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August 22, 2003 6:04 AM   Subscribe

Fascism with a White Picket Fence
posted by Blue Stone (37 comments total)
I am not sure why this is "fascism"--after all, you make an agreement with one of those outfits, you play by their rules or lose. Might be smart to check beforehand prior top doing anything that seems a possible viilation or potential problem. I belong to no such group but have a house on wetland. The banks and govt says I need flood insurance. I did not have it for many years (when I first bought the house) but when i took out second mortgage, bank said I needed it. I checked. I did. I bought it. Now I hope for a flood!
posted by Postroad at 6:19 AM on August 22, 2003

Just don't move to The Falls of Arcadia!
posted by tr33hggr at 6:38 AM on August 22, 2003

In areas like northern Virginia, it's nearly impossible to find someplace to live with no HOA. Believe me, I tried. Luckily the one I'm in now seems pretty reasonable.

My theory: by making people pay for sidewalks, snow removal, trash pickup and such through homeowner's associations, the state gets to say "look, we aren't raising taxes"...even though you pay one way or another. (Aside - you know, I never wanted to keep bees until I was specifically told I couldn't.)
posted by JoanArkham at 6:38 AM on August 22, 2003

These things are insane. My girlfriend once lived in a gated community in southern Pennsylvania with many bizarre rules. One rule was that you couldn't move furniture in or out between October and April, I think. Furthermore, you couldn't start until 2:30 PM on the first day and you had to be done by 11 AM on the last day. Not knowing these time constraints, her family didn't alert the furniture delivery guys. So when they showed up at 10 AM, the gate turns them away without explanation. It took them another week to reschedule a delivery.

I just can't understand why anybody would subject themselves to that kind of insane rule. Stupid rules and regulations are something we deal with when we rent an apartment, they shouldn't be inmposed on our purchased property.
posted by crazy finger at 6:52 AM on August 22, 2003 [1 favorite]

If you sign a contract, you should live up to it. If you don't agree with it, don't sign it.

If you do sign it, and would like to change the rules, become involved in the board and push through those changes.

What's bad is signing a legal document, and then whining when you're called on violating the rules.
posted by jpburns at 6:59 AM on August 22, 2003

Excuse my ignorance, but why buy into these kind of communities - to me it seems so unamerican - you know, all the stuff about freedom etc... why do people feel the need to gate themselves in?

I'm really not trying to be anti-american, I just don't really get it.
posted by twistedonion at 7:05 AM on August 22, 2003

Having a condo, can I get an, brother.
I am not sure why this is "fascism"--after all.

It is when those on the board break the rules but fine you. The problem I'm having, the rules with the deed are different than the current board rules. There are also rules with my deed which are voidable by discrimination alone. Note, rules can and will be added, so you will never always know before hand. You can move but noticing most new residential areas are going this route.
posted by thomcatspike at 7:06 AM on August 22, 2003

My aunt and uncle live outside Ottawa in a neighborhood where you are not allowed to have children. Most of the people there are old, and near death anyway, so this sort of denial of our very nature doesn't seem to bother them much. Their garages are clean and they never have to hear anybody having fun, so life seems good.

My question is, if a woman living there gets pregnant, can they force her to leave? I know there is a contract signed and everything, but asking someone to give up their pro-creative rights seems outside the enforceable bounds of a contract.
posted by jon_kill at 7:06 AM on August 22, 2003

Horror writer Bentley Little spun his war with his HOA into a novel.
It's more than a little over the top in some parts, but keeps its satirical edge thoughout
posted by dr_dank at 7:17 AM on August 22, 2003

A family that cares for five foster children in Port Richey, Fla., was threatened with eviction from their residential development. The association considered having foster kids a business because the state paid $2,028 a month to care for the children.

All together now: whiners!

jon_kill, the NY was running an article exactly on that very recently (within the last week, probably).
posted by magullo at 7:19 AM on August 22, 2003

I'm really not trying to be anti-american, I just don't really get it
It gives them securtity especially for the type that are tattle tales, no confrontation. Nothing worse than not being neighborly, calling the cops w/o first knocking to share your complaint. Hear the excuses all the time: but I'm afraid of my neighbor. If you are afraid of you neighbor(s) move, because as it's not safe as you feel so.
posted by thomcatspike at 7:21 AM on August 22, 2003

How about having some body with a little bit of teeth who have a vested interest in your neighbor not making erroneous aesthetic judgments? No purple houses. No El Caminos up on blocks. No 8 foot satellite dishes in the front yard. No oil wells by the cement pond. No sofas on the front porch.

