A staggering number of communities across the nation have Homeowner $B!G (Bs Associations. Twenty percent of all American homes are in HOAs. But that belies the read figure. Almost 100% of all NEW homes are in Homeowners Associations. That’s because developers cannot get permits to build unless they agree to create restrictive covenants that subsume some of the traditional duties of government. It’s a form of tax-shifting. Instead of additional taxes, you pay neighborhood ‘dues’. It doesn’t feel like taxes, and it doesn’t create some of the legal complications involved in raising taxes.
Some people enjoy HOA life. They feel it gives them more security and provides certain community services unavailable in traditional neighborhoods. A nice front entrance. A gated community. Preservation of property values (that last one is a myth that I’ll destroy in some future blog).
The local government jurisdiction has other reasons for liking HOAs. Snow removal isn’t as important. Let those rich folks plow their own snow. Contracts for trash collection. Let ’em find their own garbage companies. Christmas lights at the entrance (Oops! Gotta take Christ out of Christmas or risk an ACLU suit!)
But for every yin there’s a yang, for every pro there’s a con. And what the HOA can to TO YOU is dizzying.
The typical Homeowners Association is a police power that isn’t tied down by Constitutional restrictions on police powers. It’s a private non-profit corporation, you see? Even though it’s next to impossible to buy a new home outside of an HOA, they’re not yet considered de facto governments. Therefore the HOA can do some incredibly stinking things. Like keep out blacks. Or Jews. Or Mexicans. Or it can make life so rotten for blacks and Jews and Mexicans that they decid to create their own HOAs. If you don’t believe me, then think Shoal Creek and the quick scrambling they had to do when Tiger Woods started winning tournaments. Incidentally, we owe Tiger Woods a huge debt of gratitude for inadvertantly focusing attention on certain country club practices.
But HOAs have other stinky things they can do. They can keep out the disabled. (Don’t believe it? You’ve gotta read my upcoming book!
They can intentionally poison pets! (An actual case in Arizona where a board president ordered members to set out poison for housecats)
They can keep out the young. Keep out the old. Keep out the singles. Keep out the gays. You name the population you don’t want, and I’ll show you the caselaw where it’s happened.
They can siphon millions of dollars from construction defect litigation and sneak it into the pockets of favored contractors and law firms! (Pay attention to the burgeoning scandal in Las Vegas!)
But in thousands and thousands of cases around America, HOAs file lawsuits. Lawsuits over weeds in the lawn, grass a half inch longer than the two inch maximum, the installation of a Christian cross or a Jewish Mezuzah on a door. These are neighbors suing neighbors. These are tiny little disputes provoked by tiny little minds who get themselves elected by tiny vote margins on tiny minded HOA boards. What’s not tiny is the massive legal fees that are generated. This isn’t just lawsuit abuse, it’s the American tort system on steroids. Billions and billions of dollars are vanishing down the maw of the American lawsuit machine.
Next time you attend the neighborhood Christmas party, take a look around. Then ponder for a moment why there are so few attendees.
Ah! And follow me on Twitter. I hope I tick you off! @ward_lucas
Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association