Ministry of Controversy

The Homeowners Association You’ll Love Hating

An old rant about homeowner associations and restrictive local laws recently received this comment about laws and rules that require perfect green lawns:

I
live in one of those lovely "Deed Restricted" communities. We too are under
water restrictions here in Florida. Yet here they are giving out citations
left and right. On my street alone at least every other house has received a
citation. We have fifteen days to "resod", which is the only permissible
option.

I recently posted a letter to the editor about this. I have
received "hate mail" from anonymous "angry neighbors". Expressing their
disgust at people like me who flaunt the rules. I have three burnt
spots approximately a foot wide on the side of my driveway. For this I
am expected to sod my entire lawn. I have already told them that is not
on my agenda. I am still awaiting their response. What a bunch of
Nazis! And strangely the same people are always elected. Sounds very fishy
to me.

Then the commenter left this link to the Great White Lawn Enforcer of his civic association (Beacon Woods in the Tampa area).  This Neanderthal seems proud of the 150 citations he issued last year for lawn violations.  Noting that some residents have complained that it’s hard to grow grass under trees, he suggests creating a "garden area" around the trees, "provided the area does
not exceed 20% of the front side or back areas."  So 80 percent of the property HAS to be lawn – perfect, and green at all times.  He goes on to threaten legal action against anyone who refuses to get with the program.

"LET’S KEEP THE HOUSES BEAUTIFUL  AND THE LAWNS GREEN ALL THE TIME"

That headline in bold serves as a loud reminder from the "Deed Restriction Committee Chair" of the attitude behind their outdated restrictions.  But even more prominent on the website of this proud little deed-restricted community is this bit of dubious PR: "A Friendly Community and Florida Bird Sanctuary."  Excuse me while I gag.

Posted by on April 14, 2008 at 1:01 pm, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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23 responses to “The Homeowners Association You’ll Love Hating”

  1. Kim says:

    Oh, bird sanctuary, riiiiiiight. I’m sure. Because I see all kinds of birds in my lawn grass. (Which makes up at least 80% of their landscaping by written requirement.) Sheesh.

  2. Nana says:

    I am sooooo glad I do NOT live in an area with a homeowner’s association. They’d probably have a cow over my cottage-style garden — “Ack! Your flowers are extending out over your sidewalk! And your bulbs aren’t in neat little rows! Call the cops!” And only 20% of your yard can be garden? That’s nuts! Not to mention boring…

  3. SMC says:

    I find his moustache and combover insulting to my refined aethetics….and I have a badge too! I suspect there is something missing in his breakfast cereal.

  4. grouchylisa says:

    This is precisely why I’m glad I live in an older (ca. 1965) neighborhood without a Homeowner’s Association. Mere city code enforcement is (or should be) sufficient to keep a residential district livable, without impairing individual tastes and interests.

    My garden (back AND front) is bird-friendly, bee-friendly, kitty-friendly and gardener-friendly. It’s also (alas) raccoon-friendly and occasionally skunk-friendly. It’s just the way I like it, doesn’t impair the sidewalk or street visibility, doesn’t violate any city ordinances, and keeps me happily busy.

  5. Patti in NNY says:

    I’m a born rebel. Kind of makes me want to buy a property in that prisoner camp (aka, community) just to break every rule.

  6. Is it really that difficult when plopping down a few hundred thousand dollars for a home that you will be living in to take the time to read your home owners association rules ?
    Evidently this basic reading and comprehensive skill doesn’t seem to make sense to many.
    Whining is so much more easier.
    I think junior high school reading comprehension should be required for homeowners , especially if they are purchasing in a community that has CC+R’s, Homeowner dues and by laws.

    When I looked for property to buy up on the Pacific Coast I was attracted to The Sea Ranch.
    I read the CC+R’s .
    It was not for me. They require a totally native garden if your property is exposed outside a fence and only certain areas can have a fence.
    So I bought property the next town over and planted to my hearts content.

    When I bought this current house I once again took a half hour and read deed, insurance papers , loan application and even though the house was built in 1947 they had a ‘neighborhood rules.
    I found out by reading that I was allowed only 2 chickens , 1 goat per lot and that all negro help had to be out of the neighborhood by nightfall and could not spend the evening.
    Imagine by surprise ! My family could be described as the Rainbow Coalition so that last clause pissed the shit out of me.
    I marched in military form down to to City Hall and got a few things set straight.

    Reading and comprehension is a good basic place to start when making the most most valued investment of your life.

