By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Some of my readers know that, on January 31, advocates for rights of HOA residents lost another voice. Andrea Barnes died at the age of 46, leaving behind her husband, her parents, three children, other family members and friends.
Andrea’s HOA dispute began in connection with her diagnosis of Meniere’s Disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes problems with balance, constant ringing in the ears, and unpredictable bouts of nausea and vomiting.
There’s no cure for Meniere’s, but people who suffer from its symptoms can avoid situations where one might be more apt to feel off-balance or fall.
For Andrea, it was helpful to avoid walking on inclines or hills, especially after dark. Andrea found it difficult to access and move her trash cans, which were normally placed in her garage or back yard, as required by HOA rules.
She asked her HOA for accommodation for the disability created by Meniere’s — permission to relocate her trash cans outside the garage, on level ground, in a well-lit location closer to the curb.
But the HOA denied her request, even after she and her husband created a screen to block the view of the trash cans. Eventually, Andrea filed a fair housing complaint with Tennessee Human Rights Commission, seeking accommodation from her HOA.
No justice for Andrea
But, as the THRC began their slow, years’ long process of investigation, Andrea and her family alleged that the HOA retaliated by using intimidation tactics, and selectively citing the Barnes’ for other minor HOA rules violations.
When Andrea tried to speak up about her experience on the community’s Facebook page, some of her neighbors responded with unkind words. They were more worried about preserving the reputation of their community than listening to Andrea’s concerns. Andrea was soon banned from the Facebook group entirely, effectively ostracized her in her own neighborhood.
As Meniere’s progressed, and despite medical treatment, Andrea began to experience intermittent hearing loss, and more frequent attacks. The stress of the HOA dispute, and loss of companionship within her community likely made her symptoms worse.
At the time of Andrea’s death, THRC had still not settled her claim against her HOA.
Not an isolated incident
Andrea’s story is a stark reminder that HOAs can be very cold, callous, and cruel. Her story is repeated over and over again, in countless other HOA-governed communities in the U.S.
I wish I could explain why residents of HOAs behave differently than residents of non-HOA neighborhoods. For example, why are HOA residents, especially homeowners, more likely to be so cold, callous, and cruel to anyone who dares question the status quo?
When a homeowner blows the whistle on a HOA board member’s or manager’s unfair leadership or outright misconduct, why are members of the association so willing to label the whistleblower as a ‘malcontent’ or a ‘troublemaker?’
That’s something we don’t normally see in non-HOA neighborhoods. For instance, no one automatically assumes that Virginians who are critical of their top three state leaders are ‘malcontents’ or ‘troublemakers.’ Quite the opposite is true — the general public consensus is that the problems lie with the poor moral character of government leaders.
In search of kindness
My hope is that Americans will open their minds and their hearts, and recognize the social damage caused by the arrogance, hostility, and selfishness so prevalent in HOAville.
Today, Andrea Barnes is laid to rest. Finally, she has found some peace. But many of your neighbors may be fighting their own lonely battles — on a personal level and with their HOAs.
It’s up to all of us to stop the madness, and reach out to our neighbors with kindness. To hell with HOA rules and standards of appearance.