Do Good HOAs Make Good Neighbors?
Do Good HOAs Make Good Neighbors?
Last week, I was reading one of the “news obituaries” in the Washington Post or the New York Times – I can’t recall which. In fact, I don’t remember the name of, or many details about, the man whose life story was recounted. I asked my VOA colleague and cubicle-farm neighbor, Faith Lapidus, if she had perhaps read the same obit and could help. She replied, “No, I’m not old enough to be reading the obituaries.”
There’s some truth in that.
In case you’re wondering, a news obituary differs from the short testimonials to the ordinary dearly departed that are a staple of every local newspaper. News obituaries are short biographies, not a recitation of the deceased’s job résumés, fraternal affiliations, and extended relatives. News obits don’t describe funeral arrangements or the charities to which donations may be sent in lieu of sending flowers to the survivors.
What jumped out at me about this man, whoever he was, was what the obit writer described as “his passion” – directing and enforcing the strict rules of his condominium association.
What an odd thing to be passionate about, I thought.
|Guarded gates greet visitors to some luxury communities across America. And many of them are especially fussy about keeping up appearances|
|This is The Villages, a “retirement lifestyle center” in Ocala, Florida|
|In co-op apartment buildings, residents pay the doorman and other staff. The doorman usually has the best of it. He gets the most tips|
Most residents gladly pay these assessments. Having someone else sweep up fallen palm-tree fronds and negotiate good rates for basic cable service throughout a building or neighborhood is one less hassle that they have to worry about.
But all is not so rosy when it comes to “special” assessments and “architectural control” from the HOA.
Here’s an example of the former:
|Townhouses in a long row can look as different as night and day. But they share some walls and a common roof, which means that tough decisions must be made come repair time|
This may not sit well with you if the roof has never leaked above your place.
|Many HOAs have a tolerance for cuties like this|
|And not so much for bowsers of this size|
|Homeowners’ associations typically take a dim view of yard signage, not to mention the idea of footloose renters moving into the community|
But homeowners who lose a job or a loved one and could use the extra income from a rental have a hard time understanding why they can’t rent out something they own.
|“Excuse me, Madam President, but did you say I CAN'Tscreen in my front porch?”|
It’s not like having a disagreement at work. HOA matters involve neighbors who see each other all the time and may be stuck with each other for years to come.
As “The Cooperator,” the monthly online co-op and condo newsletter noted, board membership “is not exactly a walk in the park.” It quoted a 1976 Wake Forest [University] Law Review article: “Too often, Board members approach their Association responsibilities as if they were on the committee of a social club, religious group, or other similar organization.”
Instead, they find themselves in charge of thousands of dollars of community members’ money, and if they don’t do well they can face serious legal problems, including lawsuits and criminal charges.
Earlier I mentioned, but did not explain, “architectural control” – “control” being the operative word. Nothing, but nothing, gets people worked up as much as this facet of condominium or subdivision life.
|There’s a certain sameness to many housing tracts – which is just the way some HOAs like it|
A look that you could accept or walk away from when you considered moving in.
You might, for instance, choose a community because of its Victorian ambience – classic gabled houses painted in a limited variety of pastels and graced with nostalgic wraparound porches. The uniformity of style increases the neighborhood appeal and property values.
|“Uh, interesting color scheme, but we don’t think so. And by the way, you’ve hung the American flag backward.”|
Inside, you can go wild if you like. Even tear out some walls. But don’t mess with the exterior without permission of the association board.
And don’t hold your breath waiting to get it.
|Cute. Warmhearted. Not allowed. Sorry|
Maybe, maybe not. Depends on the association covenants and the imperial rulings of its Architectural Control Committee.
Now, to those who argue “a man’s home is his castle,” to which he can do just about anything he pleases, this all sounds as if self-appointed neighborhood vigilantes are preserving mindless conformity captured in Malvina Reynolds’s song “Little Boxes,” famously performed by Pete Seeger in the 1960s . . .
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
Well, like it or not, the condo or homeowner association has the force of law behind its authority. It can fine you or even kick you out if you don’t go along with its dictates.
|Rules, rules, rules. They’re what make some HOA volunteers’ world go ‘round|
It’s instructive to quote him in full, minus a few of his intemperate interjections:
|“Look out below!”|
We made a formal complaint to the management. Presently, the neighbor appeared at our door to negotiate. She took the position that we ought to allow her to dump her waste water off her balcony onto ours on a weekly basis. She was willing to settle for every two weeks if we really pressed the point. She was dumbfounded that we would not agree amongst ourselves to violate the building's bylaws. She lost that argument and to this day will not speak to us, which I regard as a victory in itself.
|“If we let you hang flags, pretty soon you’ll be putting out your wash on the railing.”|
|Your HOA is watching you!|
|Has the Architectural Control Committee seen this??|
“I could go on,” my friend’s account wound down, “but you get the picture.”
He noted that in his state, those who enter into a contract to buy a condo are required by law to receive all bylaws and other documents in advance of closing. This allows someone who just can't live with the regimentation an opportunity to get out of the deal without penalty. “Of course,” my friend noted, “virtually no one actually reads the documents.
“In our case, we did and decided the tradeoffs were ones we could live with.”
