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.