pay it right away, could you not get a home equity loan to keep those vipers off your neck? I don't get it.

Did they not see the notices? Ignore them? Hope it would just go away? Did they not open their mail? Did they not understand how vulnerable they were? I am confused.
posted by marble at 9:49 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Our (HOA free) house has racial (unenforceable, illegal) restrictions on the deed that would have prevented us from living here.
posted by bq at 10:06 PM on July 9, 2011


I'm one of those people, who also happens to be lucky enough to live in one of the poorest and also one of the most crime-affected small urban areas in the southeast US.

Ok, and maybe a gated community makes sense in your case, as it does for expatriates and wealthy homeowners in parts of Mexico, Brazil, etc... That's very much the exception though. The vast majority of US gated communities are in suburbia surrounded by other ticky-tacky developments. Research has largely concluded that gated communities don't have lower crime rates, might provide a false sense of security, and that while the initial installation of gates might provide some security benefits, crime levels return to normal within a year or so.

It's about marketing a lifestyle and exclusivity, as dreamed up by someone who's been traumatized for life because a salesman or proselytizer once rang their doorbell.
posted by zachlipton at 10:06 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing the fact that HER HUSBAND WAS DEPLOYED may have had something to do with it.
posted by bq at 10:07 PM on July 9, 2011


Sorry, it was a 90-day exception to the two animals rule. Though why they just don't say "only spayed or neutered animals" and be done with it...the trees thing is to preserve views, I guess.

Rural, in this case, is an island in Puget Sound. Not really a commuter area, there is still a bit of agriculture and generally 5 acre minimums these days. Lots of crappy developments and a few nice ones.

From our house search, I would say roughly half of all homes within HOA-plats out here are in violation, some blatantly so. Seller's agents were always on us about how the restrictions were "no big deal" and "everyone ignores most of them" but that's asking for trouble.
posted by maxwelton at 10:16 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Recently, local business/cell phone texting scam JAWA/Cylon has come to light as they've been sued to shit by Verizon, et al for doing awful things. No huge surprise, then, that it turns out that their CEO/founder apparently committed the worst of evils, in taking over two HOAs, having loans taken out in their names, and then performing the work he wanted and pilfering the rest. Seriously, this stuff is absurd.

That said, I'm the president of the three member board for our tiny condo complex's HOA, and we have to be the most easygoing/apathetic group you've ever met. Having lived under a nightmarish HOA, I was resolved to be open-minded and chill about any requests that came by. We also have a fantastic community management company that takes care of everything for us. They do a wonderful job and handle our power bills, pool maintenance, common garage maintenance, insurance, fire protection payments, landscaping, and pool area and common area furnishings, with our guidance.

It helps that most of our residents are renters who don't actively care much about things, and that it's a designer complex, so to speak, already painted insanely loud colors, so it's not like people are bringing about huge changes to their houses. Downstairs neighbors wanted to plant a tree in their space? It was desert themed and would fit in with our decor, so we said yes.

Admittedly, if they had come wanting to plant an enormous pine tree in our desert xeriscape area in the back of their unit, facing the common area, we might have nixed that request. But we haven't had to reject anything yet, and things are pretty simple. We had a bad pool guy. So we hired a new one. I made sure that the jacuzzi got fixed, and that we fixed our phone box for getting into the complex's gate. The HOA pays for everyone's water and sewer and blanket insurance, so there's that, but I know our management company does have a compliance officer who will initiate a letter if something is obviously out of compliance.

(Frankly, I'm not too thrilled with a contractor hanging an enormous banner above my unit on the street-facing balcony, for instance.)

I know that they're typically unmitigated evil, and it really sucks, and I understand the desire to paint your house whatever you want, but in a condo complex like this, where insurance has to be shared as does pool stuff and the like, I think we do a good job not being psychotic awful people making anyone's lives miserable. (The horror stories like those above are absolutely insane, though.)
posted by disillusioned at 10:32 PM on July 9, 2011


I was about to post pretty much what Jimbob had. I'm stunned that this can happen. Our local council (in Melbourne) levies rates, and we get garbage collection, meals on wheels, preschools, parks, swimming pools, animal welfare, a local market, tree pruning, graffiti removal - to name but a few services.

It's socialism gone mad I tell ya - apart from the bit where councils are democratic and anyone can run for office.
posted by the noob at 10:47 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Kutsuwamushi wrote: Having lived in a neighborhood without a HOA, I would not have traded the control I had over my own house for the ability to make my neighbor clean up his--not for the world.

I agree. If people let their yards get too high or whatever here, the city will fine them and eventually mow it themselves. However, "too high" is not "3.75 inches" or whatever idiotic standard many HOAs have, it's "so high that the yard is attracting snakes." The zoning code also kindly has reasonable occupancy limits, reasonable setbacks, and reasonable lot coverage maximums, at least for the less urban parts of town.

