Some Things Are Certain
Benjamin Franklin once wrote that, in this life, some things are certain. These things: death and taxes. A cheery disposition, no doubt influenced by the sanguine life one led in the 1700s (life expectancy of 35 years, smallpox and diphtheria abound, what a time to be alive), but a true statement regardless. However, while we have begrudgingly accepted our inevitable mortality, as well as the constant presence of the taxman, it may be necessary to add another entity to this ominous list. This newest addition, none other than the infamous body that is the Homeowner’s Association. If you are looking to buy a home, or rent a house… or a condo… or anything else that can legally be classified as a domicile, odds are, you will find yourself faced with an HOA.
The basic concept of a Homeowner’s Association is pretty simple. In the early stages of a new community, a group of people, residents of that community, form a coalition in order to create rules and statutes that all members purchasing homes and living in that community should follow in regards to their property. In return for enforcing these rules, as well as maintaining common spaces, like parks and pools, residents agree to pay fees that allow the HOA to continue the work of bettering the community. Some associations even plan and host various functions, cookouts, movie nights, etc. aimed at bringing the residents of the neighborhood together. In theory, all of this sounds great, perhaps even necessary. Afterall, even the wild west needed a sheriff. By creating and enforcing these rules, members of the community could rest assured that their sidewalks would be shoveled, their playgrounds well-maintained and danger-free, and that their property value would not drop because of the oddball down the street running a petshop out of his newly painted, fuschia garage. How could a plan so seemingly well-intentioned possibly go wrong?
The Bad...and, sometimes, Ugly
However, as we know, the best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry. For many, the mere mention of the acronym awakens feelings of dread and anguish. But why? Why do so many in covenant controlled communities hold such disdain for that which is the HOA? For many people, the answer is pretty simple, they don’t appreciate being told what they can and can’t do. In his article, Best Advice on HOA’s: Learn to Live with It, published in the Green Valley News, Jorge Encinas interviews Mark Wade, the president of the Community Association Institute’s Southern Arizona chapter. When asked why he believes animosity can form between the HOA and residents, Wade states that, “...generally speaking, those folks generally don't like being told how to live or what to do and what they'll put in their front driveway or yard.” Really, this should come as no surprise. Of course we don’t like being told what to do, one of the best advertisements for becoming an adult is that you have the ability to make choices for yourself. No one wants to be told, “no,” It hits us somewhere deep in our core. We flashback to our days on the playground shouting angrily, “You’re not the boss of me!” We don’t appreciate the fact that we are forbidden to erect a 40-foot tall statue of Yogi Bear in our front yard. We have no real desire for such a thing, and would certainly never do it, but the sheer fact that we are told we are not allowed to makes us seethe.
What Do We Do About It?
So what is the solution? Well, it would seem that the solution would lie in that all-too familiar, yet often (purposefully) overlooked place, individual initiative. Take the time, do the research. In an ideal situation, you should find the documentation for your potential HOA before you hire the moving truck. You should be able to request these documents from your realtor, or by getting into direct contact with the association itself. look into the bylaws, the rules and regulations, know how much and how often you’ll be expected to pay. You can even request to have the minutes of prior meetings, if you’ve got some time on your hands and want to really dig into the details. If you find something that you absolutely cannot live with, well… don’t live there. It sounds simple, and it is. If you are already living in an HOA controlled community, make sure that you completely understand all these documents. If there is something that you don’t understand, or find to be fair, reach out. Today, most HOAs have websites that members can access whenever they want.
Now, it is possible that even if you do your due diligence, you may, at some point in the course of your residency, find yourself at odds with your HOA. Perhaps your driveway dared to allow a single dandelion to grow through its expansion joint, or your trash cans ventured to stay out a bit past trash day. Perhaps, the piece of avant-garde art that you installed on your roof isn’t sitting well with the neighbors (everyone’s a critic). If you find yourself at this juncture, try to remember that behind the faceless acronym that has come to breed such intense feelings of anger and resentment, are real people. Real people that genuinely care about the place that you have decided to lay down roots. People that take the time out of their lives to actually attend meetings and discuss the things that are important to your community; your neighbors. A thoughtful conversation and a cool head can do a lot more than a venom-filled Twitter rant.
Lastly, If you really want to have a say in the decisions regarding your home, go to your association’s meetings, or better yet, join. Because, like death and taxes, the HOA isn’t going anywhere.
Encinas, Jorge. “Best Advice on HOAs: Learn to Live with It.” Green Valley News, 15 Feb. 2020, www.gvnews.com/.