January 29, 2022

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From the Community Editorial Board: HOA rules

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Question: If you live under HOA rules, House Bill 1310 would allow you unfettered expression by way of posting flags and signs. Some lawmakers worry about escalating disputes among neighbors and offensive content, while others cheer free speech. Your take?

I am a member of my HOA’s Board of Directors.  It is a thankless job for which there is little or no upside.  Even worse than being on your HOA’s Board is being on your HOA’s Architectural Review Committee (ARC); the ARC is typically comprised of only masochists.

Why is it so bad? HOA Board and, sometimes, ARC Members  are typically “elected.”  I use quotation marks because the person who volunteers for the job typically run unopposed. They don’t get paid, and they are constantly having to tell people no.  In fact, the only time most home owners participate in their HOA is when they are mad about something.  So, the Board and ARC Members are usually dealing with angry people.  What always floors me is that when a person purchases a home in an HOA, it is likely the reason they purchased in that neighborhood was because of the common aesthetic appeal codified by covenants.  Then, these same people are angered when the HOA prohibits them from painting their house bright pink because it won’t match the aesthetic – it is a cognitive dissonance for sure.  But these are the conversations neighbors are having with each other, and they are important.

For all the bad things that can and have been written about HOAs (and there are volumes), the one positive thing is that, for most people, their HOA is their very first touch point with democracy and community engagement.  There are very few other public spheres where you live and interact daily with your “elected” leaders and can form a collective group to make changes to your individual living situations.

Now, our general assembly is considering HB 1310 which would prohibit HOA’s from regulating the content of yard signs. Forget Trump or Biden signs, my mind instantly goes to the worst place with neighbors hoisting Nazi flags and messages of violence, dead bodies, hate, and intolerance or something super tacky.  While legislative guard rails are very important to keep HOA’s on track, HB 1310 would completely prohibit communities from collective discussions about the types of signage that are appropriate for their neighborhoods. If neighbors don’t like it, they should get involved and change their local rules.  My take, let HB 1310 die.

Doug Hamilton, [email protected]

Our constitutional right to free speech must outweigh the interests of homeowners’ associations. Too often, HOA boards are dominated by a few neighborhood curmudgeons with conformity mindsets and too much time on their hands; these are the last people we want weighing in on matters of aesthetic expression and political discourse.

Yes, people may display signs that offend their neighbors, just like people might publish opinions in the newspaper that offend some readers. Do political opinions sometimes lead to arguments or feuds or even violence? Yes. But it’s hardly the HOA’s role to mediate such conflicts. HOAs should be focused on essential maintenance and neighborhood amenities, not interpersonal disputes in the neighborhood. Should the HOA get involved next time a resident yells at their spouse in the driveway for not bringing the trash bins back in? No, because conflicts are part of life and grown-ups have to be able to work them out on their own.

Overly meddlesome HOAs are just a way for individuals to try to control the people around them without having to tell them face-to-face how to live their lives. If you feel uncomfortable telling your neighbor to their face that you’d rather they not plant a vegetable garden in their front yard and would rather work through the HOA to anonymously impose a rule on them, that should tell you that your request is unreasonable. Similarly, if you think a political sign is truly harmful to the neighborhood, you should be able to articulate that to your neighbor in a persuasive way. If it just irks you that there are people living near you who have different beliefs than you do, welcome to living in a pluralistic society. Maybe worry a little less about yard signs and focus on what you can do to support candidates whose beliefs align with your own. If you can only win through outright suppression of dissenting views (or votes), you don’t deserve to win.

Jane Hummer, [email protected]

Long and short of it? I support House Bill 1310. We have drifted so far from the concept of a NEIGHBORHOOD that we make assumptions about people we don’t know and how they choose to present themselves to the folks that live up the street.

HOAs came into being for the sake of helping developers with zoning, land development, and subsequent marketing and selling support by enforcing certain maintenance and upkeep covenants. Restricting expression was never part of the concept. What HOAs have devolved into is a way for people to control those living in proximity to them. An HOA is now this polarizing entity that is depicted in Geico commercials with uptight people with clipboards. By and large, they’re not wrong.

But therein lies the problem! I believe that it falls on the members of the neighborhood, and specifically those involved with the HOA board, to be NEIGHBORLY. Get to know the people who live next to you. Quit using the screens of NextDoor or Facebook as your means of interpersonal interaction. Go sit outside and meet the people walking by. Maybe then you’ll understand who they are and why they think, act, and feel the way that they do. That is how you create a welcoming community.

If you can establish relationships – and dare I say friendships – with your neighbors, they may pause a second before posting or flying something that might make you uncomfortable. It all comes down to the humanity of it. Having said all that, I am heavily involved in my HOA, know and like many of my neighbors – and it’s not because of their choice of décor.

Xenophobia and assumptions have gotten the best of us, people. Let’s do ourselves and future generations a favor by getting to know the humans in our neighborhoods.

Emily Allen Walsh, [email protected]

Like most things, this is a gray issue. At first I was adamantly in support of this new bill on the basis of free speech. Freedom is my core political tenet. But then I thought about it a bit more. People live in HOA neighborhoods because they want neighbors that maintain their houses in a reasonable manner. This makes the neighborhood more visually appealing (at least to some, boring to others) and maintains property values. When you willingly move to such a neighborhood, you willingly give up some of your freedom — the freedom to do whatever you want to your house. You won’t be able to paint it pitch black, for instance. Or park an RV in front of your house indefinitely.

I live in such a neighborhood, by choice. When I first moved in, I was aghast that I could not put up a pole for a basketball hoop. You had to have it attached to your roof. How dumb. But I and all my neighbors control what the HOA regulations are, so if the majority agrees with you, you can get them changed. That’s what happened in my neighborhood. Most houses that backed up to open space installed a gate in their back fence to access it. This originally wasn’t allowed, but we did it anyway and the policy was changed.

Signs should be treated the same way. Let the neighborhoods decide for themselves. After all, everyone living there moved there voluntarily, presumably because they didn’t have a problem with the covenants, or at least the overall package of covenants. My point of view is partially selfish. I don’t like the signs. I don’t want to deal with politics every day of the year. And, let’s be honest, we’re talking about political signs. These signs carry lots of political baggage and are interpreted differently by different people. The signs make it tougher to get to know your neighbors as people. Not impossible, but an extra barrier.

We already have a state law that allows signs and flags that reference a candidate or an issue around an election. That seems enough time to tweak your neighbors.

Bill Wright, [email protected]

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