Until we moved to Florida in 1991, we'd never heard of an Home Owners Association. Where I come from, you own your own land and use it as you see fit — as long as you comply with city code created by duly elected councils. And for the most part people are respectable neighbors.

We bought our first home in 1993 in the Pine Springs subdivision in Boca Raton, after leasing to own for a year. We were just thrilled to own a home — any home. Finally we could paint the walls any color we chose and plant in the garden all we wanted.

When we closed, we didn't receive any information about the HOA we'd been living in. (Legally, we should have been given all the details.) We knew they mowed the lawns and took care of the pool, but as far as we could tell, their job was just to maintain community property.

With the deed finally in hand, it never occurred to us that painting a nasty-looking, run-down home would require approval from our neighbors or some board of directors. Apparently we caused quite a ruckus with the “powers that be” when the outside walls changed from a chipped off tan with bright orange trim to a creamy white with colonial blue trim. More trouble behind the scenes brewed when we removed the rotted fence and took out the ficus tree that was threatening our plumbing and foundation — without asking permission. It wasn't until much later how close we came to incurring the wrath of the people in charge of our home.

While we were never fined for anything, our impression of the HOA became more and more negative. While out running early mornings, I observed board members walking about the development with clipboards, sneaking into back yards searching for violations to report. If you crossed a neighbor, they were much more likely to report a manufactured infraction than to actually talk to you face-to-face. And we had more than one major brawl at the monthly HOA meeting, including one retired “gentleman” (using the term excessively loosely) on the board leaping over the table and rushing a 50-ish woman — in a neck brace (I swear!) — in an attempt to tackle her for speaking out against the board. Fortunately for the woman, he was restrained by other community members.

And this was in an utterly insignificant neighborhood with 1,200 square foot homes on zero-lot-line bits of land. As far as I could tell, the HOA did little more than turn the community into a bunch of malcontents who didn't trust each other and certainly weren't willing to help each other.

When we built our next home in the Boca Falls subdivision, we learned that gated communities can be even worse. People move their to keep icky people away — mostly by moving by even more icky people who think everyone who can't afford a gated community isn't worth knowing.

In fact, we really didn't have much trouble with the HOA there, because we completely avoided any contact with it and made no attempt to “get involved” in our community. But we did deal with the restrictions that bordered on insanity. For example, we could only have a trampoline if we planted a six-foot hedge exactly around the perimeter, completely obscuring it. (Who thought a Stonehenge like circular hedge would look better than a trampoline?)

In our case, we submitted and resubmitted our yard plans showing how we would put a tramp in a corner of our yard, so it would be completely obscured from the neighbors view by our screened porch. Rejected, rejected, rejected. We had to submit so many times that the board lost track and accidentally approved a particular version that didn't have the hedge. Good on us.

Those experiences taught us a lesson: never move into a neighborhood with an HOA.

In 2001 we bought land in Eagle Mountain. We were thrilled to be moving away from Home Owners Associations for good. Or so we thought. It wasn't until a number of months after we purchased the land that we submitted a full set of blueprints to the city — only to find that while we complied with all their requirements, we hadn't gained approval from the Cedar Pass Ranch HOA.

The what???

Not only did Cedar Pass have an HOA, but they had more stringent requirements than the rest of the city. For example, while Cedar Pass had the largest lots available in the entire city (five acres each), the height restriction was five feet lower than anywhere else.

Not only did they have a stringent HOA code, but it was utterly nonsensical. It had been lifted from an HOA in Colorado (with requirements that didn't match our climate) and gerrymandered by arguing neighborhood factions for many months. It was a messed up pile of codes and covenants.

Add to that the fact that the neighborhood was literally divided into two warring sides over how to run things — and hating each other — and you have a lousy place to live.

When we found out there was an HOA we asked for a copy of the Codes, Covenants, and Restrictions (CC&R's). We finally got a copy in July of 2004, one full year after we moved into the home.

Our new home has no HOA. Trust me on this. We finally learned to do our homework.