By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
I actively monitor more than a dozen online discussion forums on housing issues, including topics related to planned communities with homeowners, condominium, and cooperative associations. In addition, many online news sources include a reader comment section, and sometimes reviewing those is more informative – and more entertaining – than the article itself.
It’s no mystery that most commenters express negative perceptions of HOAs. But sometimes there is a vocal minority that feels the need to defend the concept of Association-Governed Housing.
One recurring theme for HOA defenders is a fervent belief that an HOA is absolutely necessary and beneficial in “keeping up property values” by making sure your neighbor keeps his or her property looking neat and tidy, and adheres to a uniform appearance.
Of course, someone else in the discussion thread almost always points out that, based on their past or present experience living in a non-HOA community, it’s certainly not true that the absence of neighborhood Restrictions and Rules Enforcers results in blight. On the contrary, most of us have lived without an HOA, and yet our neighborhoods were relatively clean and safe. They certainly were not uniform, cookie-cutter homes, but, for many of us, that’s a positive, not a negative.
The bottom line is that, if you find that some or even most of your neighbors don’t seem to care about maintaining their property, no amount of coercion by lawsuit is going to improve the situation to your liking. You may be better off either installing a fence or moving elsewhere.
Oh, and News Flash: the very same lack of pride in ownership can and does occur in HOAs, despite all the restrictions. In fact, following the last housing market crash, HOAs were more likely to have multiple investor-owned properties in “strategic default” during the prolonged recession. (Meaning the owner simply walked away because the house or condo was worth far less than what they paid.)
Sadly, some parts of the country have still not recovered. Association Governed Communities were especially hard hit because maintenance of common elements and common areas have also suffered.
But those arguments do not convince the homeowner who has experienced living next to a neighbor that they see as a problem. They still buy into the concept of controlling one’s neighbor.
What is the reason homeowners cling to this concept?
For one thing, some people are unwilling to personally confront a neighbor about messy or annoying behavior, let alone question their personal taste.
Nobody wants to go on record as the complainer. So I often hear, “I don’t go over and knock on the door, because I don’t want to be a bad neighbor.”
Here’s my response to that misguided line of thought:
Well, what do you think happens when there’s an HOA?
Your collective assessments are used to notify your neighbor of violations of deed restrictions and to sue that neighbor if he or she fails to correct the issue and comply. Does that really sound like being a good neighbor?
Why is it that you would be willing to allow someone else from the HOA to do the dirty work?
Have you considered talking to a few of your other neighbors who might also be willing to approach the problem and to work out a compromise?
Believe me, that’s usually better than giving a group of your neighbors control of the purse strings for your assessment fund and unchecked control over how to enforce the restrictive covenants. Abusive fines and lawsuits are all too common. And too often these disputes take on a life of their own and get blown way out of proportion. Some owners have actually lost their homes to HOA foreclosure or have been forced to move out of the community following a dispute with the Association.
Furthermore, an HOA can be “mild mannered” one day, and pure hell the next. It depends who is in control and how well they handle power – not to mention YOUR money.
Neighborhood pride comes naturally when people genuinely respect one another. But homeowners also need to have the financial means, the good health, and the time to do the necessary work. Especially if we don’t communicate with one another, we don’t often know the other person’s story. But if we did, it might change our perspective. Instead, we too often conclude that our neighbor is selfish and inconsiderate.
Incidentally, a real community would gather together those who are able and organize a neighborhood clean up, instead of fining and threatening neighbors with lawsuits.