I’m a little ranty today. When we moved into this house, we had to join the HOA. Not all that expensive per year, so okay. We wanted this school district and we liked the house a lot. Only it turns out that every time the board changes members, it changes its interpretation of the CCR’s, which are Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. So anyhow, we built a pergola and a added a patio and fixed an enormous drainage issue in our back yard at the same time, and now the HOA is saying it wasn’t approved. But our understanding at the time was that it didn’t need to be approved.  They aren’t saying take it down, so I’m not sure what’s going on. Working on it.

But here’s the thing. It’s barely visible from the road. Barely. And yet someone is so freaking nosy that they have to get on our backs about it. Do people not have anything better to do? The thing is lovely with cedar wood and the roof can’t even be seen (and they are complaining about) unless, of course, you look from the neighbor’s yards. So I don’t know what’s going on and I’m highly irritated. And yes, I know. I knew it was an HOA before I joined. But I’d hoped they weren’t so freaking annoying. And after the kids graduate high school, we’re moving somewhere where we don’t have to listen to other people tell us how to live.

I swear I’m going to do a story about an obnoxious bureaucratic collection of people with too much time on their hands and a deep desire to micromanage other people’s lives.

That is my rant. Got HOA horror stories? Maybe I’ll feel better about mine if you have much worse to tell me.


About Diana Pharaoh Francis

A recovering academic, Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. She's owned by two corgis, spends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians. Check out samples of just about everything on her website: www.dianapfrancis.com


HOAs — 19 Comments

  1. Oh Di. I live in Reston VA, home of the ur-HOA. Here they regulate everything and there is litigation, oh! tons of litigation. The simplest thing to do is to never do anything to rile them up.
    In your situation, I would be humbly stubborn. Point out that the previous administration ok’d it. Point out that it is invisible from the road. Get -all- your neighbors to write (you can give them a form letter to sign) saying they are cool with it.
    The sneakiest thing to do? Run for the HOA board. Burrow in!

    • That’s what I was thinking. Thing is, people can see it from upstairs in their houses up the back yard. I don’t know if I”m supposed to care about them. My impression is the ‘visibility’ issue is all from the road.

  2. How about some good old pettiness? The size of the brass numbers on your black mailbox could not be larger than, let’s say 1.5 inches. Then my dad had a heart attack and the ambulance had some difficulty finding the right house at 1am – and they let the township and county know! All the lots are about an acre, so not too far to go, but talk about a scenario where seconds matter.

    After that, dad attached a standard county road number sign to the mailbox post (green/white reflective). That’s when the letters from the HOA started to threaten fines for non-compliance. Some of the HOA meetings were rather heated, but oddly enough the township fire chief heard about the nonsense, came to a meeting and recommended the “fancy” road number signs (black/white reflective) for numerous reasons, including school bus safety. Issue solved.

    The strange bit was that the people most against visible numbers had the most exuberantly decorated mailboxes, which of course, were also against code. No one ever seemed to complain about badly painted, anatomically impossible finches and cardinals, though.

  3. I lived in a townhouse for 24 years, and there was an HOA. Our meetings became so contentious, due to a homeowner whose last name — honest to God — was Suing, that we had to hire legal counsel solely to referee the meetings. Suing used to regularly prepare 50-page packets detailing, in single-space, 10-point type how each of us was violating the covenants. He had three allies among all the homeowners — not enough to win any disputes, but enough to make us spend tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees and filings with the county, and, and, and…

    We moved into a single-family home nine months ago, and we opened a bottle of champagne on the night that would have been Annual Homeowners Meeting night!

      • I know many people who have made this exact vow. In a small community an HOA is a terrible venue for petty tyrants. I will say that mine is large enough that they have quit doing petty things. Also I have learned to work the system.
        Oh — if you can find neighbors with -exactly similar- decks. porticos, or whatever, take photos. Many many photos! Show them to the HOA and point out that it was OK for Mildred, surely it is OK for me. I was following community standards! If you can plausibly claim to be emulating Mildred, so much the better.