This uniformity is really good for property values out here in suburban America. The HOA helps maintain those values.
posted by shagoth at 7:40 AM on August 22, 2003

Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's right.
posted by angry modem at 7:45 AM on August 22, 2003 [1 favorite]

I can't find it online, but this is my favorite HOA story:

While Berke Breathed was living in New Mexico, his neighborhood was made up of the adobe/stucco santa fe-style homes that are typical to the area. I don't know if he did it in open defiance of HOA rules, or if he just "felt like it," but one day, he decided to put a pink flamingo in his front yard.

He was relatively famous by then, Bloom County was in full syndication, and I the HOA reps were probably a little intimidated. When they finally approached him about it, they cited the rule in the HOA contract about using "earth tones only" in the choice of one's home color and landscaping. Breathed received their concerns politely and removed the flamingo immediately.

The next day, Breathed's flamingo reappeared in the same spot, covered in a fresh coat of tan paint.

They left him alone after that.
posted by whatnot at 7:52 AM on August 22, 2003

Good to be reminded of one more reason why I hate the 'burbs.

posted by signal at 7:55 AM on August 22, 2003

I think the problem here is the malice that those who are trying to enforce the rules show. I mean, fining a woman literally out out of house and home to keep the pastoral look to your place, when said woman hurt her back? That's just fuckin' mean.

It was times like this I wish I believed in heaven and hell, so these shitheads would get some comeuppance
posted by notsnot at 7:55 AM on August 22, 2003

nazi white fences huh? Like these

If you sign a contract, you should live up to it. If you don't agree with it, don't sign it.

end of story.
posted by clavdivs at 8:08 AM on August 22, 2003

why buy into these kind of communities

Seriously, I had no choice. I needed a home that was close to public transportation (i.e. not the sticks) and affordable - meaning a townhouse development. I'm just grateful that this particular HOA seems pretty sane (so far - knock on wood).
posted by JoanArkham at 8:13 AM on August 22, 2003

Of course, here in the Northeast, where so many places are so damn old, HOA's aren't as common in the thickly-settled places, but you have to watch out for the local Historical Commissions that have similar covenants that dictate renovations, paint colors, etc.
posted by briank at 8:17 AM on August 22, 2003

I lived in one of these places. One of the most fascist HOA's in SW Metro Denver, which is renowned for the unreasonableness of its HOA's. My husband said he and his ex-wife were basically deceived by the real estate agent into thinking there wasn't a HOA. I wasn't there, so I don't know how that could have happened. The rules were ridiculous, and were set up in such a way that basically anyone who took a dislike to someone else could harass them via the HOA. I was always sorely tempted to get a pink flamingo, cut a hole in its back and put a plant in there, and stick it in the yard. You see, any kind of "statuary" was banned, but planters were not. They would have had fits, but there would have been nothing they could do. The HOA manager begged my husband to run for the board once when he called her on some unrelated matter. He agreed, figuring no one would vote for him. She only got two people to agree to run for the two vacant spots, and so there was no election. He had hoped that he could change some of the ridiculous rules, but he discovered that the by-laws were written in such a way that they were virtually impossible to change. Things got even worse after that-- all the old fogies did not like the idea of a 30 year old guy being on the board AT ALL. They would drive by our house daily, looking for things to report. Every dandelion that wasn't pulled within 10 minutes of sprouting was reported. We never got fined because we always took care of it, but it was a constant source of stress. Most of the time, we had already pulled the weeds before we got the complaint letter. And we didn't get the worst treatment. Someone on the next street over, who was divorced and apparently working two jobs to try and keep her house, didn't have time to keep her yard up to the standards of our bitchy next-door neighbor. The HOA knew her situation, and tried to encourage her to fix it, but they didn't want to fine her because they knew she was struggling. Our bitchy neighbor tried to get all the local homeowners to sue the board to force them to fine the woman. In the end the bitchy neighbor won, and the HOA forced the woman to take out a $5000 loan to repair her yard, which she could ill afford. Basically, I think the purpose of HOA's is to keep out anyone who can't afford a gardener. And it is not so much the HOA's themselves, it is nasty homeowners who use the HOA's as a weapon against other homeowners they don't like. I was not a bit sorry to move out of that place. My husband and I have vowed to never live in a covenant community again. We don't have covenants where we live now, and no one has a chartreuse house or a terrible looking yard. We are about to move, and that neighborhood also looks nice, without covenants. Of course, this means we will likely never have be able to live in a new house. No big deal for us, since we have no problems with living in an older house. But if you want a post 1970's house, you are going to have a damn hard time finding one without a HOA.
posted by Shoeburyness at 8:20 AM on August 22, 2003

HOAs have the same problem as any other dictatorship. Sometimes they're good and reasonable, but other times they create an inappropriate rule simply because they can, and then destroy somebody's life for the same reason.

