1. Amen. My wife and I had the unfortunate experience of living in a community with an HOA. At first, it seemed ideal. I even thought it was my civic duty to participate and did so by joining the hoary beast that was the “Architectural Control Committee”. We actively shut down clothes lines, chided neighbors who painted the home’s exterior pink, and nagged people about lawn maintenance. Never have I felt worse about my neighborhood, neighbors, and my civic role(s) than during that time. Pettiness, banality, and a 100% strict adherence to the rules was one of the factors that drove me away. What’s more, people reveled in the fact that they were breaking the rules the HOA set. As if it were some sort of defiance of “the man”. Strangely, they all bought into the system when – at closing – they agreed to and signed HOA documents.

    I now live in an HOA free neighborhood and – in general – people behave less obnoxiously than before. While my experience may be unique, you couldn’t pay me enough to ever live one ever again. (Well maybe when I’m committed to an old folks home, but I suspect I’ll be slightly calmer then.)

    • PlaceMakers says

      Thanks, Martin. Funny thing is, a review came out today in the Hartford Courant about the new book, “Snob Zones.” In the interview, the author, Lisa Prevost, is asked the largest impediment to making communities more diverse and inclusive. Her response: “Local control.”

      Which I suppose backs up my gut feeling that, while I continue to believe that we should have local control over key social, economic and environmental issues, we need to acknowledge that that knife cuts both ways. It provides the freedom for visionary communities to become better, but it can just as easily allow the petty and dysfunctional communities to evolve for the worse.

      • It’s been ten years since I moved into the community where I now reside, and it was a mess when I moved in. By dint of effort and making contacts with the neighbors, we’ve slowly built up a community of trust among the folks in our end of the block, and I’m starting to work on the people further up. It’s just hard when everyone is told all the time to distrust their neighbors, and that’s the message on the nightly news, every night, all the time. I think the worst impediment to better communities is the disaster we call “news”, that actually seems to exist solely to tell you how nothing works, all is chaos, and everyone is out of control and wants to kill you! It’s really hard fighting that.

  2. At a slightly broader level, this also describes a lot of the hyper-local formal and informal government structures that exist out there: block clubs, self-appointed neighborhood groups, formal structures like ANCs in DC or CBs in NYC, and small suburban towns. By prohibiting change of any sort, and without any kind of accountability for the changes that must happen, these foster the worst sort of small-mindedness — and yes, prevent the diversity and adaptability that are key to resilience from flourishing.

  3. That said, it’s easy to decry HOAs from the safe perch of a fenced-in backyard. It’s rather more difficult for those of us who live in multifamily buildings (i.e., those of us living at rail-transit-supportive densities) to forego HOAs as a necessary evil. Who else would vacuum the hallways, fix the roof, mediate between neighbors?

    • PlaceMakers says

      There’s definitely no black/white, either/or proposition. My take is that it’s not the HOA, in and of itself, that presents a problem but rather their typical context which seems to demand a particular list of responsibilities and priorities. The case you mention here might be different, as the context could just as easily demand (or at least encourage) a wider worldview.

      People tend to do the job expected of them. My gut feeling is that a transit-friendly, multifamily constituency might have less restrictive expectations of their HOA.

  4. As a Manhattan resident, I can say with confidence that a transit-friendly, multifamily constituency won’t alleviate these problems! (How about a rule banning flip-flops in the lobby? Check out this recent New York Times article on the craziness of apartment, condo, and co-op boards:

    Living with other people is hard. We all want people to follow OUR rules, but we don’t want to be told what to do ourselves. HOAs just bring this tension into crystal-clear focus.

    • Well said! The HOA is a reflection of us. A lot of folks simply do not want to deal with that truth :).

      Also note that the HOA grew out of a need that was not being satisfied by local government. Developers need the certainty while a development is being implemented, and most homeowners (not all) like the certainty that come with the rules (even if they don’t like a specific rule).

