Should HOA “architectural harmony” trump other values?

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities


A California homeowner by the name of Aaron Dixon has some moxie! In 2014, in the midst of a record-breaking drought, Dixon had the audacity to rip out his lawn and replace it with rocks and drought tolerant plants.

The board of Providence Landing homeowners association (HOA) was not happy about the fact that Dixon did not get approval prior to making changes to his landscape, so he filed a request for the Board’s permission after the fact. Predictably, the HOA board did not issue full approval.

According to a report in the Santa Maria Times, the homeowner and HOA have been locked in a legal battle for about two years, at a cost of $12,000 to the Association – and counting.

Dixon has refused, thus far, to hire an attorney and engage as an active participant in litigation. But that has resulted in the HOA winning by default. The Court has ordered Dixon to work with the HOA to bring his property under compliance, or the Association is authorized to do the work for Dixon and invoice him for the costs. Oh, and the homeowner must also pay the HOA’s $12,000 in legal costs.

Dixon is hoping his neighbors will rally behind him, and support his right to conserve water by altering his landscape.

But will his neighbors speak up, or will Dixon stand alone?


Village resident embroiled in battle with neighborhood HOA


Aaron Dixon, who lives in the Providence Landing subdivision, said he thought he was being a responsible conservationist when, in 2014, he decided to dig up his lawn and replace what had been a grassy space with rocks, pavers and drought-resistant plants.

Representatives of Dixon’s homeowners association saw the changes in a different light and the two sides have been engaged in a conflict — complete with a fecal-related allegation — ever since. With the courts now involved, potential costs approaching $12,000, and time running out, Dixon is hoping that other area residents will get behind his cause and compel his neighborhood compliance board to change its position.

“I just want them to come full circle, realize their error and basically try to embrace what I’m doing as opposed to fighting it,” Dixon said recently while standing near the rocks that have caused him so much grief. “In the end, I think this is just a better option.”
Attorney Jim Smith, of the Grokenberger and Smith Law Firm, which is representing the Providence Landing HOA, indicated that Dixon’s preferred outcome is unlikely.

“In a planned development, you can’t just have neighbors going out and doing whatever they want without association approval or you lose the architectural harmony that is the desirability of a planned development,” [Jim Smith] said.

When the HOA first contacted Dixon about the unapproved work, part of the group’s motivation, it claimed, was that neighbors were unhappy with the changes.

Dixon said that he has only heard positive comments from neighbors about his new landscaping, though he noted that many of them won’t speak publicly out of fear of upsetting the HOA.


The relative value of Architectural Harmony

Take note of the HOA Attorney’s stance on this matter:

In a planned development, you can’t just have neighbors going out and doing whatever they want without association approval or you lose the architectural harmony that is the desirability of a planned development. 

Well, of course HOA attorneys will insist that it is the board’s duty to enforce the rules No Matter What. Let’s face it. That’s the philosophy that creates lots of billable hours for HOA attorneys. Without the conflict, there would be no need for expensive legal services, right?

And the entire argument is based upon upholding “architectural harmony that is the desirability of a planned development,” as if that were the only value that matters to homeowners and residents of a community.

What about upholding the value of social harmony, rather than pitting one group of neighbors against another? Why don’t leaders of planned communities value individual expression? Or social conscience for those who choose to conserve precious water resources? Why is there little respect for homeowners that want – or need – to save money by cutting back on water usage and expensive lawn treatments?

No, none of that appears to matter to the people with the power to make all the decisions and spend all the assessment money. The only thing that seems to matter is that the community looks harmonious on the surface – according to the subjective opinions of whoever happens to be on the board.


Polls and surveys

The Santa Maria Times is also conducting an unscientific poll of its readers on this issue. At the time this blog was written, more than 60% of readers said that the HOA is definitely out of line, and that the homeowner should be able to alter his landscape. Only 17% of readers favor enforcing the rules No Matter What, while almost 22% are sitting on the fence and hoping for a compromise. Overall though, roughly 82% of readers think the HOA is being at least somewhat unreasonable.



Now, look at how that compares to the 2014 survey paid for by Community Associations Institute (CAI), the HOA industry trade group that often lobbies against common sense regulation of HOA boards and community management companies.


According to CAI, nearly 2 out of 3 residents of Association Governed Housing think the rules protect and enhance property values, 22% say the rules make no difference, and 5% say those rules actually do more harm than good.

Isn’t that the exact opposite of the real-time reader poll?

Interesting, don’t you think?

Which poll do you think is closer to the opinions of most Americans? The one bought and paid for by the industry that profits from Association Governed Housing, or the Online Reader poll taken by a regional newspaper?

I’ll allow the reader decide!



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