  7. weinerdog43 says:

    Well, Michelle, I hope you found a great place w/a HO association that prohibits uppity negroes too. All you have to do is read the rules!

  8. Ken Sturmer says:

    Thanks for printing this. Although it will probably send me to the pokey. ( not LOL )
    To update this, there was an article in out Sunday paper, from the Florida Extension regarding “Florida Friendly gardens, and Homeowners Associations”. It mentioned how some HOA’s were cooperating, while some were still stuck in the stoneage.
    I contacted the writer, and told him of my situation. His response was that unfortunately they have been trying to convince our HOA for over five years now, to change the deed restrictions. He said it was pointless, as they were set in their ways. He also said that under Florida law, they have the right to enforce them. Even, if they go against what the state dictates. I guess I had better resod, before I get that thousand dollar fine!
    OH and regarding “older communities” our community dates back to the mid sixties, including the deed restrictions.

  9. Ken Sturmer says:

    Oh yes, I needed to add something. I would never buy in a deed restricted community. This is my mothers house!

  10. Bob Vaiden says:

    I just checked the Beacon Woods website.

    It’s hard to imagine it’s real… it reads like a spoof (or a cartoon… did anyone see “Over the Hedge”?)

  11. weinerdog43 : Comprehension.
    Perhaps I wasn’t clear.
    A little history on the Rainbow Coaliton – a group of multi cultured people who formed an organization originating from the Boston area who put value on ethics , economics and social justice for all races.
    The Rainbow Coalition ( a good description of my own multicultural family ) has evolved into the Rainbow Green Party lead by Jesse Jackson.
    They allow ‘uppity negros’, and thank goodness because when my rainbow family comes to visit we get quite uppity and I wouldn’t want to have to send my brother or some of the kids packing when sundown comes around.

    Now back to reading and understanding those HOA ( home owners Assc. ) rules and the C.C. + R’s ( Codes ,Covenants + Restrictions ).
    And it probably would be a good idea to get ahold of your Town Planning and Buildings ordinance if you think you might want to erect a fence , install an arbor or shade structure, let your garden revert back to a native landscape or put a (gasp ! ) a wood burning fireplace in your back yard.

    A a professor of mine in Urban Planning and Development used to constantly say : One mans’ restrictions is another mans’ protections.
    It just depends on what side of the ‘lawn’ you stand on.

  12. Lisa Albert says:

    We bought it a newer neighborhood with CC&Rs. We read them, found them not to be overly restrictive and liked what we read: cedar fences, not chain link, no cars on blocks, no panel vans (delivery trucks) visible and stuff like that. Homes are a big investment and it’s not a bad thing to protect such an investment.

    However, that did not stop a neighbor who proceeded to flout every CC&R, just to irritate the neighbors for his enjoyment. He was that kind of guy. He also made the evening news for pulling a gun on someone during a parking space dispute. We found out the gun was kept in his car’s glove compartment, the same car that was always parked on the street or in the driveway. We all cheered when he and his family moved. (Wouldn’t you?)

    That said, CC&Rs can go too far, and I think this Florida neighborhood has done so. I’m glad I don’t live there!

  13. There are many such communities here in Florida. Back in 2005 an 83-year-old woman lost both of her houses because she mounted up a $1.8 million fine to the Village of Tequesta, FL. Ranting will not help the situation.

    What needs to happen is that gardeners need to run for the boards and little by little whittle away the onerous regulations. First increase the garden allowance by 10%, say. Since their community is a bird sanctuary, hold a contest for the most bird-friendly yard with the help of the local chapter of the Audubon Society or local agricultural agents. Enlist the aid of the local water management district (There are five that cover the state of Florida.) to speak to the neighborhood about the importance of saving water. There are many more action items that can be instigated to bring forth a change in attitude, albeit gradual. All in all gardeners need to mount a “no-grass” roots campaign to be effective. Good luck. Ginny

  14. Parking Structure Dude! says:

    “It’s hard to imagine it’s real… it reads like a spoof (or a cartoon… ”

    Maybe it is an elaborate spoof. Did you notice that the city is called Bayonet Point?