There has, for several years, been a feeling that the zoning code is too restrictive in certain districts, so there's been a push to get some rezoning done around the city's denser areas to once again allow such dense development.

The really sad bit is that if people paid more in tax instead of HOA dues, we could all have such nice things as community pools. Instead, my city can't afford to open any of the already paid for pools because of reduced sales tax collections and reduced property tax collections caused by people moving to the suburbs. I think this summer some kind philanthropist donated some money and they were able to open four pools.

kafziel wrote: These are legitimate uses for local government, not private HOAs.

Not in one of those fucking gated community monstrosities. I'm pretty easy going about where my tax money goes, but I'll be damned if I let my city pay one red cent towards maintaining private streets.

Vibrissae wrote: They sent a letter to my friend's home stating they had to remove their satellite dish, because although the prior owner had permission to put it where it was, they had not sought an easement as the new owner. My friends were threatened with a fine; they had to spend 3-4 hours of their time looking at code and groveling before the HOA Board to gain permission to keep the satellite dish where it was.

FYI, that's illegal. FCC rules state HOAs can't prevent you from placing receiving antennas on your property. They can ask that it not be visible from the road, but if you think you can't get reception in the location they want the antenna, they're screwed.

pla wrote: You can't, however, easily get such clauses removed from a deed. No one except the entity that put it there, or presumably their descendants, can have it removed - Meaning that even if every single current owner in a managed neighborhood voted to dissolve the HOA, they (except in very rare cases) wouldn't actually have the power to do so.

The HOA documents I've read here in Oklahoma state that the HOA is time limited. It's either 20 or 40 years for the first term, then up to two 20 year renewals if the property owners at that time so desire.
posted by wierdo at 10:53 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


They're less common in the northeast and midwest than in other parts of the country, areas with robust urban development with substantial zoning codes before the WWII housing boom.

Where I lived in North Carolina (when I lived there) there were TONS of HOAs and hardly any zoning laws, and the whole thing struck me as moderately insane. A friend would bitch about how the HOA wouldn't let him hang his American flag except on federal holidays, and I'd point out if he didn't live in an HOA he couldn't hang it whenever he wanted, or at least petition the government for a redress of grievances (not to mention have a slam-dunk First Amendment case if the city tried to prevent him hanging a US flag ...), and he'd say, "Oh, but then people would have cars up on blocks in their front yards." "You can pass a zoning ordinance about that, you know." "No you can't." "Yes you can. Every place I lived in the North had one." "But what if I WANTED to put my car up on blocks and the government said I couldn't?" "Then you could petition the government for a redress of grievances. Or even run for office yourself. What if you want to do that in your HOA?" "...."

Basically, they were totally opposed to any kind of zoning ordinances at all because the government shouldn't tell you what to do ... thus creating horrid places to live where everyone existed in a state of nature w/r/t property upkeep ... thus forcing them to create HOAs that perform EXACTLY THE SAME FUNCTION as city government ought to, except that are tyrants instead of democracies. They'd live under these FAR more restrictive and expensive pseudo-governments they created due to a delusion that "the" government was somehow NOT "of the people" but the pseudo-governmental corporate HOA was "of the people." The whole thing was so bizarre.

Many of my friends in Texas are shocked to find out what kinds of things local zoning regulates and that, yes, you can do that without an HOA, and living in an HOA is quite unnecessary if you have reasonable zoning.

I really only have two complaints about local zoning codes ... one philosophical, which is that I think our zoning ought to have a more new urbanist mindset throughout the city, not just in designated new urbanist area; and one practical, which is that in my neighborhood you can only have one concrete-footed structure per lot other than the house ... which means, in theory, everyone with a detached garage (about half the houses) has to get a variance to sink the posts for a swingset into concrete. This strikes me as dumb. But whatever, getting a variance is not a big deal.

A local HOA that was formed some years after the area was built -- so it was just about regulating neighbors' paint colors and landscaping choices and whatnot, not paying for group amenities -- got in some trouble a couple years ago. They decided that there were too many cars coming through their neighborhood too fast, so they assessed themselves and bought and installed a gate to block the road so people couldn't come through the neighborhood. Only it turns out that was a city road and it's a crime to deliberately obstruct traffic in an ongoing fashion. Or, you know, to TRY TO STEAL A CITY STREET. It was pretty amusing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:57 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


thus forcing them to create HOAs that perform EXACTLY THE SAME FUNCTION as city government ought to

The strange knee jerk paranoia of some Americans toward even the word "goverment" makes me think we could totally sneak in a socialist paradise if we said it was founded and backed by the Hederal Huhovernment.
posted by The Whelk at 11:11 PM on July 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


Thanks for this post and for all the discussion here. I've heard some bad things about these organizations, but this has been eye-opening. Unfortunately if I ever do buy it would be a flat, so I suspect that I'll be stuck with some variation of this, but at least now I know what to be wary of.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:35 AM on July 10, 2011


If I conceptualize an HOA as a government, then I would want to limit its power, just the same way we limit the power of any government. No one wants to have the government telling them that their hedges must be 3.5 yards tall , so therefore, one shouldn't give that power to an HOA.
posted by wuwei at 1:04 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


No one wants to have the government telling them that their hedges must be 3.5 yards tall

But there are an awful lot of people who would like to ensure their neighbor's hedge must be 3.5 yards tall.
posted by maxwelton at 1:11 AM on July 10, 2011


But there are an awful lot of people who would like to ensure their neighbor's hedge must be 3.5 yards tall.