  4. In NYC it was the tyranny of the co-op board (condos came late to New York, but co-ops have been around for more than half a century). My aunt, who had owned her enormous beautiful apartment for fifty years, was cordially disliked by the head of the co-op board. Her crime? When the guy was elected to the board he wanted to install a doorman. (The lobby of the building was small, with no obvious place for a doorman to be stationed; other than the convenience of having someone there to collect packages and dry cleaning–for which there was also no obvious place, there seemed very little point except to ‘class up’ the joint.) He proposed it, and my aunt, who spent 50+ years doing HR and then labor mediation and knew a thing or two, pointed out that by law, if they hired a doorman and kept him for more than the 3 month trial period, the building would then be required by law and the unions to keep a doorman employed. Board Chief scoffed, doorman was hired, and two months and 20 days later, let go; no place for him, unnecessary expense, etc. etc.

    For the next five years this guy did everything in his power to subtly get my aunt out of the building (including ensuring that, when the elevator to the “service entry” which served as the building’s emergency exit was rehabbed, the call buttons were placed too high for my vertically challenged aunt to reach. I believe they had to spend a lot of money for ADA remediation for that one, but by then my aunt had given up…

    • Dear heavens. This is every person’s nightmare. There’s a famous one about someone who built the condo, down in Florida–and then tenants tried to push them out because of, I think, their dog. Not the right kind of dog.

      I wish your Aunt had a good revenge, but doesn’t sound like it.

  5. What they all said…. And then there’s property ‘managers’ – don’t get me started.

  6. I’m in a manufactured home park. We own the house and rent the land. Legally an iffy situation. If the owner sells, the householders have to endure any rent increases or move. More than one park has sold and residents given 30 days to move their house (where?) or abandon it so they can develop the park.

    Fortunately Oregon now has strong laws in favor of HOAs in this situation. The HOA has first option to purchase the property from the owner. But you have to have and HOA in place before the sale of the property.

    We are currently dealing with the situation that the owner wants to retire and hire a management company. Historically that has been an automatic 25% rent increase. We are negotiating other options. But we had to do a massive membership drive to get 60% participation in order to legally negotiate. In this case the HOA is a blessing. If I owned the land and still had C&Cs I think I’d be with Di and protest any blockage to improvements. She is in reality increasing the value of her property and thus to her neighbors as well.

  7. I have explained to my siblings that with 11% rent increases per year, I must buy something. They don’t understand why I keep saying house. (Visualizing something like my sister married-to-the-builder’s house, which is gorgeous and huge.) I keep saying house because I have no interest in EVER belonging to an HOA. One friend was never given her key to the pool area, despite months attempting to get it. But they came after her for the money, you bet, despite the fact that she had no access to the pool.

    Not for any house, any school district, any view.

  8. This is very much a Rant subject with me, but I come down on the other side.

    I was on the board of my HOA for ten years, serving as president for a couple of years, and as vice president for most of the remaining time.

    I can assure you I didn’t do it for the power. Micromanaging what my neighbors did would only have taken time away from meaningful things I could be doing for myself. I served out of civic duty, and because I saw that apathy was a strong force and that being on the board was one way to help make sure things would be better than if I didn’t get involved. There was no pay. Let me say that again: THERE WAS NO PAY. It was volunteer work.

    I did my best until, after ten years, plus nine mostly-overlapping years on the landscape committee, I got tired. I put in easily hundreds of hours in each of those years. I helped solve safety issues. Got needed building maintenance done right (instead of the low-bidder crap jobs that had been the approved by various versions of previous boards). Got rid of an incompetent management company that, as far as I could tell from indirect clues, was doing property management because it was a convenient way to set up kickback schemes with building-repair contractors. Saved hundreds of thousands of dollars my HOA would have had to spend just by taking the time to preview and proofread various contracts and do research into what costs were vital and which were victimizing.

    As a new owner, prior to my board experience, I sure didn’t appreciate it when I could not install a front door with a decorative window in the top portion, but the board explained the county and state required that my building’s outer doors had to be ninety-minute fire doors and none of the doors carried by Home Depot met the standard if they had any more glass in them than a peephole. I saw that if I ignored their restriction, I would be in the wrong.

