Rockin’ the Suburbs: A HOA Primer

Larry bought our home in 1999, about two months before we got married. We chose it together and it turned out to be a great place to live. Thankfully, there is no mandatory HOA membership here so we can pretty much do any type of work on our home that we see fit. However…

HOAs (Home Owner’s Associations) have grown in popularity since the 1950s, when the general idea was to make sure the neighborhood was a safe place and no one’s property values went into decline because Bubba and Faylene decided to leave old trucks rotting on cinderblocks in their front yard and didn’t pick up after their dogs. A lot of communities now have HOAs and each association has it’s own charter with very specific rules and regulations by which residents must comply, along with annual fees that home owners must pay whether they decide to become members or not. In essence, you’re expected to pay for the privilege of having your neighbors decide what you can and can not do on your own property. Fees tend to be in the $400-$1000 per year range and make no mistake – the HOA will sue you for missing payments and in some places will boot you out and auction off your home, regardless of the circumstances that caused you to fall behind.

Remember Gladys, the horrible neighbor in the animated film Over the Hedge:

Yeah. That nosy bitch. The one who would measure her neighbors’ grass then call them to tell them it was taller than regulation and they needed to mow it. Most HOAs have regulations about lawns and landscaping in their charters and no issues whatsoever with harassing you about it. Leaves must be removed within a certain amount of time, the flowers you plant must be approved and if you intend to put up figures or other decorations you’d better talk to your neighbors first or you’ll be looking at some hefty fines.

Anything – anything you want to do is subject to approval. Putting a shed in the back. Painting your house a different color. Adding a ramp to your porch for a disabled family member (even if he or she lives in the home). Clotheslines (a big no-no). A vegetable garden. Swimming pool. Putting an addition onto your home as your family grows. All those things and more must be approved by your HOA. Things that are done without approval will probably be ordered taken down until approval is granted, regardless of the cost and effort it took to get them done in the first place.

My parents bought a home in West Virginia in a beautiful neighborhood with a HOA. What they do on their own property is regulated into oblivion. They’d love for us to move there, but one of the many reasons we won’t is because we have no interest in hopping through flaming hoops in order to please our neighbors. With two children on the Autism spectrum, we have too much else to concern ourselves with. So we get a little behind in mowing the grass? More food for the bunnies. So we get a little behind in raking our leaves? Autumn is beautiful. So we want to paint our house a weird color? Screw you guys, it’s our fucking house. We haven’t painted it. But we could. My folks can’t do so without getting permission first.

What can be done to avoid this litany of ridiculous and intrusive bullshit?

Glad you asked. When looking for a home, always, always check to see if there’s a HOA. With condos, it’s a given. Expect to attend meetings and adhere to the charter. Understand that this goes with the condo and is not open to negotiation. Familiarize yourself with the charter and don’t be willing to sacrifice too much for your freedom to do what you wish with your own home because the mortgage is affordable and the neighborhood is nice. Understand that there will be noise ordinances and even though places are listed as ‘family friendly’ buses may not be permitted to pick children up for school inside the property perimeter, particularly if the community is gated.

Before buying a single-family home the same applies: see if there is a HOA. There may not be. In which case, you’re good. If there is, get a copy of the charter and read it. Don’t just read the thing; study it. Know what the restrictions are. Be aware of what the charter says about what is allowable. In some cases, the type of vehicle you park in your own driveway will cost you in fines and litigation because the HOA is within their right to sue if you violate their terms. Which they probably will.

This part is important to those of us in the Pagan community: understand your rights in regard to the types of faith-oriented decorations and gatherings you want. If you want to place Pagan symbols anywhere on your home, in your yard or on your fence (provided the HOA permits you to have a fence, that is), know before buying your home what is acceptable. Make sure you can use your yard for Esbat/Sabbat services or even if you just want to have a drum circle once in awhile. Know what restrictions exist in regard to animal friends and the types of plants you want to cultivate. Can you have a pentacle wreath on your door? What colors are acceptable when it’s time to repaint your home? Color is very important to our beliefs and self expression, so how do we go about changing the rules (provided that can be done)? Most charters are immovable. Be prepared to either accept the regulations or look elsewhere.

Myself, I’d look elsewhere. While I do appreciate the importance of keeping a home and yard looking nice, I’ve found that the definition of ‘nice’ is as diverse as humanity itself. The last thing I want to deal with is Nazi-neighbors goose-stepping all over my personal business. People become ill. People become exhausted from the rigors of daily life. People sometimes lose their jobs. People suffer from depression and physical disabilities. Some things can’t be helped and if there is ever a time when you can’t tend your yard, keep your children (whether disabled or not) quiet or afford to touch up the paint on your home, you could find your ass yanked into court by your HOA and facing some heavy fines. Both legal and via your HOA. Being a member of the HOA in good standing or having a close friend or relative on the board is not sufficient to protect you. Know what you’re getting yourself into going in.

I’ve learned a lot in my sixteen years in the ‘burbs and my parents’ decade in theirs. When Hubbins bought this house I never would have even thought to investigate the HOA charter, or ask if one exists. Now I do know. In my view, it just isn’t worth the trouble to deal with all that.


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