Why? Seriously, it's one of the things I can't fathom. When I drive through a neighbourhood where every house looks the same, every garden looks the same, the whole place looks pathetic. I wouldn't want to buy a house there, because there's absolutely nothing that makes it my house. Hell, I might get lost on the way home and pull into the wrong driveway.

On the other hand, suburbs, towns and cities that have a diversity of dwellings look interesting. This used to be a fashion, infact, even in planned urban areas. In the 1920s (I believe), in Adelaide where I grew up, a new suburb was created called "Colonel Light Gardens", that was intended to try out some new theories in urban design. They deliberately set every house a different distance from the street, mandated a variety of colours and styles for the houses, as diverse as possible. The design also implemented novel ideas like putting laneways behind all the properties, and running the powerlines through there rather along the main streets. When you drive into Colonel Light Gardens today, even 90 years later, there is just something so different and beautiful about this area, in contrast to the more bland suburbia that surrounds it.
posted by Jimbob at 2:57 AM on July 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


We don't have HOAs in Australia, as Jimbob pointed out, but Strata Title schemes are very similar, although usually only applied to condominiums or townhouse developments. The strata committee has many similar powers to what I gather a HOA has.
Importantly, though, as I understand it, there is a restriction in law as to what a strata agreement can cover, and it would be possible to challenge a strata regulation in court if it interfered with your enjoyment of your property too much.
Of course, we do have quite prescriptive local government, to the level where some areas mandate how you must surface your drive way, and what colours buildings can be painted.
posted by bystander at 5:12 AM on July 10, 2011


This discussion about HOAs being attached to land sales reminded me of this previous MetaFilter FPP: Pro Life Properties of Texas, LLC uses deed restrictions to "stop abortion forever, one property at a time."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:22 AM on July 10, 2011


Jimbob : Decades of starving the income of local and state government means services aren't provided

Sorry, but a few people have mentioned this "services" thing, and I don't quite get it.

I have a road running past my house. The town plows it. End of services (that directly affect my property). Okay, bigger towns have their own police force, and if I had kids, my town arranges to have them shipped off for their daily indoctrination; but I have my own well, my own septic system, I personally pay a private company for power and internet and phone, I drive my trash down to the landfill every week or two, I mow my own lawn every week or two...

I understand the developers usually don't give people a choice, but I can't understand how people can think these "services" justify paying a few hundred a month and the complete loss of any semblance of "private" property. Just a thinly veiled rationalization, along the lines of "I have no choice, so at least I get trash pickup"?
posted by pla at 6:30 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are the bylaws of the HOA fixed in the covenant, or can they be changed? It would kind of be fun to see if you could turn one of these things into a hereditary monarchy.
posted by enn at 6:39 AM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


maxwelton : (8) Cars, RVs and boats must be stored out of sight of neighbors and streets. No street parking, no driveway parking unless it is screened.

This seems like a pretty common clause for HOAs, and one I've never understood. I can get the idea that they don't want lime green VW bugs up on blocks in the front yard, and they don't want a dozen cars parked along the road in front of your house every night; But two legally-drivable (inspected/registered/insured) vehicles used as a primary means of transportation? What can anyone have against that?


(12) Dwelling height: maximum of 15 feet.

What? How does anyone satisfy that one, even with single-story homes? Does the first floor need to go partially underground?


And yeah, I've got to agree with you on #5. I have to wonder even having the rest of that, when #5 covers literally everything.
posted by pla at 6:47 AM on July 10, 2011


pla: who built the road which runs past your house, and who repairs potholes which form in it?

Do you have fire service available in your area? Where does the fire service get its water from? Are there hydrants? If so, who paid to install those? And where do they get their water from?

If you have your own water source and aren't hauling your own trash, you're probably in the minority of all households in the US population. Nearly everyone has municipal water and some form of trash pickup. Many households have sewer service, police and fire protection, sidewalk and road maintenance, traffic signaling and controls, all as part of the services provided by membership in a municipality. Or an HOA if they're the ones who built your roads and installed the water system, etc.

It sounds like you're not actually even part of a township, so probably much of this discussion doesn't apply to you at all.
posted by hippybear at 6:49 AM on July 10, 2011


No street parking, no driveway parking unless it is screened.