    We had several instances such as you describe where homeowners did things that were not allowed. The one that got really nasty (due to the owner’s attitude) was when a woman moved into one of the ground-floor units (of a two-story building) and immediately added a section to the L-shaped fence around her back patio so that the patio would become enclosed. She wanted the fence to be a complete one so that she could let her pitbull stay outside while she was at work. The outgoing owner of the unit had assured her that such a modification was allowed because patios were “exclusive use” and owners could do what they wanted as long as they paid for the construction and didn’t ask the HOA to cover the cost. Which was of course incorrect. The utility junctions — natural gas, electricity, and water — were inside the area she had enclosed, meaning that if an emergency such as an earthquake occurred, neighbors would not be able to rush to them and shut off the gas and the water and the electrical breakers unless they could vault a fence and deal with a pitbull who might have cause to feel his territory was being encroached upon. I should add that those utility junctions served not only her unit, but the one belonging to her upstairs neighbor. The board told her she had to remove the section of fence for all of the reasons I’ve mentioned, and added that we also did not want to set a precedent of allowing all-concrete eight-by-twelve patios to become dog pens for gone-all-day residents. She was vivid, threatened to sue, and never did comply with our directive. She moved out a few months later having unexpectedly inherited her mother’s house, and it was only after she was gone that the fence extension was removed — at HOA expense.

    I put up with all kinds of abuse, accusations, and lack of appreciation in those ten years. I got through it by telling myself that even though I was getting no money and was receiving very little in the way of thanks, at least I was doing good stuff for other people. One evening at a board meeting, a neighbor broadcast the view that the only reason the seven of us were on the board was to micro-manage our neighbors and make them jump through hoops. I didn’t need to have my motives questioned. My job was hard enough. I was only six months into my fifth two-year term, and I finished out the entire term, but my decision to leave was made in that instant. I’ve been off the board now for four years. So far I haven’t missed it. I still do not speak to that particular neighbor. I don’t even look his direction if I see him first.

    • It is all true, Dave. A good HOA is a godsend. Thank heavens you were there for your group. But it is also a venue for petty tyrants. We had one measuring the size of our foundation when we built in an area. It was a free HOA–but it existed.

      There is also a third type of person who ends up on HOA boards, and that can be a bigger disaster, down the road. The person who claims they can handle something…and doesn’t. The retired CPA who tucks the money into a 1% CD, and when it’s time to replace the fences, or paint the exteriors, you not only don’t have enough, you find out that some people haven’t paid their HOA for years and someone (one of my friends) has to get on the board, launch lawsuits, and basically slam the place into shape so that she can sell her condo and not take a loss. (The guy whose place needed painting lost money.)

      I have never been on an HOA board…but if I ended up taking over my mother’s condo, I would be tempted. Because I notice things, I push to keep a place nice, and I might as well have authority. I’ve done more than one volunteer gig, and it’s never easy.

      But if I end up back in Texas? No HOA neighborhoods. Frankly, I don’t want to be on an HOA in a gun-toting state. I have had some neighbors (and bought houses from) some very odd people. An HOA just makes things run hotter. Unless I had a chosen group to start out with, to hammer out rules from the beginning, I’d really hesitate. And even a chosen group can have very different ideas. I know a good group that wants communal living with tiny houses. But there are a couple of key differences on what is an acceptable risk for the community that I simply cannot take. So…no communal living in Texas, either.

      The answer may be know what you can tolerate. If that truck parked in front of a neighbor’s house with one tire missing drives you nuts, either report it as abandoned or find an HOA neighborhood and get on the board.

      • I understand and appreciate where you’re coming from, Cat, just as I understand the frustration that caused Di to create the topic. I had to speak up, though, because nearly every time HOAs are discussed, they are cast in the role of Villain. I have however been part of a whole bunch of instances of the Petty Tyrant syndrome. The tyranny came from the homeowners. That’s something that gets lost in discussions like these — that the tyranny could come from the other direction. HOAs in California have almost no power to enforce rules. The deck is stacked in favor of the individual homeowner. The system depends on cooperation.

