Long-time homeowners and HOA locked in a bitter legal dispute over paint colors
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
The other day I posted an explanation as to why people who hate rules end up living in HOAs.
Today’s featured news article illustrates by example, what happens when the majority of newer homes in the U.S. come with deed restrictions requiring mandatory compliance often arbitrary architectural covenants and restrictions.
Many of my readers think that moving out to the country is a good way to avoid HOAs.
But that’s not always the case.
In the small rural town of Powell, Wyoming, homeowners Kelly and Debra Hennessy live under HOA rule at Cody Ranchettes. And, as it turns out, they want no part of obeying rules that require each home to remain a single boring shade of brown or beige.
After living in the rual subdivision for 13 years, the homeowners have decided to paint the wooden siding of their cabin in four alternating complementary shades of color.
Full disclosure: looking at the photo, I rather like the muted color combination. It reminds of me of autumn leaves. Yes, it’s unconventional. But the artistic side of me enjoys the unique character of siding in multiple hues.
Predictably, the officers of the HOA board disapprove of the color scheme. And they want the Hennessys to stop what they’re doing, and make their house one solid color — preferably brown.
Check out Kelly Hennessy’s response. Oh, dear!
Judge asked to stop Cody homeowners from painting
CJ Baker Powell Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange Aug 3, 2018
POWELL — A bitter dispute between a rural Cody homeowners’ association and one of its members — over a multicolor paint scheme — has spilled over into Park County’s District Court.
Last month, the Cody Ranchettes Homeowners’ Association asked a judge to order Kelly and Debra Hennessy to stop painting their house on Rolling Hills Drive, east of Cody.
The Hennessys, 13-year residents of the subdivision, have been painting the boards of their home four alternating colors: cafe gray, maroon rust, walnut bark and cinnabark. The HOA contends that the walls of the house need to be one color, with one color for the trim, and that their painting plans must be approved by the association’s Architectural Control Committee.
Through their attorney, Larry Jones of Cody, the Cody Ranchettes HOA has asked the court to require the Hennessys to “return their house to its original exterior of brown stained cedar boards” if they can’t come up with an approved paint plan.
The Hennessys have virulently objected to the HOA’s actions. They say the HOA is overstepping its authority and selectively enforcing the subdivision’s covenants by taking up a “crusade” against them.
“If by some miracle you manage to obtain a judgment or injunctions against us, we will jam you up with endless appeals and countersuits, then do everything possible to make this house look like warmed-over dog(feces) while still satisfying any court mandates,” Kelly Hennessy wrote in a May 28 letter to a Cody Ranchettes leader.
The Hennessys responded with a barrage of angry and profane letters.
“We’ll only modify our meticulously chosen color scheme at the implied or express point of a gun, and rest assured you filthy dirtbags will NEVER drive us out of this community,” Kelly Hennessy wrote to the architectural committee on April 23.
Here on IAC, I’ve linked to and posted thousands of articles on HOA bullies on the board, or serving as managers or HOA attorneys.
But, to be fair, sometimes the homeowner responds to the HOA’s violation notice unreasonably. Kelly Hennessy’s name-calling rants and threats, as documented by the Powell Tribune, are displays of what I would call Nonproductive Anger.
Of course, none of us knows the history of relations between the Hennessys and Cody Ranchettes HOA. Perhaps this feud has been brewing a long time.
What sparks such anger in our communities?
I suspect, in part, it comes from a homeowner’s expectation that buying an expensive home on acreage, in the middle of western wilderness, gives one the right to paint the house any color at all — even bright purple — without getting permission from a few neighbors who believe their good taste reigns supreme.
HOA governance invites petty lawsuits over non-critical issues such as agreeable house paint colors.
Regardless of my preference for allowing owners and residents to exercise a fair amount of individual freedom, including the right to express one’s personal taste with paint colors, I see no benefit to hostile communications, let alone filing a profanity-laced legal complaint against the HOA.
Do HOAs really protect property values?
It’s perfectly reasonable to object to HOA rules.
Unfortunately, a significant but influential minority of real estate investors have spent the past 40 years spewing nonsense about the “need” for “standards” to “protect property values.”
The entire residential real estate industry seems to be built upon a shaky foundation of fear mongering. As a result, some consumers are absolutely convinced that if there were no HOA to enforce rules, entire neighborhoods would turn into ugly, run down, crime-ridden slums overnight.
The level of care and pride of ownership in one’s home and surrounding neighborhood is determined mainly by two factors: economic conditions and mutual respect for individual rights.
In fact, as well-documented here on IAC, nearly every association-governed community follows a predictable path of decline. And that decline often begins before the community reaches its tenth anniversary. Despite all the rules, standards, and enforcement, when the condo, co-op, or HOA fails to collect sufficient assessment revenue — or mismanages that revenue — infrastructure and community amenities deteriorate, while community services also decline.
And when architectural rules reflect the styles of the decade in which the residential development began, within 15 – 20 years, most HOA-burdened communities look tired and outdated. Limiting a homeowner’s choice to maintain and renovate their property as they see fit results in stagnation. Each community becomes a sad and strange Time Capsule.
The younger generation complains about “cookie-cutter” homes in such neighborhoods. They say the homes lack character. Many young adults simply aren’t buying into the concept of covenants and deed restrictions.
So, who will buy homes from older adults — or their estates?
Some serious issues to consider!
How can we make communities less hostile and more harmonious?
We can start by learning how to respectfully communicate with one another. Stop the finger-pointing and blame-shifting. End the demonization of anyone who happens to have a different point of view.
I know, I know. In the divided political climate of the U.S. right now, this seems like a daunting task. But we must try to get along.
Learn how to be assertive, but not aggressive. Avoid name-calling and angry tirades. By all means, avoid dragging attorneys into disputes.
Chill out. Take up yoga. Go for a walk after dinner. Plant some flowers. Recognize that the color your neighbor paints his house will not hasten Armageddon.
As long as the property owner doesn’t impose a real nuisance, or cause harm to neighboring properties, there’s no compelling reason for an HOA to enforce arbitrary standards of good taste.
Talk to your neighbors. Get together and organize a vote to repeal unnecessary restrictions and rules — that would be most of them.
And in a small community such as Cody Ranchettes, it should be relatively easy to meet neighbors face to face, to come to a mutual understanding about the perceived importance of aesthetic standards vs. private property rights.
Of course, given the relatively unchecked power of HOAs, homeowners face a bit of uncertainty about how their HOA might react. How far will the board in power go to prove a point? To assert their authority?
But rest assured that, in most common interest communities, the residents outnumber the people on the board. There’s more regular, common sense people than uptight, obsessive, authoritarian rule enforcers.
Get over your irrational fears, and calmly take a stand for your rights.
It’s entirely possible to conduct a peaceful HOA revolution, one neighborhood at a time.