The Great HOA Divide

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

Every day I read dozens of reports of conflict and division in association-governed, common interest communities. None of it surprises me anymore. The pattern of behavior and the nature of these fights is disturbingly predictable.

Some experts in the industry blame frequent conflict on a few selfish people, those disgruntled residents who are simply unwilling to follow the rules of the HOA.

But I disagree.

The reasons for neighborhood division go far deeper than disagreement over sometimes petty rules and restrictions.

One root cause of conflict, in my opinion, comes down to a fight for autonomy and independence, and the simple fact that most human beings tend not to respond well to control over their personal finances or lifestyle choices.

In every common interest community, especially those that are association-governed, one small group of people has relatively unlimited power to reward or punish the behavior of its owners and residents. It is a fact that your HOA board of directors controls a collective pot of gold – assessments paid by each member of the association – and with a great deal of power to demand more money from its members, whether necessary or not. And in many cases, governance decisions of a few people in power results in winners and losers, perhaps even downright discrimination against certain groups of people.

In every one of the following examples, you will see that one group of people in the community seeks to control their neighbors, even to the point of compelling members to go along with ridiculous or discriminatory rules, or to pay for services and amenities that some members do not want or need.

A second cause of community conflict is rooted in poor planning or inappropriate public policy – the kind that puts the needs and desires of a few politically influential citizens above the greater public good.

HOA conflict is not merely due to an inability of everyone to get along. Conflict is an inevitable byproduct of the way association governed, common interest communities are planned, built, and governed.


Communities divided

This dispute of California senior citizens is reminiscent of high school clashes between the jocks and their less athletically gifted classmates. It is another reminder that some HOA members – perhaps most of them – pay for recreational amenities they rarely, if ever, use, thereby subsidizing the cost for the few who do.

When developers and local urban planners decided to make assessments mandatory for HOAs, they never stopped to consider what would happen if and when recreational amenities became unpopular or unusable.

Oakmont in a pickle about pickleball

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | April 3, 2017

Monday was a head-snapper of a day in the battle over pickleball that has neighbors in the well-kept retirement enclave of Oakmont volleying accusations and nasty put-downs.

Tuesday could be even more dramatic.

Monday was the final day of voting in an uncommonly pitched election to decide whether the seven-member board that governs the Oakmont homeowners’ association will be ruled by a majority supportive of building pickleball courts adjacent to the central pool and gathering place, or by a majority determined to scrub the project.

Read more:

And a follow-up article. Seems the election itself is a matter of dispute, too.

Oakmont to hold recount in election that empowered pickleball foes

New Oakmont board votes to kill hotly disputed pickleball courts


In one Nevada neighborhood, the HOA wants to force some owners to extend their backyard dividing walls to prevent further attacks by dangerous dogs, instead of assertively dealing with a few irresponsible pet owners. Additionally, the HOA is proposing to prohibit children from playing in the streets – even under supervision – rather than encouraging neighbors to care about the safety and well-being of children.

In this community, unless homeowners fight back, a handful of residents with aggressive pets or those without children, win. Everyone else loses.

Incidentally, both of these problems could have been prevented if the local government had been willing to control or remove dangerous animals, and if the developer had been required to provide a hard surface area closed to traffic, where residents could safely use bikes, scooters, and roller skates.

Henderson families fighting proposed HOA rule changes

Bryan Callahan
1:08 AM, Apr 13, 2017
4:25 PM, Apr 13, 2017

HENDERSON (KTNV) – Henderson neighbors say they are fighting back against a pair of proposed rules being considered by their homeowners association targeting certain dogs and kids playing in the street.

Read more (2 videos):



Also in Nevada, another HOA proposes to spend big money on turf repair rather than investing some money on common sense security measures such as installing street lights.

This is a common source of conflict in HOAs. The group in control of the purse strings is more interested in portraying an attractive image for the community, rather than addressing important issues involving health and safety.

Once again, this argument could have been avoided if the developer had been required to install adequate street lighting at the time of construction.


Desert Shores residents want HOA to spend on security, not big money cosmetic upgrades

David Schuman
11:54 PM, Apr 12, 2017

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) – A Las Vegas community is worried about crime, and the people say their homeowners association is apparently looking to spend six figures on cosmetic upgrades instead of security.

Neighbors in the Desert Shores community near Buffalo Drive and Smoke Ranch Road say safety is a much larger concern.

Read more (Video):


In Baltimore County, Maryland, an HOA dispute over a large addition to one property has sparked a bitter controversy with religious discrimination implications.

Is a court order to tear down a 6,614-square-foot addition really about improper setbacks required by zoning, or is it more about accommodating a few property owners who happen to be uncomfortable with their neighbors’ strong religious convictions?

In this case, the HOA is merely following the example of its County officials, who have a history of rejecting development plans involving places of worship.

Judge rules that religious organization must remove structure it built in Towson neighborhood

Margarita Cambest Margarita Cambest, The Baltimore Sun, April 14, 2017
Towson Times
A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge has ordered that a controversial 6,614-square-foot structure a religious organization built in a residential neighborhood in Towson must come down within the next year.

The decision is the latest in a legal battle between Friends of Lubavitch Inc. and the organization’s neighbors in the community of Aigburth Manor, who say that the structure the organization built at 14 Aigburth Road is out of character with the neighborhood, has decreased the value of surrounding property and led to parking problems.

Friends of Lubavitch Inc. owns the Chabad of Towson and Goucher, which has operated at 14 Aigburth Road for more than eight years. The structure, which Lubavitch officials say serves as a residence to Rabbi Mendy Rivkin, his wife and children and was built as an addition to an existing house on the property, is also used to host weekly dinners, holiday gatherings and other events for Jewish students from Towson University and Goucher College.

Read more:


In related news,

Baltimore County faces federal lawsuits alleging religious discrimination in zoning cases

1 thought on “The Great HOA Divide

  1. Is there any evidence that HOAs preserve property values as claimed? How will the Baltimore county prove the controversial project has devalued properties?

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