  5. Will Jungman says

    I live in the Atlanta and am the president of my historical neighborhood’s “self-appointed,” i.e. not legally recognized, association. We have no real authority, except outside spending priorities from our budget and grants we receive. While we may advise the city, look out for our neighbors, and collectively take action on some topic of interest (beautification, bad developments, parties, etc.), we don’t ultimately have the authority to enforce oppressive regulations. It limits the ability of a cabal of opinionated, involved folks to foist their desire for what is best on their neighbors. At the same time though, it provides a vehicle by which concerned residents can take action on some topic and a means by which they can seek and gain the support of their neighbors. Rather than try to act like the zoning police, it seems, in my limited experience, that an HOA or neighborhood association is at it’s best when it more closely resembles the old New England tradition of town meetings.

  6. Lisa Nisenson says

    I’ve also seen HOAs as great laboratories. In Florida, there is a competitive spirit driven by green tech. The reason: the clean tech is saving oodles of money for common areas. There is usually a ” gateway green” practice – geothermal or low impact landscaping. It takes time and there is push back. Correcting for isolated pods won’t change easily. But trail access in Florida was recently called the new golf course. Not perfect, but writing off suburbia and waiting for them to twist in the wind of energy shortages or high gas prices seems a bit severe to me.

    • PlaceMakers says

      It sounds to me like you’re describing some variation on what I’ve suggested: Working our communities towards more diverse, walkable, mixed-use models as the remedy for the mono-focused, obstructionist HOA.

      I don’t know who’s advocating that we write off suburbia, but it’s not me!

  7. Nila Ridings says

    Sidewalk chalk…I’m familiar with that story and wish that was the only problem with HOAs. After extensive study of HOAs for six years, I can honestly say they destroy lives, create violence and hatred, and depreciate property values. I made the mistake of buying in an HOA eight years ago. I was denied rights to see financial records before the purchase because I was not a “member.” I wasn’t given the CC&R’s until the closing at which time there was no time to read through them…and they were poorly written at that. Not knowing exactly what I was getting into, like most Americans, I signed for ownership with a blind faith and trust that the HOA was a good thing. I did not realize I was now responsible for any debt the board of directors created, any lawsuit settlements, and all my neighbors were now my business partners. Very scary when most are retired and never held any position of business management or had skills to run a business. Some were so senile they hardly knew where they were living! I learned a short time later there had been no audits and ten million dollars was unaccounted for. The board president had held the position for 26 years, handled all the elections, was in control of all decision-making, had recently purchased two places in Carlsbad where he was running for the board of the HOA, had purchased two rental units in my HOA, and claimed there were no records for the HOA. I filed suit to enforce the petitions I worked to get signed to recall the board and see the financial records. The president suddenly died. His replacement claimed “no records” to the judge and was caught shredding those records a year later. The houses were rotting to the point the frames are severely damaged and thank goodness an employee of the newly-hired property manager came forward as a whistleblower and revealed they were instructed to replace the rotten siding and cover up the frames and being told not to tell the homeowners. He was afraid the houses were going to fall down the frames were so compromised. I hired my own contractors because the electric meters fell completely off the house due to the wood rot. This flooded my finished basement. My neighbor’s gutters were not cleaned and the overflow caused water to put hydrostatic pressure on my basement wall causing a big crack and then I had a river running through the basement for three years. The property manager is being paid $400,000.00 per year and his employees are worthless, unskilled, lazy, and drive around all day with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. The board members have no clue how to run a business and find it quite enjoyable when their attorney encourages them to lien the property and file suit against every homeowner that fails to pay the dues even though the HOA is clearly in breach of contract. I stopped paying because I wasn’t receiving the services and had massive damage to my house which I paid to repair. I countersued for breach of contract and settled out of court with a “gag’ order but I can say I was happy with the settlement. Another neighbor sued for breach of contract and deceptive practices. The HOA board demanded a jury trial (no settling out of court again) the jury found them guilty of every count in his lawsuit. They now have to pay 100% of his legal fees, and a settlement for the failed maintenance. The judge found the HOA guilty of violating the Kansas Consumer Protection Act and my HOA has now set a precedence for all of America as the first HOA to be found guilty of such. We have over 100 rentals and countless forclosures, six pending lawsuits, and the property manager talked the board into borrowing ONE MILLION DOLLARS to paint the houses! IF I could sell, I would lose $200,000. Townhouses in the neighborhood are selling for as low as $45,000. I paid $149,000. and with all the updates and repairs I’ve had to do plus the lawsuits I have over $300,000. in this place. I would not take another property in an HOA as a gift. I’ve worked with the Kansas legislators and was successful getting a bill passed into law that gives HOA homeowners rights but very few states have any governing over HOAs or property managers. Thus they are havens for corruption, embezzlement, self-dealing, kickbacks, bullying and miserable living conditions! There is a case in Wichita, Kansas right now in federal court where a board member beat a homeowner with a crowbar. There are situations where members have shot and killed board members. Far more cases exist than what is seen in the media. I’ve read every book about HOAs and the best one so far was just published by a man in Denver that worked as a television investigative reporter and anchor for forty years. He retired and published “Neighbors At War!” The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association. Ward Lucas complied twenty-five years of HOA investigating, including his own personal story into this book. He has every detail documented and since I’ve lived in the very nightmare he is describing I know it is all true. I follow his website every day and there is a wealth of information found there. If only his book had been available when I purchased, and had I read it, it would have saved me from living in this nightmare that has destroyed my financial well-being, affected my health, and shown me the ugliest side of my neighbors. As the judge said to me, “You are dealing with a bunch of Nazis!!!” Like I said, I wish I could have been dealing with sidewalk chalk!