Perhaps it's a cunning strategy to make people keep their garages tidy.
posted by ryanrs at 7:22 AM on July 10, 2011


I "married into" an HOA neighborhood, after growing up on a farm, and owning my first home out in the boonies (but of course in the wrong school district when I got married, so I was the one who had to move...a whole different story there...).

I've always been the type who fiddles with stuff in the garage...cars, lawnmowers, motorcycles, etc...a fix-it guy type. I own a restored 1964 Chrysler 300K, take pride in the fact that I turned every bolt in that restoration (done at my prior residence, where I actually had a workshop), and proudly display the trophies it's won over the years. My garage is clean, organized, but quite frankly, could stand to have twice as much space, since the wife's car parks there, too.

The first letter I received from the HOA was regarding a weekend spent rebuilding the suspension on my daily driver. Seems that I was an eyesore in that I had the garage door open while I was working. Nevermind that it was 90+ degrees, nevermind that I'd specifically asked my immediate neighbors if they minded me keeping the door open while I worked, to do such I had their full support and encouragement. Nevermind that nowhere in the neighborhood covenants are there any restrictions on keeping garage doors open or closed.

I replied with a letter to the HOA board stating as much with an included picture of me standing in front of my house number raising my right hand in the universal symbol of "love and friendship."

Never heard back from those folks, and we've been working our tails off to try and get out of here ASAP. Love our neighbors, hate the HOA.
posted by rhythim at 7:40 AM on July 10, 2011


HAs are a blight on communities, and they should be castrated such that they are not actually enforceable. Which is the case in civilized countries.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:41 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


hippybear : who built the road which runs past your house, and who repairs potholes which form in it?

Right, the town - And I gave them credit for the road. And plowing. No sidewalks, though (a fact for which I feel thankful - I don't need some clumsy moron slipping on the ice the one day I leave town and can't shovel, and suddenly I owe $50k for someone else's self-inflicted medical bills).

And honestly, the town does provide other services, just none that directly affect my property itself - car registration, hunting licenses, sending literally 95% of our property taxes to the local school district, voter registration... Things I don't know that an HOA could even legally do for its members.


Do you have fire service available in your area? Where does the fire service get its water from? Are there hydrants? If so, who paid to install those? And where do they get their water from?

Volunteer, "dry" hydrants, sorta, landowners with fire ponds, and either a tank truck that fills from the river or those same fire ponds when available (in order).


It sounds like you're not actually even part of a township, so probably much of this discussion doesn't apply to you at all.

Actually, I do live in a proper town, in a proper county. We just have no need to pay to have someone pump water out of the same ground we live over, charge us to pipe it into our houses, then charge us to take it back out a bit dirtier. ;)

That said, I can see how places that have pumped their aquifers dry and drained their rivers to a trickle of mud might see that particular situation differently (though I can't say I see what an HOA - or really anyone - could do about that).
posted by pla at 7:54 AM on July 10, 2011


Did they not see the notices? Ignore them? Hope it would just go away? Did they not open their mail? Did they not understand how vulnerable they were? I am confused.

Another option is that the HOA was not on the ball enough to send out notices in a timely manner, or sent them to the wrong address, or tried to send them to the husband overseas at whatever APO.

Another other option is that some fuckers on the HOA board knew that he was deployed and that the wife would probably be pretty harried managing the household on her own, so they decided not to send the requisite notices, or to mis-send them, in the hopes that they could then corruptly foreclose on their house.

Not saying that these happened, but your assumption that the HOA did everything right seems fanciful.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:04 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, a final theoretical option: someone pays their dues and their HOA manipulates their own recordkeeping to steal their house anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:09 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I completely understand the mistrust people have of HOAs in general, but here in California my wife and I didn't really have a choice in the matter, since old, established neighborhoods are much more expensive to buy in (or were 11 years ago) than new developments, and all new developments have HOAs.

We, in fact, bought a condo, so we have two of them.

So far, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Advantages:

- two pools within walking distance, one with a water park
- skate park for the kids (I don't have any, but I still see it as an advantage)
- tons of parks
- four clubhouses we can use for parties
- huge fireworks show right outside out front door on the 4th
- roads are re-surfaced every couple of years, no potholes anywhere
- great drought-resistant landscaping everywhere, including our front yard (hate gardening)
- it also helps that we have relaxed neighbors who never 'tell' on each other

Disadvantages:

- in 11 years we've gotten a letter on our door twice asking us to take down a christmas wreath
- the money, but we factored it in when we bought the place, so...

At this point, they seem pretty relaxed, unlike some other communities in southern california... one close to us disallowed lemonade stands.

BUT, and it's a big but, I worry a bit about future disadvantages, like when the houses in our community are due to be painted, re-roofed, etc. (which the association is responsible for). Or, say, if a bunch of assholes take over the association.

