On our walk last week, we passed a dilapidated shed with a pink flamingo gracing its space. One of the members of the group commented that yard ornaments were not allowed in her neighborhood.
Because I lived in a very old house in a very old neighborhood, it was not until I moved to a very new area in a very different part of the country that I encountered this peculiar entity that now comes with home ownership: The HOA. For those of you as clueless as I was, HOA stands for Home Owners Association. The HOA was created as a way to assure residents that a certain level of standards are met to maintain housing values and quality of life.
At first, this idea had some appeal to me. In old city row housing, you are connected up close and personal with your neighbors and I was plagued with quality of life issues. Weeds over 7 feet high, stagnant water collecting and attracting mosquitoes, neighbors sneaking illegal dumping into your trash can (always be aware of who is breaking up concrete as you are bound to find it in your trash), garbage thrown into your yard, used condoms and drug paraphernalia on the other side of your yard (if you were lucky, if not, this would be in your yard too), illegal businesses and questionable activity going on in the driveway, and, the thing that really got to me most, neglected pets (fortunately, other neighbors would often also rally to help in this case).
So if there is an organization that can prevent all of that, sign me up! But as I learned more about HOAs, the less appealing they sounded. First, many HOAs have strict regulations about what you can and cannot do with the outside of your home. That may include something as innocent as a vegetable garden. My old yard, which was a native plant and bird habitat, would be frowned upon in many HOA communities. Hanging out laundry is a big no no. Also, there are fees that go with HOAs and those fees may go to pay for things that you may not use or may be morally against. For example, many HOA fees go to pay for lawn care. Lawns and the care that goes into them are one of the biggest environmental problems we face. This is a great surprise to many homeowners and I am not going to get into the reasons why here, but I do know that I will not support such fees. The other thing, if you are buying a property in a community that has an HOA, the seller is not obligated to disclose the HOA agreement to the buyer, which is often hundreds of pages long anyway. How do you know what you are getting into? Lastly, there is the irony of the HOA as a potential infringement on the glamour associated with home ownership and individualism.
Right now, we are renters so such questions can be put aside. But at some point in the future, we may have to decide if we want to live within the rules of an HOA or take our chances elsewhere. The real deciding factor will be whether or not we can put out a pink flamingo.