One of the guys I golf with regularly is currently embroiled in a dispute with his HOA because he's restoring a Porsche 550, and sometimes does work in his driveway. His HOA instituted a rule against doing mechanical work in your driveway, even if it doesn't make noise, your neighbors don't mind and you store the car inside the garage when you're not working. And besides, since when does a vintage Porsche 550 hurt property values?
posted by mosch at 8:29 AM on August 22, 2003

Once on the X-Files a guy lived in a neighborhood with strict rules and he built a secret Golem (the Jewish kind, not the Lord of the Rings kind). Anyway, the Golem killed neighbors that didn't do what they were supposed to in order to live up to the strict rules (like no pink flamingos). Anyway, somebody planted a cheap bird feeder on his land in the middle of the night and the man's golem killed him. I think we can all learn a lesson from this story.
posted by crazy finger at 8:32 AM on August 22, 2003

I know they are just trying to prevent this sort of thing, but these things can be used as a tool of neighborly torture. I won't move a place where they have HOAs and risk the occasional sloppy neighbor.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 8:37 AM on August 22, 2003

HOA's came about in the first place, to a great extent, with the idea of excluding unwanted minority groups from a neighborhood. So, to get around an HOA, you have to think of them as if they were just another racist vigilante group.

The worst thing you can do is take them on head on. It's just you against the mob in that case. Better to divide and conquer. It's best if you retain anonymity in the process, it's scarier that way--maybe you can get them to start attacking each other.

The first thing is to figure out who, on the HOA council, is the dominant force and who are the weaklings. Then take the fight to the weaklings personally--don't let them hide behind the mask of authority. Let them know that they will be personally *financially* liable in any lawsuit--running to tens of thousands of dollars. This will frighten away a LOT of the troublemakers. Remember that the threat of a lawsuit is *not* legally a "threat."

The next thing is to go after the rank and file, compiling a huge list of every single tiny infraction of the rules by everyone. (And since many people hate to read, you can throw in some "fun" violations, like 'Mrs. Norman Trude likes to dance nude at 3am in her lawn sprinklers', and 'Mr. Reginald Tufts' dog is a homosexual'.)

Some of the more interesting "real" infractions that happen a lot are people with 'home businesses'--often strictly prohibited but done anyway; and offenses committed by children and pets that the homeowner has less control over, which makes them extra defensive.

Nothing should be done *through* the HOA. Anonymous letters sent to individuals filled with rumor and gossip, and getting city inspectors in fights with the HOA. If others can be inspired to file lawsuits, then your job is almost done; a bitter election fight is almost as good. Ill feeling all around.

Strong medicine, granted, but it will take an intrusive, fascist and obnoxious HOA and make it far more passive and helpful.
posted by kablam at 8:46 AM on August 22, 2003

This uniformity is really good for property values out here in suburban America. The HOA helps maintain those values.

So why have your common city laws that address the same issue. Example noise, mowing your lawn at 4am, no need for a HOA. Kablam said it well, descibe what these people are too, control freaks.

If you sign a contract, you should live up to it. If you don't agree with it, don't sign it.
-jpburns end of story.

It's hard when the "current" rules were not on the contract.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:56 AM on August 22, 2003

It's hard when the "current" rules were not on the contract.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:56 AM EST on August 22

Were the rules passed after you signed the contract, or did you sign an out-of-date contract? If it's the former, did you attend the homeowners meetings and express your concerns and vote?
posted by jpburns at 9:19 AM on August 22, 2003

I'm tired of hearing people whine about their property values. Nobody has the right to a return on their investment.

I'd rather keep renting than buy a place under one of these contracts. What good is owning your own place if you can't do anything interesting with it?
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:20 AM on August 22, 2003

I wish I had a golem. Sigh.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:44 AM on August 22, 2003

HOA's came about in the first place, to a great extent, with the idea of excluding unwanted minority groups from a neighborhood.

Property value is still all about race, is it not? It's remarkable how these associations have the authority and audacity to target unwanted cultures and classes in the name of "blight abatement".