  8. HOAs are as unstable as…as a fiddler on the roof!

  9. There is a new cultural wave evolving throughout the USA and worldwide, slowly but steadily spreading the concept of cohousing as an updated lifestyle that includes both knowing and collaborating with your neighbors to achieve common lifestyle objectives which support each other as neighbors, not ignoring them as merely adjacent property owners.
    Cohousing communities are old-fashioned neighborhoods created with a little ingenuity. They bring together the value of private homes with the benefits of more sustainable living. That means common facilities and good connections with neighbors. The concept has been widely developed in multi-family condominiums as well as in all other ownership formats. All in all, they stand as innovative answers to today’s environmental and social problems.
    Perhaps they show us a way to reduce the conflict level known as HOA insanity?

  10. Joe Delagdo says

    As the Secretary of my Homeowner Association in Fort Collins, it’s sometimes a challenge trying to maintain work, family and my HOA duties . However, when I discovered Association Online all of that changed. No need to worry about piles of paperwork, their software is quite easy to use and all our HOA documents are stored and managed online. This allows our Board of Directors to operate in a more effective way. You should check them out at or call (970-226-1324). I highly recommend them for all Homeowner Association needs.

  11. Front porches and sidewalks go a long way towards good neighborly relations. Historic neighborhoods without HOAs work. In fact, I’ll take our City’s Historic Review Board over an HOA any day.

  12. As a realtor, obtaining FHA Certification is one of the most daunting processes. A few months ago, I was introduced to Association Online. They promptly assisted me in getting FHA approval for an HOA in Nevada. They gathered all the data and assembled the package. The team at AO made my FHA Certification process very simple! You should check them out or call (970-226-1324).

  13. I have been trying to explore the idea of combining a few libertarian ideas and homeowner associations. Some people may wish to live in an association that provides security but on the other hand they would like to use their own property as they see fit. I am not sure that there is a great market for the idea but it might be very useful where homeowners, in a urban setting, wish to organize an association.

    My question is whether as association can institute policies that provide homeowners with GREATER flexibility than local law? Do the rules of the association create a variance with local law?

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