  15. grouchylisa says:

    To Lisa Albert: what your HOA lists in its CC&R’s is pretty much what’s in our city codes for residential areas. We can have chain link fences, and concertina/barbed wire aren’t specifically banned, but we have restrictions on how long a vehicle can stay parked in the same place (panel or otherwise), no cars on blocks unless surrounded by a 6′ privacy fence, limits on how close fences and non-see-through fences can be to the property line, as well as how high non-see-through fences can be, limits on how much of your front yard can be paved over, rules against DEAD grass, against noxious weeds, and against dead plant material (but only during the growing season), limitations on when you can water (I live in a desert–makes sense here), and rules against both trash (non-food) and garbage (food and feces)accumulation. I don’t find the city codes particularly onerous, and if HOA’s confined themselves only to those things in my city’s code, I wouldn’t have any problem with them.

    There are rules which genuinely are intended to keep residential areas livable, and then there are some incredibly stupid HOA’s and CC&R rules–like limiting house paint colors to a few approved shades, requiring that a yard be covered in turf grass, banning vegetable gardening from the front yard, and banning the use of laundry lines.

  16. Lisa Albert says:

    To grouchylisa: our CC&Rs are a step up from our city’s codes but not by much. I would guess city codes can vary just as CC&Rs do. For instance, a few blocks away, city codes allow a homeowner to park his business’ machinery – earth moving and other construction machinery – in his driveway and on the street. I would not want to live next to that. They are big and orange and ugly and noisy and polluting. This is an instance where CC&Rs are a good thing (although that homeowner probably wouldn’t agree).

    But yes, I agree, banning front yard vegetable gardening, laundry lines and similar things isn’t keeping up with these environmentally aware times.

  17. Plantanista says:

    Turf is easy. Slap down some sod, put in a grid of Toros, and hire a garden janitor. When you’re done, you can run for office and rule the world. No wonder there are no real gardeners on that board, or committee, or what-have-you. We all have work to do. We’re pruning, or planting, or composting. Seems like the whole world is being run by the turf guys and it’s time for the gardeners to put down the trowel and pick up a petition every once in a while. And ranting about it is a good start.

  18. Melanthia says:

    Mandatory lawns? Maybe there’s a Scott’s exec still on the board.

  19. Barbara says:

    Ginny is right! How ignorant! Since they are (somehow) waving the banner of bird-friendly) then grab onto that. Search the web for free literature on reducing water use, rain gardens, and lawn reduction! List the 25 best plants, shrubs and trees for your area to attract birds, make sure all association members get info and join the National Wildlife Federations’ Backyard Wildlife Habitat program (individual or as a community). Sponsor a “Bird Species Count” – – who’s in your yard?? Have a big gift basket full of gardening prizes for the most impressive wildlife garden…have “local known” experts/a celeb? – hey, I’ll donate a book!

  20. grouchylisa says:

    To Lisa Albert: My guess is your construction-equipment-parking guy is living in a zone still (or once and grandfathered) designated “rural” or “commercial” or a similar designation.

    While I wouldn’t want to live next to a bulldozer-driving neighbor either, I consider that all part of due diligence when purchasing a home. I believe it’s essential to look at flood maps, development plans, current zoning, previous zoning and to visit an address/neighborhood several times, night and day, weekday and weekend before making an offer on a parcel or a home.

    I don’t believe that if a tract of posh McMansions is built at the edge of town (in a zone designated rural) next to a working farm that the purchasers of said McMansions have no right to complain about odor or farm noise (chickens, pigs, combines, tractors, trucks…), when the zoning and permitted uses were available for inspection. Nor do they have the right to impose their desires on the farmer making all that noise and smell if he or his descendants have lived and worked there since well before the construction of the tract.

    In a recent case here, the residents of a rural area North of town now require any new purchasers in the area to sign a memorandum of understanding that they are purchasing land in a rural area, complete with a noisy donkey, neighing horses, crowing chickens, the aroma of manure and heaps of farm junk. They had to resort to this after some townie moved out there and filed complaints with the county about the noise made by a well-known and well-loved donkey owned by one of the long-time residents.

    In short, if I want to live with pigs, pig noise, chickens, chicken noise, piles of manure and other farm junk, then I need to do so in an area zoned for it. But if I (or anyone else) doesn’t want to live with those things, then I need to find a home in an area where they are not permitted by zoning designation.

    I just don’t think that CC&R’s or HOA’s are the answer, precisely because some little tinpot dictator starts thinking he or she can tell everyone to conform to his idea of what is appropriate. As you can guess, I’m also pretty big on property rights…

  21. Lisa Albert says:

    Gouchylisa: All good points, especially the one about knowing what kind of community you are buying into. Many of the instances you refer to have arisen as Portland’s metro region grows to the edges of the Urban Growth Boundary. Densely built neighborhoods sit smack up against farmland where the aromas and noises you mentioned reign, and understandably, friction between the two communities arises from time to time.

