Last year, my family started shopping for a new home.  We developed our list of “must-haves” and saw some good houses that fit, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t the right time.  Instead, we’ll stay at our nice rental and build up our savings for a while longer.

One of the top five requirements on my “must-haves” list, and still will be when we resume our house hunt, is “No Homeowner’s Association.”  To paraphrase heroic US Civil War General Philip Sheridan: “If I owned an HOA property and Hell, I would rent out the HOA property and live in Hell.”

Mrs Thrill was initially pissed off about this limitation and some of you who live in areas where it’s impossible to find a home in a decent school district that does not have an HOA must think I’m a lunatic.  To those of you who think that’s the norm everywhere, I’ll just say that there were plenty of excellent, non-fascist neighborhoods in the particular rural town in and around which we were focusing our search.

With Mrs Thrill, I got the predictable arguments: “They protect property values, you dumbass!  Do you want our neighbors to paint their houses paisley and plant pear trees all over the place (those cause serious allergy issues in our area), asshole?”

Instead of sharing all of the HOA horror stories with her and explaining that merely having an HOA does not result in a significant improvement in property values worth the hassle of having one, I simply made it a point to go to the county assessor’s website and pull the bylaws for the HOA’s of the neighborhoods in which we were considering specific houses.  Then I would just read to my wife what there was in the bylaws that we should consider before moving in.

You know what I would like the option to add at some point?  Solar panels.  Any HOA that prohibited them in their bylaws was automatically knocked out.

Fun fact about me: I like to smoke a pipe in the garage and I frequently leave the garage door open to air things out when I’m finished.  During the winter, I keep the door three-quarters shut.  During the summer, we also tend to leave the door open so the kids can get toys and bikes in and out of it.  Do you have any idea how many HOA’s specifically prohibit residents from leaving their garage doors open when they’re not actively moving their car into or out of it?  In this particular county, about 80% of them.  If any resident complains that my garage door is open half the time, I’m going to hear about it from the HOA.  No thanks.

We like to garden and grow as much of our own produce as we can.  It’s fun and healthy.  Does this HOA mandate that we submit all garden concepts to a committee prior to digging, selecting what we want to plant, and putting in lattices, adding an outbuilding like a greenhouse or tool shed?  Yes?  Then fuck off.  I’m not kidding: one HOA even dictated which types of trees you could plant in terms of how tall they were expected to grow and what their minimum circumference must be.  I think the BTK serial killer must have been on that HOA at one time.

Over time, Mrs Thrill got to the same point I did.  She’d look at a listing for a house, see that there was an HOA, and pass on it.  We kept finding rules that we could not live with.

Her father got annoyed with me.  He was like, “Well, you want an HOA.  Ours does good work.”  So I dug up his neighborhood’s HOA bylaws and pointed out that the side online sales business my mother-in-law runs out of the basement is a violation of those bylaws and that he could be in trouble if they ever decided to make an issue of it.

Some people might claim that I’m being silly and taking things to extremes.  “Thrill, they don’t really enforce everything all the time.”  You know what my reply to that is?  If your HOA management isn’t zealously enforcing its own rules and charters, then it is in breach of contract and should be dissolved immediately.  It’s worthless and you are a sucker for paying dues. They’re not supposed to have any discretion on fulfilling their obligations.  But if they do ever decide to suddenly enforce some obscure rule against you, you’re fucked if it really is in the bylaws and it won’t matter at all whether or not they haven’t enforced it in the last 10 years.

I would never put myself in a position where anyone but my family either benefits from the value of my home or can sue me, file a lien against me, and foreclose on my home because I refused to let them dictate what I can and cannot do with my own property.  That really is the bottom line.  It’s very Browncoat, I know.  You can’t take my house from me.

What got me on this topic was this recent story of a bill in my state to try to protect homeowners against excesses by HOA’s.  The legislators are wasting their time.  There isn’t a government solution to HOA’s, unless it’s for things like ensuring that HOA’s cannot stop residents from making positive environmental improvements to their property.  The fact is that if you have bought into an HOA neighborhood, you have no recourse but to play by any rules they have established or will establish in the bylaws that you signed.  They probably have a lien on your home and the knowledge that they could hold that over my head and place me at a disadvantage in every single conflict with them would be too much to handle.

