Homeowner's Associations: The Worst Form of Government?

Opinion Courtesy of Technorati Media
By Richard Baker

Published January 21, 2010

Local governments come in an endless variety. You’ll find strong mayors, weak mayors, managers, council members, and commissioners. I once dealt with a Board of Warden and Burgesses.

But by far the worst form of local government ever invented is also the fastest-growing: government by deed restriction. As new subdivisions spread across the land, particularly in the Sunbelt states, developers have imposed bodies of rules in the form of deed restrictions attached to every lot that’s sold. You may be prohibited, for example, from maintaining a pig farm or painting your house in your old school colors.

Restrictions like these do help maintain community values. Others run to excess. For example, in Rancho Santa Fe, California, Jeffrey DeMarco was cited for growing more than an allotted number of rose bushes. Before it was over, he lost his home and still owed $70,000 in legal fees.

In Pasco County, Florida, a financially strapped Joseph Prudente was sent to jail because his lawn wasn’t green enough. His homeowner’s association (HOA for short) won a court order that he re-sod the lawn. When he was unable to comply, he was jailed for contempt.

Typically, an HOA enforces the restrictions.  Many HOAs do this well. They build a sense of community and encourage a cooperative approach to maintaining their neighborhoods. Others become obsessive about enforcing petty rules. Some become corrupt and abusive.

When abuses happen, it usually is because there is little to prevent them. There are no incentives to improve. HOA officers become entrenched because they are the only people who want their jobs. The deed restrictions, originally written by and for the developers, can be extraordinarily hard to amend.

Some local governments and state legislatures have acted against the worst abuses, but these efforts are spotty and uneven. It would be far better if local governments would exert their authority instead of leaving it to developers.