Right up front let me say I hate homeowner's associations (HOAs). They do far more harm than good and create the perfect breeding ground for really lousy neighbors.
I had never heard of HOAs until we bought our first house in Boca Raton, Florida, in 1993. Fresh out of college and excited to be in the “real world,” we bought a little fixer upper. We set up a lease-to-own on the house for the first year — to build up some equity — and then closed the deal.
Within a week of signing the papers, we hired a painter to transform the tan and Halloween orange eyesore, to a quaint soft white cottage with colonial blue trim.
Little did we know that in the almost exclusively tan and brown neighborhood, bright orange was fine, while muted blue was not. More to the point, we had no idea that neighbors got to vote on the color of houses they didn't own.
Of course, it wasn't just the house color. It was the specific brand and style that qualified as HOA certified residential mailboxes. It was the kind and number of trees resident must/could plant. It was the number of cars that could be visible from the street. It was regulations about swingsets and trampolines and barbecues and sheds and pets and Christmas lights and on and on and on.
The result was a bunch of power-hungry neighbors who — literally — would walk around the neighborhood in the early morning hours, sneaking down walkways and peering into yards, looking for any infractions they could report.
It's not personal. Other than the how-dare-anyone-use-blue-paint-without-asking-me-first brouhaha (which was calmed before we became aware of our sin, by one of the few neighbors with common sense), the only time we got an infraction notice was when hurricane Andrew blew apart our lamppost and it took us two months to get the HOA-certified, identical-to-all-the-others, lamppost cover.
But I couldn't stand what it did to the neighborhood. The HOA meetings ranged from angry shouting matches to actual physical attacks. And most of my neighbors were senior citizens, mind you. (And they were the worst of the bunch.)
When we built our next home in Boca Falls, we were resigned to the HOA situation, as it was very difficult to find a home in Florida without one. Again, it caused problems all around — although we followed the rules and stayed under the radar.
When we moved back to Utah, there were really only two conditions regarding the land we were looking to purchase:
- At least a half acre
- No HOA
When we found our five-acre dream lot in Eagle Mountain, for a steal, we snapped it up. Unfortunately — extremely unfortunately — and contrary to state law, our closing documents did not disclose that there was an HOA associate with the property.
Not only was there an HOA, but there was an ongoing feud between factitons throughout the Cedar Pass Ranch community and complete disorganization and disfunction (not to mention incompetence and a fair share of corruption) within the governing body.
We bought the property in 2001. It was 2004 before we could actually get a copy of the community Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). Even then we were told that the copy wasn't completely up-to-date.
Try building a house that has to follow a set of rules that you don't have access to — and that no one seems to know exactly what they are. Months of time and thousands of dollars down the sewer (which, yes, is also regulated by the HOA).
We tried to be involved in the community, attending meetings, voting, etc. But it didn't do much good.
The lots in Cedar Pass were all five-acres or more. We had animal rights (which, of course, were strictly specified in the CC&Rs) and many residents had mini-farms. This, apparently, was something of an irritant to the faction who thought five-acre lots were available for the sole purpose of showing off their wealth.
Once at a meeting, my next-door neighbor was being castigated because his tractor wasn't concealed from view, but was left near his horse stable.
I spoke up and said, “I'm the only one in the neighborhood who can see the tractor from their property — and it doesn't bother me at all.”
Yes, I'm a heathen like that.
Later a woman on the board came to my house to show me the siding being planned for a new build on my street. It was a fabulous medium density fiberboard — kind of a cutting edge product at the time. Looked like painted wood siding, but was lower maintenance and stayed looking new, and a cut far above vinyl siding.
As she stood on the porch and explained the purpose of her mission, I said, “I don't care what they put on their house. It's their house, not mine.”
The woman pushed and pushed and insisted that she come in to discuss it. Finally I let her in and plopped down on the living room couch. She pulled out the material sample from her bag to show me. I waited until she had finished her spiel.
“Yup, awesome. I love it. Where do I sign?”
She was clearly exasperated that I didn't take my duty to maintain the quality of the neighborhood more seriously, but let me sign the waiver.
At one meeting, the neighbors were discussing the seriousness of regulating mailboxes. Of course, in a neighborhood with five-acre lots, you can't even see your neighbors mailbox unless you hike out, but that's beside the point. It's vital to my quality of life that no one has a mailbox that offends my delicate sensibilities.
As the meeting wore on — and I insisted that caring about other people's mailboxes was a symptom of not having enough things to do (not in so many words, of course) — a woman determined to unify the mailbox look finally said, “Have you seen that dinosaur mailbox on State Road 7? That is what happens when mailboxes go unchecked!”
I wish I had a picture of the old mailbox. It was on the end of a long lane leading back to a farmhouse on a once rural road. Eccentric, to be sure, but charming. My kids loved it and always watched for it.
No matter how I tried, I just couldn't see how a dinosaur mailbox — or a blue house or a deciduous tree or a fence color — could be so important that it was worth trampling on someone else's property rights.
I always figure that if I want to control my neighbor's property, I have to buy it from him first.
To be clear, our new home doesn't have an HOA. And it's the best neighborhood I've ever lived in.