Our mortgage is payed in 4 more years, so if it becomes an issue we'll be able to afford to move, and hopefully California will pass some consumer protection laws in the meantime.
posted by Huck500 at 8:28 AM on July 10, 2011


marble, this article might offer more insight than the NPR link. Apparently, while the husband was deployed in Iraq, the wife grew depressed and didn't open mail for several months.

My argument with the Clauers' situation is thus: someone in the HOA knew that the husband was deployed. So then the soldier's wife isn't responding to certified mail, right?

How hard is it to just walk up and knock on the damned door? "Hi, Mrs. Clauer, I'm Joe Smith with the HOA and we have sent you several notices. Did you realize you were behind on your dues? Let's get this resolved before the situation gets messy. I know your husband is off serving our country, and this is Texas so we hold that in very high regard, and we want to be good neighbors about this." It never had to go down the way it did.

I have zero doubt that this situation instead was driven by someone who wanted to profit off the foreclosure. With no big bank holding a mortgage to complicate things, the HOA knew they could make some quick cash off it.

I believe that HOAs represent the demise of American society. In the olden days, if your neighbor's yard grew too high, you walked over and knocked on the door. "Hi, Judy, I had an extra batch of cookies and thought y'all might like some! How are things? Oh... Dave hurt his back on the job last week and has been laid up in bed? You poor dear, why didn't you tell anyone? That's silly, it's not an imposition and we're happy to help. Please let us help you. I'll send my Jimmy over tomorrow afternoon to mow for you, he's on summer vacation and needs to get off the Nintendo anyway, you shouldn't have to worry about that. And I'm going to bring over a casserole for you this weekend. Tell Dave we hope he feels better soon."

Instead, today, we send a nasty complaint email to the HOA manager, who then sends a nasty letter to Judy and Dave, ordering them to mow within 48 hours. Judy and Dave don't know which neighbor complained, but they feel ashamed thereafter, and they don't wave to anyone on the street, and they disengage. Because an anonymous nastygram about someone's grass was more important than showing any modicum of concern for a neighbor in need.

It's a deterioration of everything positive about a neighborhood. We outsourced our civic responsibility to some off-site HOA management company, and in the process, we lost the entire concept of community.
posted by pineapple at 10:20 AM on July 10, 2011 [20 favorites]


In the olden days, if your neighbor's yard grew too high, you walked over and knocked on the door. "Hi, Judy, I had an extra batch of cookies and thought y'all might like some! How are things?

I'm not saying you meat it that way. But honestly, I'd rather drown under a sea of anonymous nastygrams than hear anything that sounds as waspily passive-aggressive, fake-helpy as that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:49 AM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Meant. Not meat.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:49 AM on July 10, 2011


immlass writes "I worry about the HOA here eventually going tyrannical, but they're building and selling in our subdivision and will be for a long time, so they have to keep the neighbors sweet. So far they've been very responsive to the few complaints we've had. But part of our reason for buying here was that we didn't want outside maintenance. The house is blandly cute from the street and somebody else mows the lawn and that's all right with me."

A friend of mine is moving next week in no small part for this reason. Which seems crazy to me. He's spending 10s of thousands of dollars to move from a fee simple to a strata controlled property so that he doesn't have to cut the grass or shovel the sidewalk. When he could just hire a maintenance company for less than the strata fee and get the same result.

pla writes "But two legally-drivable (inspected/registered/insured) vehicles used as a primary means of transportation? What can anyone have against that?"

Some people think automobiles, all automobiles not just the up on blocks variety, are ugly. Local bylaw here restricts detached residences to a maximum of five cars/trucks/boats/RVs/etc. Because I own a two family home I'm allowed 10 cars which is one of the reasons I bought this house despite having to pay for two sewer and water levies. My tenant gets one of the allocated 10 and I get to use the rest.
posted by Mitheral at 12:03 PM on July 10, 2011


If an HOA was community-based and democratic, like a town or village, it would sort of make sense. I'm okay with most zoning. I'm at a lake, and while I'm not right on the water, shoreland zoning laws apply. And they keep the lake beautiful, sparkling and clean, so Yay. No fertilizer on the lawn is fine by me. There are only a few houses on my road that would meet the standards of a fussy HOA. Mine wouldn't make an HOA happy, the area close to the road is being naturalized with blueberry bushes, tigerlilies, and wildflowers, so I won't have to mow.

The thing about a neighbor coming over with cookies is that they're worried that maybe you've been sick, and if you have, they'll mow for you. I left for 2 weeks last winter, to attend a deathbed/funeral. There was an 18" snowfall, and a neighbor took care of my driveway because in Maine, if you let 18" of snow sit there, it'll set up and become rock hard. Having good neighbors makes my home safer and a nicer place to live. Fortunately, no one cares what color your house is painted, or if you have goofy lawn ornaments.