Sure, you can get yourself on the Board if you have the time for it and the inclination to tell other people what to do with their own stuff, I suppose. But I maintain that the only surefire way to avoid the worst excesses of HOA’s is to simply not join one.  These people you hear about who do something crazy like fly a gigantic US flag on their property or astroturf their yard and get fined by their HOA’s are not to be pitied.  They didn’t read the fucking bylaws or thought that the rules wouldn’t be applied to them.  They were wrong.

If you absolutely must join a neighborhood that has a HOA, please, please, please, please ask to review the bylaws and look for anything that could be problematic for you before you sign them and buy the home.

Once you make a deal with the Devil, he owns your soul.  Don’t let him get your house too.

25 comments

  1. Fortunately these creeping fascists don’t seem that prevalent in my part of the country, where you can still buy land & build on it (although the property taxes and regulations in some places are a pain in themselves.) HOAs seem to be limited more to condos.

  2. Sarah and I live in an HOA neighborhood. However, “HOA”, in our case, could be replaced with “Co-Op”. We pay fees (just went up to $100/year from $75/year due to vote) but the main role of the HOA is to provide things like snow plowing and lawn care/maintenance for the common areas (including a park/covered pavilion behind our house).

    There is nothing in the bylaws about any of the typical stuff — no ban on lawn flamingos.

    As such, we’ve been satisfied. We are often plowed out long before the city streets or non-HOA neighborhoods. We have a great chunk of land behind our house with a baseball field, volleyball courts, swings, slides, monkey bars…etc. All without our kid having to cross a street. (Imagine a giant oval — the center of the oval is the park and our houses form the border). Lastly, we are able to reserve the pavilion for any personal events, free of charge, and we have on several occasions. There is a vehicle access route so dropping off port-o-potties for graduation parties, etc, is a breeze.

    Again, I know that this is *nothing* like what you’re talking about and, truthfully, I would run screaming from those types of neighborhoods. But we’re satisfied with what we get for our money. The board also organizes Halloween parades, Christmas caroling, and a Spring potluck out at the pavilion. Well worth the fees for us.

  3. We live in an area that is 90% +/- run by HOA’s. It was a matter of some contention when we bought this house. We bought in this area because the schools are the best in the metro area and my son needs a fairly tailored education and has made huge gains here. I can’t say it was a mistake per se, but I hate our board with more passion than I should. You are correct that they give you the bad news up front and if you buy any way, it is your tough shit. I could sell at a small profit, so I have no real cause for complaint. The problem is solvable at least for me. That said …

    With 350 homes in the neighborhood they can’t really police every bush and brick. I’m in the back and don’t really get too much flack for my roses that I never ask permission for. If they make me rip out a rose garden so be it. How this type of situation adds to property values is a mystery to me but they claim it as an absolute truth. I am guessing that there are lost sales because of stupid rules like “you must ask permission to paint your house the same color” but I could be wrong; the property appears to appreciate with the area. We painted our house the same color last year and didn’t ask. Surprise, no one noticed.

    If I were to advise anyone about it, I would suggest avoiding HOA’s if you live a relaxed loosey-goosey lifestyle and don’t want to worry that if you leave your trash cans out overnight you would get a fine. I flout the rules because I don’t care. I have gardens with tomatoes, etc. So far, no one has complained. If they do I will likely have to remove them and put in a request to reinstall them. Once again, how this protects me is a mystery, but I suppose they are hedging against paisley houses and yard art. It would seem that it could be done in a simpler manner.

    I think that HOA’s will adapt or die. This place is almost 40 years old. New residents will eventually make changes. There are already rumblings in the FB page.

  4. This place is almost 40 years old. New residents will eventually make changes.

    That’s the thing that gets me. “We don’t want people changing how these look” only works until the style in which they were all constructed begins to look dated and undesirable.

  5. Ok, I’ll admit — I’ve been dying to try the “code” tag. So, this is just me being curious (and testing for XSS vulnerabilities at the same time)….


