Do homeowners associations have too much power?


By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities Blog

Commentary: Melissa and Michael Rooney have planted a fruit and vegetable garden in their yard, with prior approval and under certain conditions set by their homeowners association. The problem is, the HOA keeps changing the rules and adding more conditions. Now they want the garden removed, or they plan to fine the homeowners $100 per day. But the Rooney’s are not backing down. Good for them!

Does North Carolina give homeowners associations too much power? 

The dented-up, desert-sand-colored Toyota Sienna in the driveway of Melissa and Michael ­­­­Rooney’s South Durham home is spectacularly adorned with cheerful graffiti depicting flowers, stars, hearts, birds and trees in bright hues of red, blue, yellow and green. There are messages in support of the UNC Tar Heels and some ornamental squiggles, all created by the couple’s kids and their friends—with some help from Mom.

“We had all this leftover house paint,” Melissa explains, as if the only thing to do with leftover paint is let your kids—now 13, 11 and 5—use it to decorate the minivan.

The Rooneys aren’t afraid to appear unconventional. Melissa and Mike met in grad school. Both have PhDs in chemistry and work mostly from home. They figured they’d fit right in to what appeared to be a progressive, laid-back Fairfield neighborhood when they moved here in 2002, after four years in Melbourne, Australia.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, over the last several years, the Rooneys have squabbled with the Fairfield Community Association over all manner of things: an application to install solar panels facing the road (the Rooneys eventually gave up); a complaint about political signs in their front yard (the Rooneys declared victory); grass height (point: Association); and chalk drawings by Melissa and kids on the driveway (point: Rooneys).

Their latest battle is also a First World problem.

In 2010 the Rooneys planted a garden on one side of their front yard. The garden is currently about 30 feet long and 12 feet wide. About 20 feet of that is dedicated to growing tomatoes, okra, eggplants, peppers, kale, cabbage, Swiss chard, spinach and broccoli, with varying degrees of success.

“It is principally a fruit-and-vegetable garden,” Mike says. “It is in our side yard, which previously was—if you want to call it a lawn …”

“It was more poison ivy than lawn,” Melissa finishes.

The HOA doesn’t consider the garden an improvement, however.

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