Sunday, September 21, 2014

Good Neighbors - Another First World Problem

We belong to a homeowners association. When we bought this house, umpty-dump years ago, somewhere in the pile of papers we had to sign was an agreement to abide by the rules of the neighborhood. We signed it, not having a clue what that meant. Not that there was an option, it was mandatory.

The association, which hereafter I will refer to uncharitably, was responsible for maintaining the common grounds, the clubhouse and pool, and the standards of the neighborhood. A board of directors was elected by the residents, and said directors issue a newsletter, and tell us the business to which they attend. Included in the make-up of the board is an Architectural Committee and Director.

Pretty much anything past mowing your lawn, you need to get approval from the AC. Mostly this is pro forma, but if you want to take down a dead tree, put up a new fence, re-roof, or paint your house, do any additions, etc., you submit your request in writing and get approval before you start. (And if you don't mow your lawn often enough? You get nasty notices from the AC. Cut it, or we will, and we'll send you the bill. And if you refuse to pay this bill? They will slap a lien on your house.)

No boats, no campers, no political lawn signs.

All of which is to keep the value of our homes up, and I can understand that; however ...

I lost faith with the association when, a few years back, a developer wanted to do a commercial property on what was zoned residential land just around the corner from my house. The neighbors across the street would have the empty field backing up to their yards turned into whatever the developer could get going, and the idea of a McDonald's or a BK being built filled all of us with a certain wide-eyed horror. The traffic. The noise. The smells.

Well, on this end of the street it did. Such things would not impact the folks down at the other end of the street, which included the then-president of the association. So the board, in its wisdom, elected to support the developer.

We went to meetings of the land-use board in the city and testified, and to make a long ugly story short and ugly, we eventually lost to the developer. Won at the zoning board, lost to the Mayor's deciding vote. 

Fortunately, what got built was a drugstore and not a Mickey D's, but still, our association had sided with the developer and it rankled.

Couple of my neighbors across the street sold their houses and moved. On a good day, warmed up, I can probably reach the roof of the drugstore with a baseball thrown from the street in front of my house.

Once, when we put up a wooden fence to make a small courtyard out front, with the association's approval, the AD came round. We had elected to leave the fence natural wood. 

I think, he said, I'm going to make you paint this fence.

Oh, really? And are you going to make the other five folks on this street alone paint their natural wood fences, some of which have been up for ten years, as well? Because I'm sure as  up-yours-Jack not painting mine otherwise.

Nor did I, nor did my neighbors. There was no rule that said it had to be so, the AD was simply being high-handed.

Some folks should not be allowed even the smallest bit of power.

This was about the time I started calling the association board the Neighborhood Nazis ...

This is all background to tell you the most recent association blunder. 

To paint one's house, one must submit a swatch of the paint one wishes to use. The theme in this neighborhood is "Pacific Northwest Natural," whatever the hell that means. (Basically, this boils down to muted colors. Grays, greens, blues, even dark reds, but nothing primary, and nothing heavy to the pastel end.)

So down the street and a block over, a family picked out a color, sent the swatch in, and was approved. Painted their house.

But, oh, my, it was much more pastel a blue than it looked on the swatch! It stood out brightly. A nearby neighbor complained. It wouldn't do!

So the debate arose: This color isn't right. The homeowners in the sky-blue house are being cooperative, but really, they don't feel as if they should have to pay to repaint their house, and while I'm not a lawyer, I would think that if push came to trial, they would have a very good case. They followed the rules. It wasn't their screw-up. 

So what to do? Leave it? Pay to repaint it from the homeowners' dues? There are enough houses here that tacking ten bucks on our yearly dues would cover it. Let it stand until it needs to be repainted, fifteen or twenty years down the line? 

I will be fascinated to see how it all shakes out ...


Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

*blink* I thought you wrote this story, like, fifteen years ago? In F&SF?

Steve Perry said...

Oh, yeah. Nothing changes ...

Brad said...

I am not a fan of HOAs either. As you pointed out, in theory they are a good idea, but the reality. When we first moved in, my wife (bless her heart) planted a tree while I was on the road. The association made us get rid of it and rightly so. Wife did not get permission nor was the tree the required size. But when I tried to follow the rules to get an approved tree in, the rules kept changing. No soft wood trees for example (all the trees planted by the developer are pines by the way, which makes sense in Houston). Finally planted what I wanted to and they haven't said a word in 8 years. We also had trees next to the house on the community side. Storms, insects and vandals destroyed them and they were removed. Took 5 years of fighting to get new ones planted.

Anonymous said...

"Neighborhood Nazis" - I like that.

But in respect to the CHHOA, I think that Middlebrow Mafia is a better description.

Just like goombas in NJ, their empire is based on control of a vital city service- garbage collection - and their "taste" finances their unsavory actions.

If they didn't have the (substantial) income stream generated by garbage, do you think they would have 3 full-time employees, and a law firm on retainer?

I haven't followed that mess for a couple of years, but at that time, CHHOA generated a couple of orders of magnitude more legal threats and actions than all the other HOAs in the state.

I looked at a couple of houses there years ago, but the HOA scared me off. Now, I live in an unincorporated area (which, incidentally, has been fending off Snidely-Whiplash-type overtures from Beaverton for years).

AnnieB said...

Better than living in a condominium "association" as I do. They demand that I replace my windows using the ONLY approved contractor and the ONLY approved window style. I'm still required to file a "MAC" form describing the "modifications" and get it approved by the Board of Directors, and sign a "hold harmless" agreement saying that I won't sue them (even if the contractor that THEY chose fouls up?). When it comes to enforcing the "Rules and Regulations", however, which prohibit brats of all ages from playing ball in the common areas (which are too small for any flavor of ballgame anyhow), LOTSA LUCK!

Steve Perry said...

We are required to maintain our sidewalks. Which means flat and level, and when the trees push 'em up, which they do every few years, we have to have them ground or replaced.

Last time, the HOA gave us their contractor's name. We'd get a discount, for bulk work. So we went with him. Nice guy, brought out a bunch of Hawaiian kids to break the concrete up and haul it away. No complaints. In fact, we had him add-on to our patio and drive way. No complaints.

Except that the guy got into an imbroglio of some kind with the guy he worked for, and all of a sudden, the HOA is say, "Um, well, ah, don't use the guy!" After we all did ...

Bobbe Edmonds said...

HOA's are horrible, it's essentially granting your neighbors the power to tell you what you can and cannot do with your own home. If it were worded that way from the start, there would be a hell of a lot less of them, I can assure you. Who but a slave thanks his master for doing something they were going to do anyway without consulting them?

Most of them are miniscule fiefdoms ran by people who shouldn't be in charge of a damn goldfish, let alone an HOA - as demonstrated by your AD's "I think I'll make you paint your fence" comment. The argument of them supposing to keep your property values up is absolute kuso. I'd be interested in what your house will be worth Steve, that close to a commercial development - especially if they expand on it to include a food truck, or something considerably LOUDER.

I was *almost* a member of one, and luckily had some good advice on the subject before I signed anything. People have lost their homes to these assholes.