    `$(document).ready(function(){
    ‘ $(“body”).html(“All your base are belong to us!”);
    ‘});

  6. Yea this place is popular because it preserved the natural landscape of the original property. I agree with their policies on not removing healthy hardwoods and non-garish paint schemes. But when a neighbor is told to replace her son’s Batman curtains, you are engaging in pettiness. These are not McMansions. They are older 70’s style contemporaries, which I love but are not exactly trendy. The principal driver of good property values is not controlling rules. It is the two beautiful lakes that cost us an arm and a leg in fees, which are 50% higher than comparable swin/tennis neighborhoods. They are in the path of a lot of building and they need dredging every 6-10 years. This is not as readily disclosed to buyers.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t have bought this house if I had to do it again. I love the house and the people here. The schools are great. Unfortunately, there are other neighborhoods that aren’t as much of a PIA to live in even with an HOA. Thrill and wife are correct in doing their due diligence and avoiding HOA neighborhoods even if it takes longer to find a place.

  7. I live in a neighborhood thankfully with no HOA. Whenever I think about moving, it is most certainly a requirement for any house we would consider. After watching my mother get harassed over the years by hers, no thank you, sir.

  8. Yeah, I’m perfectly okay with the more benign HOA’s. A good example are those in rural areas where everybody is on a septic system. Having a HOA to manage that for the entire community is much better, in my opinion, than everybody trying to manage their own.

    I’d have few qualms about a neighborhood like yours.

    The HOA’s you want to stay away from though are the ones that dictate conformity in the name of helping everybody’s property values. That’s where the insane shit comes into play because you’ll get a small group or an individual who thinks EVERYTHING you do is affecting his resale value. The absolute worst are the HOA’s run by developers, because they’re trying to get the best return on their investment and they will be merciless in ensuring that every house maintains the correct image.

  9. We moved out to the country. Bought 60 acres of awesomeness. Two 3 acre ponds with fish – tons of deer to hunt etc. Screw the burbs.

    But, we did live in a neighborhood with an HOA before that. I didn’t ask them much of anything – did an overhaul on the entire backyard and put in a nice fence. I had seen that someone else had done this – and asked them if they got permission or got any flack. They said nope, so I figured the precedent was set. And I was right. If they let one go through without fining etc, then they’ve screwed themselves as a governing body. Much to my enjoyment. But we got out of there to enjoy a more country life and we love it.

  10. You bet man. I miss you guys. Glad you have this up. Let me know if I can ever be of any help.

  11. All without our kid having to cross a street.

    Wait! What! You procreated! Man I missed a lot since the VO. Congrats!

    PS Glad to see Michigan’s little adventure yesterday didn’t affect how they played today. Tough one tomorrow.

  12. Yeah! Thanks! We can’t wait until he’s old enough to tell us what gender he officially identifies as! 😉

    As for Michigan, wow. That could have been a disaster. All of the players, the band, and key staff. Those winds were wicked yesterday — I still haven’t pickup up my grill or moved my metal patio table (which blow all the way across my back deck).

  13. As if on queue, this came in through the social committee FB page in the midst of lost pets and a trash truck fire:

    Totally unreal – we just had one of our lovely fellow [neighbors] drive over and bring Code Enforcement to our door because my friend parked the mercedes in the woodchips instead of on the road. What an idiot…but at least now I know how you are. That bloody car is always parked in the garage! Is what it is. The code enforcement Gestapo told me he couldn’t give her a warning because we had been warned and ticketed last year…$140…and I should have told her.

    We have to do something about parking pads in here. For me, it isn’t that much of an issue anymore but for others in here, I see the same dozen or so cars park in the grass/woodchips or whatever on a regular basis. People don’t park this way for THEIR convenience. They park this way to not impede traffic or cause an accident. It’s perfectly legal to park a tagged vehicle fully on the street…but if you park 2 tires in the “curb” that will earn you a ticket. You’ll get one warning….usually. No disrespect to Code Enforcement as they have a tough job…but this particular guy is a jerk. Last year he came by and told me he needed to check the inside of the house to see how many people were living here and that I was running a business from the house. Not without a warrant! It what it is.

    A few weeks ago someone had their car temporarily parked on the lawn to allow a delivery. While the homeowner wasn’t home someone actually entered the home looking for him to gripe about it. This asshole that was so concerned about the car left muddy footprints at the door. I guess that is ok since you can’t see them from the outside.

  14. I would literally be going through every single bylaw to find something on that jerk. Line by line. But that’s me. The nerve to ask to come inside to do a headcount check is beyond insulting and borderline Nazi. I’d also have some animal poo shipped to his house on the weekly. But, I have a lot of time on my hands….

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