Here are some choice quotes from our civic association's newsletter:
Unfortunately, there are some properties that are poorly maintained, overpopulated and overwhelm the neighbors with vehicles. Your Civic Association is working with County authorities in an effort to improve those situations. It takes a long time, but we have had some success. We work with the police, fire marshal, zoning inspector, Health Department and the blight abatement program, pointing out apparent violations of various regulations. (...)

If you do not think you can make a difference by speaking up when you see something you think detracts from our community; here is a little story that may change your mind. A house in the neighborhood recently was undergoing renovation and those in charge of the project decided to paint the brickwork BLUE. Several of the neighbors saw what had happened and immediately complained about the color. The owner had second thoughts and repainted the bricks white. This all happened within a span of a couple of days. Shows what citizens who are concerned about their neighborhood can accomplish when aroused!
Slap my ass and call me Charlie, somebody painted their bricks BLUE!
posted by sudama at 9:55 AM on August 22, 2003

Northern Virginia, single family home, no HOA. Booyah!

No cars on blocks, no obnoxious colors, but plenty of variety in the color and age of the people. The biggest crisis was when I asked one of my neighbors to keep their dog quiet in the mornings since he barks. Now they keep him inside until 9 or 10. Crisis over.
posted by NortonDC at 10:33 AM on August 22, 2003

crazy finger - See above.
posted by tr33hggr at 11:08 AM on August 22, 2003

The one book I know of on this topic argues that HOAs are an emerging form of local governance. They take over many if not most functions of municipal government, all without any instituted relationship to the state, and with few checks or means of accountability.
posted by ~rschram at 12:03 PM on August 22, 2003

you make an agreement with one of those outfits, you play by their rules or lose

An alternative point of view is that HOAs are de facto governments and should, minimally, be limited, constrained, restricted, and tamed in the same ways that governments are.

On preview, go ~rschram.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:16 PM on August 22, 2003

If it's the former, did you attend the homeowners meetings and express your concerns and vote?

It's a mess, new board memembers now, no one has a complete rule list but the old president whom was outed and she won't turn them over either.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:38 PM on August 22, 2003

Maybe things are different here in California but I don't think so. I think if you look at any type of group of human beings, esepcially types which have a large number of instances, than finding outliers exhibiting bad behavior is trivial. Does not mean that the entire type of group is bad or without value.

I happen to be president of the little HOA I live in and no one, in a year and a half, has accused me or any other board member of being a fascist (being president gives me no more authority than the other board members, just means I have to sign more documents). We'll see as the comments come in about the rise just approved in the monthly assessment but...

There are two homeowners (out of 28) who think we are a little hardcore in enforcing the rules but one thinks it's okay to plant whatever flowers s/he wants wherever (and I mean in the grounds outside other people's homes) and the other person simply lied to the board in order to make his/her life easier. Both of them are white and European. We have a good portion of owners who are not American-born white folks and this HOA has no role in approving new owners or tenants for rental units.

ROU_Xenophobe, I agree that the HOA role should be monitored and constrained. At least in California, that seems to be the case as there are strict legal limits on our (the board's) actions and we can easily be sued. Further, a complete and up to date package that includes the CC&Rs (the rulebook) MUST be included in the buyer's information packet when a unit is sold so what thomcatspike describes would be difficult here. Plus, the board does not keep them official files, they are kept by a management company we hire and that company's management is probably much more concerned about lawsuits and such than we board members are.

Personally I like living in the association because several tasks I find annoying are handled by others and I get to use a nice little pool. Landscaping may be fun for some people but I have such a black thumb that it would be irresponsible of me to care for a lawn or garden. And I have a difficult enough time with maintenance on the inside of my home, forget about wanting to paint anything blue.

Still, I agree that HOAs are not good choices for everyone, you need to have a bit more of a relaxed (or perhaps indifferent is a BWC) attitude about these matters. Which is fine because I'd rather spend time here on MeFi.
posted by billsaysthis at 12:53 PM on August 22, 2003

The pink flamingo has become the almost iconic bulwark of individualism against HOAs, it seems, judging by this amusing story about lawn flamingos and other perversions of the rules.
posted by dhartung at 11:21 PM on August 22, 2003

The initial story recounted numerous HOAs which were brutal in their enforcement of small infactions of the HOA rules, with people amassing huge fines without being given opportunities to rectify the situation, losing their bought-and-paid-for homes because of minor infractions of stringent rules, sadistically enforced.

That might be some people's idea of a resonable way to treat your fellow human being, but I consider that view, well, warped.

I stand by my characterisation of the incidents as "fascist."
posted by Blue Stone at 4:28 AM on August 23, 2003

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