HOA Recoils From Brave New Restriction


Article Courtesy of  The Tampa Tribune

Published March 30, 2006

It's not easy to reconcile how an idea can be, at once, immensely popular and utterly detested, but that describes the conundrum presented by deed-restricted communities and their overlords, the homeowners association.

In Pasco County, if not in much of Florida, buying a house less than 20 years old that doesn't come with a book of codes, covenants and restrictions borders on the impossible. Pity the poor move-up family. Everywhere its members turn, behind the illuminated landmark with the spouting fountains lurks the surrender of homeowner freedoms their grandparents took for granted.

Like what color to paint the shutters, where to plant the vegetable garden or what to put in the double garage: a pingpong table or an electric train layout.

HOAs have usurped each of those decisions. According to critics, the responses are: Choose from this lovely palette of beiges; Sorry, no vegetable gardens (they might attract unwelcome wildlife); and, Are you nuts? Garages are for your vehicles.

Listen to their detractors and you will conclude deed-restricted communities are Raiford with pizza delivery. After all, HOAs are to journalists what politics are to late-night comics: a ceaseless fount of opportunity.

No You Can't

If they're not ordering the dismantling of a treehouse built for a youngster fighting leukemia, they're demanding the removal of a sign posted by a wife supporting her soldier spouse fighting in the Middle East. Or they're foreclosing on a $150,000 house because the owner failed to pony up dues and legal fees of $2,200.

Despite the bad press, we flock to those neighborhoods with their manicured lawns and gleaming roof tiles, their identical mailboxes and vacant driveways. We are willing, the track record suggests, to trade certain innocuous liberties for a certain idyllic lifestyle, not to mention the elusive preservation of property values.

The question becomes, then, how much freedom are we willing to sacrifice to be allowed inside the gates? The (largely former) board of directors of the Meadow Pointe village of Longleaf briefly posed that question this week when, on the eve of the HOA's annual meeting, word escaped that among the bylaws changes being considered would be one requiring future home buyers to submit to criminal background checks.

Precisely what misbehavior would qualify as grounds for denying the purchase was unclear and became irrelevant when, Tuesday night, a huge turnout of agitated residents, many wielding their neighbors' proxies, resoundingly rejected the proposal, then voted out all the board members who were standing for re-election.

The Path Is Prepared

Clearly, citizens of Longleaf did not want to be known as one of those HOAs.

Still, the notion is out there, fed by Northeastern expatriates accustomed to the notorious, exacting standards of co-ops that will background check the commas and colons on your résumé. Furthermore, the Longleaf concept would not have been unique: A planned community outside Lubbock, Texas, made news last year when it declared home buyers would be subject to background checks, and no convicted sex offenders would be allowed.

In other words, the idea is out there. In our post-Jessica, post-Jennifer world, you can bet this won't be the last we hear of it.

Longleaf residents say no to criminal checks