I've always wondered - how many HOAs are really a profit center for the developer? Every condo I've known of has pretty high monthly costs, much higher than when I owned a 2-family house. Somebody's making plenty off the HOA.
posted by theora55 at 12:21 PM on July 10, 2011


ROU_Xenophobe, if your general hatred for all things Texas didn't insure we'd never be neighbors, that would clinch it.

Because when I see that something is amiss with a neighbor, especially in a case that is cosmetic but not actually hurting anyone, such as an unmoved lawn, etiquette dictates that it's impolite to just knock on someone's door and start in complaining. Finding a socially plausible reason to initiate a conversation is preferable -- I don't care if it's cookies, returning a borrowed weedwhacker, or dropping off a flyer for the PTA fundraiser.

If you equate any form at all of "trying not to be rude" with passive-aggression, you might consider that you have a personal communication preference that is not exactly the American norm.
posted by pineapple at 12:33 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


He's spending 10s of thousands of dollars to move from a fee simple to a strata controlled property so that he doesn't have to cut the grass or shovel the sidewalk. When he could just hire a maintenance company for less than the strata fee and get the same result.

For us the mortgage + HOA fee was less than rent (we did not own). Our choices were HOA-enabled community, older shoebox from a limited selection of non-HOA areas with fewer features and costs probably above our then-current rent, or keep renting. In Houston we owned, or at least had the mortgage on, an older house and weren't in an HOA. I would have preferred something more like that, but the reality is if you want to buy new in Austin, you're looking at an HOA.

Also, my HOA fees take care of not just the lawn and the sidewalk, but exterior house maintenance. I have a detached house, but it is maintained by the builder/HOA like a condo. It may sound crazy to you, but (frex) to someone older or someone with chronic health issues, not having to worry about any exterior maintenance may be worth compromises on other issues. Independence is a positive good, but it means you have to take care of everything yourself.
posted by immlass at 12:39 PM on July 10, 2011


How happy I am to be a rural hick!!

Do you have fire service available in your area? Where does the fire service get its water from? Yes, after you made it to the public road (2 miles from the house) about 5 miles up the hills there is a fire station with 2 waggons, I believe, and I think they are carrying water in their bellies (the waggons)


Are there hydrants? If so, who paid to install those? And where do they get their water from?

Of course not, we don't even have a road connected to us... But there are many ponds around, maybe they have been originally created to be a water supply in a case of fire, before the times they had water-carrying waggons.


If you have your own water source and aren't hauling your own trash, you're probably in the minority of all households in the US population. Nearly everyone has municipal water and some form of trash pickup. Many households have sewer service, police and fire protection, sidewalk and road maintenance, traffic signaling and controls, all as part of the services provided by membership in a municipality. Or an HOA if they're the ones who built your roads and installed the water system, etc.It sounds like you're not actually even part of a township, so probably much of this discussion doesn't apply to you at all.

Did you mistype? Did you mean to write "since you ARE hauling your own trash"? Same here, we have our own well and our own sewage, and Mr. GermanChef has to dump some trash secretly in his company's dumpster. The locals are simply burning their trash here in the area, but we don't want to do that. But we can't afford to hire a company either.

Needless to say there is no police either, but that is rather nice. I want to be left alone and I need to be free in my own house and on my land. (I am a nudist and a believer of a non-christian faith.)

In Scranton (semi-small town in PA) there was a case once where a woman had a plumbing problem in her bathroom, she was angry and cursing at it, and her neighbour was a police man who heard her through an open window. He had her arrested!! I am not making this up! And this was NOT in a HOA community, it was in a regular semi-small (semi-big) city.

This and other instances I heard about convinced me I would need to move waaaayyyy out into the country. And we did, and it was the right thing to do. It took us 2 years to find the house though, that was really tough. And Mr. GermanChef is driving 55 min to his office and the same amound of time back home at night. But that is the price you have to pay. And being German, this is normal to me. Everybody I knew had a commute of an hour when I grew up, that was just normal.

Thinking back of the 2 years of house hunting, I did look into some nice properties with HOA restrictions, and I had no idea what that actually meant. But I am glad my mother-in-law seriously explained to me what that would mean. Hope many people are reading this thread as a warning!
posted by GermanChef at 2:53 PM on July 10, 2011


GermanChef: did you not note that I addressed my comment to pla?
posted by hippybear at 3:04 PM on July 10, 2011


I practice law in Florida and about one-fifth of the calls I get referred by the Florida Bar are from folks aggrieved about their HOA or condo association. Our firm represents two HOAs in the swankier beach neighborhoods in Sarasota. I have sent out countless letters regarding overdue assessments and noncompliance with the "governing documents of the subdivision" (i.e. the covenants, the article of incorporation, and the bylaws, in descending order of dignity).

Of course, HOA law varies from state to state, but for the record, in Florida, disputes between a homeowner and the association about enforcement of a covenant or bylaw are subject to mandatory mediation before either party can file a suit in court. As far as assessments, the legislature substantially revised the statute (sec. 720.3085) to require additional hoops an association must jump through before imposing a lien on a house for an unpaid assessment, and additional hoops before foreclosing on that lien.

