It can be said that to improve one’s self and find a heightened state of enlightenment, with the goal of making a measured difference in the world is the greatest goal one can seek to achieve in the time that we spend on this Earth.   While this is, arguably, the noblest of all endeavors, it’s hard.  Like, really hard.  Because of this difficulty, many of us choose another route.  Rather than improve ourselves, why not just improve our homes?

Dare to Dream

Networks like DIY and HGTV have us all dreaming of creating the perfect little oasis for ourselves and our families.  With the voices of Chip and Joanna Gaines whispering in our ears, we set out for the big box home improvement stores with visions of shiplap and gables  dancing in our heads.  Now, while the desire to improve our homes is an earnest one, one that should be encouraged (we should think), many homeowners are met with difficulty and have those DIY dreams dashed before the hammering can even begin.  This thwarting is not due to the lack of experience of the homeowner (are you sure you're qualified to drive that skid steer?  You did fail your driving test three times, after all), but rather, they find themselves at odds with their HOA.  

Green Thumb?

When it comes to the outside of your home, you are pretty safe to assume that ANY improvement that you seek to undertake will require the approval of the HOA.  For many, when they are asked to describe the platonian version of the home, the vision begins with a lush, green yard greeting all who approach.  However, this seemingly inconspicuous piece of your property can be the source of many squabbles between homeowners and their associations. Perhaps included in your vision of that ideal front yard is a tree, or a few, or a whole enchanted forest.  Don’t think that, just because this is your yard, that you have the final say what can be planted in it.  Many HOAs have strict rules in regards to the number, size, type and location of trees within a given yard space.  Often these arguments center around safety (a specific location may obscure the vision of drivers, or neighbors backing out of their driveway, etc.) and maintaining a cohesive “look” of the neighborhood. Conversely, the HOA may make you plant a tree (and then water and maintain, etc.) in your front yard, even if you don’t want one.  Perhaps, tree-hugging isn’t your thing, and you are one who has more of a zeal for xeriscaping.  Before you start ripping out that sod, you’ll need to consult with your HOA documents.  Depending on where in the country you call home, many associations have limitations and restrictions surrounding the practice.

Party in the Back?

We have discussed the business in the front, but what about the party in the back?  It’s not only your front yard that  the HOA can have a say in, but the backyard as well. In 2012, NBC reported that Becky Rogers-Peck, a grandmother in Georgia went head to head with her HOA regarding a playhouse that she had installed for her granddaughter in her backyard.  Rogers-Peck’s HOA filed a lawsuit against her, claiming that the color that she had painted the structure-pink, did not jive with the association’s rules surrounding outbuildings.  The headstrong granny eventually came out on top, after the association dropped the lawsuit, but not after a significant headache.  

Maybe you want to build a structure, not for your beloved progeny, but rather, for your beloved lawnmower.  More likely than not, your HOA will have constraints regarding sheds and other outbuildings.  Before you can even think of installing one, you will almost certainly have to submit a request, possibly including a plan, sketch or even pictures of the building you plan to erect.  If you do get approval, your association will have guidelines that will dictate the height, color, size and even positioning.  You can’t just do anything you want with your she-shed, Cheryl.  

So, CAN you DIY?

So, what should the would-be handyman/woman do?  Check your HOA documents before you begin any project.  These documents will outline what is and is not permitted, as well as the steps one needs to take in order to get a project rolling.  You may find that there are quite a few steps in the process, and perhaps even some red tape to navigate.  Although it may seem tempting to move ahead with a project and beg for forgiveness rather than to ask permission, don’t do it.  That approach could end in the homeowner facing litigation and even the potential loss of their home.  Just follow the rules, and toe the line.  While you may have your heart set on that sprawling tiki bar in your backyard, it’s not worth losing your house.  

To seek improvement is admirable, and, as we see our homes as an extension of ourselves, it is similarly  admirable to seek to improve the place that we spend the most time and feel the most like ourselves.  So, as Voltaire wrote in Candide in reference to this idea, “Let us cultivate our garden.” But first, make sure that your HOA will allow a garden.

Stump, Scott. “Girl Can Keep Pink Playhouse That Neighbors Disputed.”, 22 Oct. 2012,