        You mentioned a pool key situation. That brings up memories. A person in our HOA bought a unit and the previous owner did not turn over the pool key. The new owner expected the HOA to provide one — for free. We said, we did issue a key to your unit two years ago. Each unit gets one key. The previous owner has that key. It’s up to you to get it. If you can’t, you pay $35 for a replacement. And the new owner refused to pay $35. Instead she tried things like jamming the closing mechanism of the gate so that it wouldn’t shut, so that she could get in without a key — meaning the HOA was in violation of the city ordnance that required pools to have self-closable gates that locked automatically. If a city pool inspector had dropped by and seen that, we could have lost our pool permit. The owner had no key for months, but it wasn’t the HOA’s fault as I see it. It was her own obstinacy. She felt she was Entitled to a key.

        (If you’re wondering why we charged so much for a key, it’s because back when we only charged five bucks for replacement keys, people would tend to lose them more easily, and there would get to be too many unaccounted-for keys out in the wild. A couple of residents even developed the habit of pretending to lose their keys. They would get a new one for five bucks, and meanwhile sell their spare to people who lived outside the HOA for twenty bucks or so. The outsiders could then get in and use — and sometimes abuse — our nice pool without paying a dime to maintain the amenity.)

        I found there was a perspective that really helped. Ask yourself if you’re acting from the vew that you’re entitled to something. If that in fact is what’s at the front of your mind, try substituting the mantra, “What can I do to help?” That simple substitution leads to fruitful exchanges in place of acrimony.

        • I suspect this is summed up by my last property manager. I, being brain dinged, can misplace something and then it’s hysteria time because if it’s not where it goes, I have a huge problem. When I went to talk about leaving the complex, I found that the parking passes had gone up to $100. Because people were only entitled to two passes per apartment, and were also stacking up like cord wood in the apartments (rising rents.) I just looked at her, and then said: “Do you ever feel like people who are the renters you want are punished by the idiots?” She replied, “Oh, yes, we are the victims of the idiots.”

          We also had trouble with people jumping the gate for the hot tub. The complex stopped making it hot enough to keep down microbes because of fears of teens burning themselves because they are drunk. More of the “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

          My friend would have been happy to pay for a pool key. But no one could be reached in the HOA management, ever, for a key. She’s no longer in that subdivision, but I wouldn’t go there for that reason. I also think the current management for my mother’s HOA is adequate at best. The volunteer board, however, is excellent. Part of the reason our area has retained its value is because of a lot of retired people who work hard to keep it that way.

          I have heard that homeowners in CA are in a very strange position with property rights and neighborhood rights. HOAs can’t be tyrants, but they must have real teeth or why pretend there’s an HOA?

          • In response to that last paragraph, about why have an HOA if they have no teeth: HOAs aren’t there to manage resident behavior. That’s an unwelcome side effect. Their prime purpose is economic. The insurance on my place is excellent, and costs me far less than it would if I went out and got the same level of coverage as an individual homeowner. And I’d never be able to afford a pool and tennis court and sauna on my own. A good HOA is socialism that works.

    • The thing that bothers me most is that I get one answer from a board member and then a different response after we’ve built. I should have known better, really. I should have got it in writing. I do get that boards vary. And I’m being polite with them–and ranty here. Being an ass in this interaction doesn’t help anybody. This is a house in a neighborhood. I’ve never even thought about HOAs in condo and apartment complexes. Changes there can really affect safety–I can see that. Hopefully it all works out. We’ll see.

      • Di, if yours is a house-in-a-neighborhood style of HOA, then it indeed is a different kind of entity than my HOA, which is condos set up in a Mediterranean village kinda place. Yours is probably what we know here in California as PUDs. Planned Urban Developments. Mine is more of an old-fashioned cooperative. A true HOA. PUDs on the other hand make owners pay for almost everything and give back very little in return. The bureaucratic design — a favorite of developers and politicians and insurance companies — is flawed from the git-go.