I don't live in an HOA. Actually I do, but the restrictions were extinguished by the Marketable Record Title Act, an act that made it easier to secure clear title but which inadvertently wiped out restrictions on older HOAs in Florida. Instead of carving out an exemption, Florida's brilliant legislators created a process to "revive" HOA covenants, which process includes a vote by the membership, approval by a department, and recording with the county. We've revived a few and it's a small nightmare. (We discreetly delete the racial restrictions when reviving.)

HOAs still correlate with higher property values, in theory anyway. A lot of folks like knowing that their neighborhood will not suffer littered lawns, lawns left unmowed for months, houses sinking in disrepair and whatever else might blight the neighborhood and drive their property values and the neighborhood aesthetic down. That said, covenants that require X type of shingle and not Y, or these color flowers but not these (etc) are always gonna piss people off eventually.
posted by Jezebella at 3:36 PM on July 10, 2011


immlass wrote: It may sound crazy to you, but (frex) to someone older or someone with chronic health issues, not having to worry about any exterior maintenance may be worth compromises on other issues. Independence is a positive good, but it means you have to take care of everything yourself.

For what it's worth it costs me about $30 to have someone mow and edge my yard. I need to find new people for next year, though. The folks I have now are somewhat careless.
posted by wierdo at 4:37 PM on July 10, 2011


Jezebella wrote: A lot of folks like knowing that their neighborhood will not suffer littered lawns, lawns left unmowed for months, houses sinking in disrepair and whatever else might blight the neighborhood and drive their property values and the neighborhood aesthetic down.

Do you not have zoning laws, building codes, and property standards in southwest Florida? Where I live (not in Florida) I call the Mayor's Action Line and they'll send someone out in a flash to deal with the car on blocks or the unmowed lawn or whatever. Why? Because the fines bring in revenue. My city doesn't have the budget to mow the parks, but they damn sure have the budget to mow some recalcitrant homeowner's lawn, simply because they can charge said recalcitrant homeowner after they've done it.
posted by wierdo at 4:50 PM on July 10, 2011


I don't know, but it seems there are legal challenges aplenty here. But - obviously! - I'm not a lawyer and really don't understand this. Can someone give a thumbnail as to why there aren't legal challenges up the wazoo?

Don't know if this has already been covered further down in the thread, but in Florida, there are special exceptions to all sorts of laws just for developers and related home owners associations. Wouldn't be surprised if there aren't special carve outs.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:36 PM on July 10, 2011


Zoning laws and its policing power are what non-HOA neighborhoods rely on, wierdo. But if HOA members' homes are being foreclosed on for a lien for failure to pay an assessment, then you can imagine what a typical homeowner's response is to a politely worded letter from the city advising them of the imposition of a fine for remedial lawn maintenance. Our city can't foreclose on a fine. Incentive to pay? Less than zero.

HOAs can remediate the covenant violation, fine you for the violation, bill you for the remediation, and impose a lien for failure to pay, if the governing docs so provide, AND get all Gladys Kravitz on you for the shape of your shutters and height of your hedges.
posted by Jezebella at 9:38 PM on July 10, 2011


@hippybear: From what I understand, this is why often large retail buildings just sit empty after the original company has pulled out of the property.

Yup. I've been involved in turning a couple of rural Wallmarts into call centers. Crazy stuff.
posted by kjs3 at 5:27 AM on July 11, 2011


In the UK they have a delightful name for people who have nothing better to do than obsessively watch their neighbours for any signs of trivial wrongdoing: curtain twitchers. These HOAs, horrors of property law that they are, sound like an ideal habitat for this unpleasant species.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:35 AM on July 11, 2011


I live in an HOA community that is small (~200 homes) in comparison to many, so possibly that factors into my mostly positive experience. For two years I served on the board and aside from becoming too informed about neighborly disputes I generally thought that I was among good-natured volunteers. I get along with my neighbors and we have a pretty sensible approach to enforcing covenants.

In my experience the only thing the HOA can do where I live in Virginia is to impose a lien. No one has been foreclosed on. We do have a bit of friction with the developer, but I think that is typical.

Maybe I'm lucky but it has been a nice a good experience for me. Given some of the horror stories here I'll be on alert should I move, but these things aren't the unqualified evil that some people make them out to be.
posted by dgran at 11:12 AM on July 11, 2011


But there are an awful lot of people who would like to ensure their neighbor's hedge must be 3.5 yards tall.

Why? Seriously, it's one of the things I can't fathom


I don't understand it either but I knew a woman who drove around the complex in her new unregistered SUV without a driver's license (hadn't had one in years!) to find flower color infractions in her neighbors' yards. Yes, she was an odious woman, though oddly charming one-on-one.