    The neighborhood I’m referring to was built in the ’70’s (split entry homes – a dead give-away to era) and the homes around it were built around the same time. Across the street is the city’s oldest cemetery and some light industrial property, some from the same era with several businesses arriving later. Not sure how grandfathering could be a factor. To my knowledge, this home is on its 2nd or 3rd owners since we bought our house and the area is zoned as residential.

    When it comes to property rights, I think Michelle Derviss said it well: “One mans’ restrictions is another mans’ protections. It just depends on what side of the ‘lawn’ you stand on.” IME, not all CC&Rs are evil but there are, most definitely, some very bad apples in the bunch where someone or a few someones are quite happy to be the big fish in a little pond.

  22. grouchylisa says:

    Uh-oh…I’ve been thinking again. And looking around my neighborhood.

    My own neighbors have been responsible for some fairly egregious city code violations, and after I’ve given them a silent month or two to address the problem themselves (hey–people have lives and stuff happens), I have called city code enforcement. It wasn’t over ticky-boo things: the first was furniture and assorted stuff all over the front lawn after the sea container it had been living in for a year (after a plumbing disaster and home repairs) was removed. The second was for a mountain of trash (not even stuff) that appeared where the front lawn had been–and this was NOT an art installation. The third was for a broken-down trailer they chose to park and abandon in front of my house. At any rate, it takes that level of violation for me to bring it to the attention of the city.

    There are cars up on blocks here and there, and some yards are dotted with noxious weeds. There are large (as in prohibited) vehicles like semi trucks here and there on the street as well. But the cars on blocks are clearly “projects”, the semis parked there only overnight in front of the owner-operator’s home, and the weeds eventually get knocked down, usually by an absentee landlord.

    If I were to impose some more rules on this, or any other neighborhood, I suppose I’d want a rule banning motorhome/boat parking visible from the street, the “project” cars on blocks also not visible from the street, and a limit to the number of cars that may be regularly parked on the street in the neighborhood (residential permits, no more than 3 per home, perhaps?, with provisions for visitor permits at a given number per year available for free, and at a nominal fee after that).

    HOWEVER, as much as I might want those things, and even if I were to go through the city council to get rules like that enacted, I wouldn’t want them to be retroactive. I know that would still leave the neighborhood with “too many” motor homes and boats, “too many” cars parking in front of MY house, and “too many” cars parked on the street for my tastes in any case–until the homes are sold or rented to new tenants. I just don’t believe in ex post facto legislation.

    I’d also rather see this kind of rule enacted as city or county ordinance, so that it has the full force (and full protection) of law. I would hope that this would provide a level of impartiality and even-handedness that can sometimes be absent with a power-mad HOA president.

    I can also see the need for sometimes loosening or removing obsolete regulations, like the ones Michelle Derviss mentioned, like the old anti-vegetable-garden ones in Sacramento, like those requiring lawns, or making xeriscaping impossible. Society and the environment are changing, and sometimes city and local ordinances need to reflect that.

    But overall, if I were to make any plea, it would be a plea to encourage diversity in society, and on our properties. I wouldn’t want plywood butt-people and plastic flowers in MY garden, but I still get a smile from the old guy down the street who goes for both in cheerful excess. I also wouldn’t want a perfectly sheared expanse of green velvety turfgrass, but I can appreciate that neighbor’s efforts and enthusiasm for it. I even like the unsuccessful attempt at a xeric cottage garden (they took the “no water” concept too far and everything died) around the corner–it will evolve into something more pleasing to its owners in time. I’m sure my own “Gold Country Abandoned Homestead” style isn’t to everyone’s taste either. But I like being able to roam my neighborhood and see a little bit of everything, from conventional to way out there, from tacky to tasteful and everything in between. I see it as a silent expression of tolerance and appreciation for diversity.

  23. Chad says:

    Seems to me that this policy is extremely outdated. Instead of going forward to having renewable resources (yes your flowers and veggies are renewable resources) they are taking this privilege away from you. These are the same communities that are killing our planet. If they do not want you to share your fresh vegetable with them and your flowers. Move and take your hospitality to a better neighborhood that wants to share their resources and value yours. In my opinion its extremely boring to have everyones yards the same. A rock may differ here and there but essentially they are all just cookie cutter homes.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all brag about the size of our carbon footprint?

    http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=200880805021

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