By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
I was watching the morning news, with extensive coverage of devastation from floods in southeast Texas. One thing is for sure. Hurricane Harvey has hit hard, forcing evacuation of residents of humble cottages and estate homes alike. The flooded area includes Houston and Galveston, and, according to current reports, is now the size of Lake Michigan, with more water on the way, as dams are overtopped.
No doubt that many of those homes are association governed. Natural disasters don’t discriminate – they can destroy even the most exclusive private community.
Then a commercial break aired. One ad was a professionally produced promotional clip for a major home builder of one of those “active adult” master planned communities. Ads like these make new home “communities” seem so enticing and welcoming. Look! You can engage in all sorts of social activities and hobbies with friendly, smiling neighbors, in a stunningly beautiful subdivision with manicured lawns that you don’t have to mow. Just enjoy a vibrant healthy lifestyle. What could be more perfect?
The stark contrast between advertising fantasy and the devastating reality in the path of Hurricane Harvey was hard to ignore.
And then, in my Facebook feed, the following article, written by Judy L. Thomas of Kansas City Star, caught my eye:
Church deacon’s relative has cancer, but HOA says he can’t park extra car in driveway
BY JUDY L. THOMAS
AUGUST 28, 2017 10:23 AM
The four-bedroom, reverse one-and-a-half story house in Olathe seemed like the perfect setup for Stuart and Marsha Holland.
Marsha’s father had just undergone his fourth cancer surgery, and the couple decided it was time to move her parents from Florida to Kansas so they could more closely monitor their care.
“They could live on the main level, and we’d live on the lower level,” Stuart Holland said. “And we’d heard some great things about the neighborhood.”
But five years later, as Ed Majewski prepares for more rounds of treatment in his ongoing battle with cancer, the Hollands are entangled in a conflict on the home front — this one with their HOA.
The Avignon Villa Homes Community Association has decided to no longer allow the Hollands to park a car in their own driveway overnight. The decision was made, the HOA says, because the board has a responsibility to maintain “the integrity of the neighborhood.” The HOA’s parking policy requires residents’ vehicles to be kept in garages at all times, except for short-term activities.
And the Hollands have until Jan. 1 to comply.
The issue has pit neighbor against neighbor in an HOA already embroiled in a high-stakes war with another homeowner over a landscaping project it deemed was “over the top.” That case resulted in a lawsuit that has slogged on for years, with legal fees now in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“As a man of faith and a clergyman, I spend a lot of time in prayer,” said Stuart Holland, a deacon at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Lenexa. “In my reflection and my own prayer on this situation, the attacks on me personally don’t bother me a bit. But when it affects my neighbors, that’s when I have to speak out.
“At least among the board and among some neighbors, there appears to be no sense of compassion, no sense of empathy… I would say absolutely that this is a bully board.”
Read more here (with Video):
Wow. Yet another stark contrast between real estate advertising fantasy and the reality of living in a low-maintenance, aesthetically pleasing, planned community.
You might recall that Avignon Villa Homes Community is also embroiled in a nasty lawsuit with retired architect, Jim Hildenbrand, who dared to add a low landscape wall to create some raised plant beds surrounding his home. I covered Judy Thomas’s earlier HOA column last year. If you missed it, or want to refresh your memory here is the link to my previous blog.
The current dispute with Stuart and Marsha Holland is even more egregious. But readers might be surprised to learn that it is fairly common for homeowner and condo associations to enforce difficult and unrealistic restrictions against parking in front of your own house, whether you park on the street or in your own driveway.
You see, the crazy thing is, apparently there are some people who sincerely believe that seeing vehicles parked in front of homes makes the neighborhood look trashy. I’m not talking about beat up, rusty old cars that have not started in years. No, some of your neighbors in these planned “communities” will object to the very sight of your Honda Accord, your Ford Expolorer, or even your brand new Chevy Silverado.
There goes the neighborhood! Why don’t you park your vehicles in your garage?
This parking rule is, quite frankly, stupid. For one thing, it is impractical. If your house has a two-car garage, you are effectively limited to two cars. And if you have teen drivers, college age children, or a two generation household, what are you supposed to do with a third or fourth car?
According to the HOA board and some inconsiderate neighbors in Avignon, well, if you cannot follow the rules, then you will just have to move somewhere else.
So much for a welcoming neighborhood.
Do you value property more than people?
As Stuart Holland asks in his video interview, should rules intended to increase property values have more importance than people?
This is one of the primary reasons IAC exists – to drive home the point that the concept of association-governed, common interest communities has gone astray. Instead of promoting a true sense of community, the industry and some political pundits have made owning real estate all about property values, and not about social values.
The very foundation of association governance undermines individual property rights and civil liberties, two traditional American values.
When we can no longer park our cars in our own driveways or spruce up our front yards without getting permission from a few of our overzealous neighbors, based upon rules created by some home builder with subjective ideas about what looks “show ready” for home buyers, then we have truly lost our way.
It’s why I so often use #ValueMyRights on social media.
#ValueMyRights summarizes the fundamental change that needs to happen in communities across the U.S.
And here’s something else to consider. I have to wonder if harassing one’s neighbors over petty aesthetic rules is merely a cover up for more deep-seated discrimination.
Jim Hildenbrand was reportedly fined for – among other things – displaying a statue of St. Francis in his front yard. Stuart Holland is a Catholic Deacon.
Is there a pattern here, or is it mere coincidence? I’d like to hear from readers on this point. What do you think is behind this “the rules are the rules” mindset, not only in Avignon, but also in hundreds of thousands of HOAs in the U.S.?
And one final important point.
As the residents of Avignon and similar communities move on or die off, who do you think will buy resale homes? Are there enough like-minded home buyers that are equally obsessed with property values?
Will millennial buyers be willing to sacrifice personal relationships for the sake of theoretically increasing their property value by a few thousand dollars? What if the next generation of home buyers values personal freedom more than maintaining artificially perfect homes, landscapes, and streetscapes?
Will the new crop of retirees be willing to buy into Avignon and countless other homeowner, condominium, and cooperative associations ruled by either a developer or a minority of neighbors that do not share or respect their personal values?
Or has the U.S. become a nation so divided that we cannot even agree on where we can park our cars?