I rent a room in an HOA complex and the rules seem nutty to me, though my roommate-the-owner likes them okay. No drying your clothes on your balcony. Nothing's allowed on your own front porch. Nothing's allowed to show above the balcony handrail... Worse, the organization planted dozens of liquid ambars, which I fully expect to start ripping into the sewers within 10 years, and guess who will be on the hook for that repair?

My roommate and her fellow-owners can't get rid of the management company, which is awful but not as awful as the ones in the stories that make the papers, because the developers hired him and they still own something like 60% of the complex, which they rent out. They have some delusion of the market coming back, I guess, so they won't sell at current market rates.

That said, the maintenance staff is very nice and there are two maintained pools and a gym, and it's right on a safe-feeling running trail, which is pretty awesome considering the crime rates just a mile away. Even so, it boggles the mind that someone will pay these sorts of prices to own something they can't even dry their laundry in back of.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:04 PM on July 11, 2011


But if HOA members' homes are being foreclosed on for a lien for failure to pay an assessment, then you can imagine what a typical homeowner's response is to a politely worded letter from the city advising them of the imposition of a fine for remedial lawn maintenance. Our city can't foreclose on a fine. Incentive to pay? Less than zero.

Can't most municipalities refer unpaid fines to the local property tax authorities, who will bill for them along with normal tax assessments? They most certainly can levy your property or seek garnishment of your wages then if you don't pay. Some cities have laws on the books that allow them to directly record liens for unpaid code abatement fines. Liens might not get paid off right away, but they can sit around basically forever and pretty much have to be settled before the house can be sold or the mortgage refinanced, so the government tends to get its money eventually even without foreclosing. Or it might be cheaper and easier to dump the smaller unpaid fines on a collection agency and just go after the biggest deadbeats. In some areas, property nuisance issues can be dealt with through the court system if necessary, which has plenty of ways to make people pay up.

Either way, cities and towns all across the country conduct code enforcement all the time. Their collection rates aren't 100% certainly, but they have plenty of ways to make deadbeats pay just the same.
posted by zachlipton at 8:10 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


lolsuburbs.
posted by snottydick at 9:38 AM on July 12, 2011


This isn't a suburb problem. The same powers that allow HOAs to foreclose on single family homes in the suburbs allow them to foreclose on multiunit condos in urban areas.
posted by Mitheral at 10:04 AM on July 12, 2011


It probably varies by city, but where I live (Milwaukee), if you don't mow your lawn or keep to much junk, the city will send you a threatening letter. If you ignore it though, they'll send their crews out and take care of the problem and then bill you. So the problems do get taken care of.
posted by drezdn at 10:24 AM on July 12, 2011


But there are an awful lot of people who would like to ensure their neighbor's hedge must be 3.5 yards tall.

Why? Seriously, it's one of the things I can't fathom

I don't understand it either


I took the initial comment as a joke, but for a while I lived next door to some late-middle-aged backyard nudists with NO privacy fence or screening hedges, who liked to have naked hottubbing parties. I WAS DEFINITELY AT THAT POINT IN FAVOR OF 3.5 YARD TALL HEDGES. ;)

(I really don't care if people are naked in their backyards. But probably a privacy screen of some sort would not go amiss in a city neighborhood on smallish city lots with a public back alley that looks right into your yard. Also, neighbors. Also, certain teenaged boys used to go stare, which was creepy. Sometimes trying to use my yard as a vantage point, which was annoying. Also, they used to have the cops called on them approximately monthly by the neighbors on the other side for drunken late-night rows. (Their bedroom and family room windows were only a few feet from the other neighbor's house ... we had a driveway between us and were on the opposite side of the house.) Sometimes also naked. Which I imagine cops must see on a semi-regular basis but still. Awkward! All in all, not the world's greatest neighbors.)

"Our city can't foreclose on a fine. Incentive to pay? Less than zero."

Presumably your city has fine enforcement mechanisms, from mandatory court appearances to garnishments to whatever. You can't take elected office in my state if you have outstanding municipal fines, which catches a SURPRISING NUMBER OF PEOPLE. Almost half the local people this election cycle had to pay off fines for zoning/code violations before taking their seats. Which I guess just goes to show politicians are as shady as expected. :P

(My city has an unofficial threshhold of either money owed or number of citations before they really bother with active collection efforts, to make it either cost effective or to deter/punish serial offenders. So, yes, as long as they remediate, one-time offenders can slide by until they want to do something like sell the house, run for office, get a building permit for that property, etc.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:17 AM on July 12, 2011


hippybear: Properties will have odd restrictions on them saying that, say, once K-Mart has pulled out of that particular building, nobody else can use that building as a retail space.

I gather that this is one of the reasons that the former Safeway in my city's downtown is now the location of our brand new (and kinda fugly) city hall. At one point the local grocery co-op thought about moving into the old building and ran up against that very thing.
posted by epersonae at 1:59 PM on July 13, 2011




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