Somewhere in this tug-of-war between conformists who like things just so – “condo commandos,” a friend in Miami calls them – and those who think homeowners ought to be able to express their various tastes through the appearance of their property, lies some interesting psychology. It takes a certain kind of person to give up many nights and weekends, drafting homeowner association rules, rewriting charters for obscure committees, calling and faithfully attending board meetings, and keeping a vigil for “architectural” transgressions.
|“You can’t fool me. I know you’re with the HOA violation inspection team!”|
“But in their hearts, they believe they’re motivated by altruism,” she says – “a desire to serve.”
Some people – perhaps like the fellow profiled in that news obituary – seem to thrive on the challenge of HOA service. But others steer so clear of getting involved that many owner associations have been forced to hire hard-hearted outside management companies to run their affairs.
Such is life for condominium, co-op, and homeowners’ associations.
Or Home Owners With Attitude.
Would You Believe?
Would You Believe?
If you read a checklist – author or source unidentified – that’s widely circulated on the Web, it’s a miracle that anyone born in America before 1980 is still alive.
Borrowing from and elaborating on it, just think:
When we were in the womb, our mothers ate bleu cheese dressing and tuna from a can, took aspirin, had a drink or two, and smoked.
|Look ma, no hands. And no helmet, either|
We rode our bikes clear across town and back, and the only thing on our heads was a Cleveland Indians baseball cap.
We ate cupcakes and white bread, and we drank sugary soda pop. (I used to spend my paper-route money on cases of returnable bottles of R.C. Cola. If you don’t believe it, ask my dentist today.) Rapture was sinking our teeth into a richly marbled steak, or lobster drenched in melted butter, or – more likely in our modest circumstances – two or three boxes of Good & Plenty licorice candy at the movie show. But we weren’t overweight because we were always outside playing. We even passed around that bottle of pop, and two or three or four friends would put their actual lips on it!
Sometimes we’d go over to a friend’s house – friends were human kids then, not Internet avatars. We’d play football, build treehouses, swing on swings, fall and cut ourselves or break a bone. And – you won’t believe this – no one sued our parents when we did.
We made up games rather than buying them, and some of them involved sharp objects or Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Air Rifle guns that did not put out an eye.
Not everyone made the Little League baseball team. Those who didn’t got over it. Only winning teams got trophies. There were no “participation” ribbons.
Some students did better than we did in school. And if we caused trouble and were disciplined, our parents sided with . . . the teachers. Imagine!
In college, we hitchhiked.
We rode in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pickup truck was a treat.
We drank water straight from the garden hose. (I swear it!)
We had no video games; had only three fuzzy, black-and-white TV channels to watch; owned no cell phones, had no way to “download” music or take and view photographs on the spot.
We had no computers at all. Imagine!
|“What did I tell you about the sun?”|
It’s a facile and tempting conclusion. But surely there’s a reasonable middle ground between slathering our lives with regulations and letting the weak and strong, poor and wealthy, slow and brilliant, unlucky and lucky fend for themselves.
|None of these is Mother|
Yet I’m glad that someone warns expectant mothers to knock those things off today. I won’t so much as back out of the driveway without a buckled seat belt, thanks to safety campaigns. And having once seen what happens when a motorcyclist who’s struck by a car is propelled through a windshield, I’m happy that most states require cyclists to put something hard on their heads. I’m pleased that makers of fast and processed food must now tell me what all they put in their products. Because someone just might put an eye out, I don’t mind it a bit that, inside each box that they sell, BB-gun makers must list firearm-safety rules as long as your arm. Even the ugly health-warning label on my box of poker-game cigars makes a lot of sense to me.
To Carol’s consternation, I still drink out of the garden hose, love bleu cheese dressing, drink a beer and smoke those cigars now and then. Regulators or no regulators.
Here’s another list that makes a good lead-in to WILD WORDS. An old radio colleague, Jim Slade, sends around a gentle humor compendium that he calls “Gadfly.” And in a recent edition, contributor John Taylor asked some questions:
If Webster wrote the first dictionary, where did he find the words?
Why do we say that something is “out of whack”? What’s a whack?
Why do “fat chance” and “slim chance” mean the same thing?
Why do “tug” boats push their barges?
Why do Americans sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” when we are already there?
At the game, how is that we “sit” in the “stands”?
Why, at night, is it “after dark” rather than “after light”?
And John’s capper: Doesn’t “expecting the unexpected” make the unexpected expected?
You may have to think about that last one awhile!
TODAY'S WILD WORDS
(These are a few of the words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word in today's blog that you'd like me to explain, just ask!)
Avatar. Lots of young people know this word well. Online, it stands for a computer representation of oneself – an alter ego that looks and acts much like a human. The word traces to Hindu mythology, in which a god comes to earth in human form.
BB gun. An air gun, or one that fires small, round, metal projectiles called BBs using a spring. It’s sometimes said that “BB” was taken from industrial “ball bearing” pellets, but it actually originated from the size of lead shot used in some shotguns – BB was in between the B and BBB sizes. A number of companies have developed less-dangerous toy alternatives that employ plastic pellets.
Cubicle farm. A sarcastic reference to an array of small office workspaces, each surrounded by partitions to give their inhabitants the illusion of privacy. At VOA, we call one such arrangement in our large newsroom “Podland.”
Mezuzah. A small scroll containing handwritten passages from Jewish sacred writings that is stored in a protective case and hung on a doorpost. The mezuzah serves as a reminder of God’s presence in the house.
Slather. To spread generously. Mayonnaise on a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, for instance.