A Community Covenant: HOAs and a Cohesive Neighborhood
To be entirely honest, when I first moved into my neighborhood, I had some very mixed emotions about becoming the newest member of a community beholden to a neighborhood homeowner’s associations, or an “HOA,” as they’re more commonly (and, to me at the time, disconcertingly) abbreviated. To be fair, I’m a pretty independent person—the kind that prides myself on a shared history with the rough-and-tumble pioneers who first migrated into the region in search of their political and religious freedom—and in that tradition, I didn’t want anyone telling me what I could or couldn’t do with my own property. I recoiled at their insistence on a cohesive standardization to the neighborhood, and wound myself up into a rebellious mindset: I ended up fighting with the president of our HOA on a number of issues that (again, at the time) seemed infinitely more important to me than “playing nice.”
For example, four years ago, I found myself on a collision course with the president of the HOA over a portable basketball hoop that I’d wanted to set up in my driveway. To the president of the HOA, my hoop was an eyesore. To me, it was a clean, unobtrusive, and reasonable item to keep in a driveway that did not violate any explicit rules. I believed wholeheartedly that—though I may not be able to dunk or shoot well from past the three-point line—I worked too darn hard to not be allowed the privilege of stumbling through a couple of lazy layups with my kids after a long day at work. So I fought—hard.
On the Same Team
However, as I made my case with the HOA, I quickly realized that they really only wanted to provide a “framework” of high standards for our community; they were not trying to run our neighborhood as some sort of outdated political fiefdom in miniature, but instead were a group of dedicated homeowners that were trying to uplift and engage their fellow neighbors. Though the president with whom I butted heads the most might have been a little aggressive in how they went about it, in the end, most of the HOA members I spoke to simply wanted to protect the value of every uniformed neighborhood home—including my own. Here’s how I navigated the pushing for my personal rights as a homeowner, while still respecting the dedicated members of my HOA.
Know Your Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions
When I first set out to argue for my right to the basketball hoop, I realized that I’d have to study my HOA’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, better known as your HOA’s CC&Rs: and no, these covenants won’t be found in any religious texts, even if they’re treated as such. The rules and regulations of any particular HOA are usually unique, so I contacted the HOA directly before I even moved into the neighborhood. While I was restricted in certain areas—like door color paint options, tree removal, and fence height—-there was nothing to indicate that a basketball hoop would be an unsightly nuisance. I simply held my ground about the hoop’s ultimate use (to spend some healthy time with my family), and the more understanding volunteers of the organization sided with me.
Why they Matter
Although my HOA’s restrictions have thrown a wrench in a few of my other plans (for example, there are specific restrictions as to the size of a front yard garden), for the most part, my position on them has changed. Time and again, following their guidelines for home beautification and maintenance have only served to improve the aesthetic of my home, which in turn only increases its value. After spending some time with some dedicated, passionate representatives of my HOA, I understand now why they matter; for the most part, their guidelines have been useful in shaping the kind of community I want to live in. Others clearly agree: planned developments that require homeowners to pay fees for the upkeep of common areas and shared structures are booming in popularity today, despite (or maybe because of) their strict guidelines. More and more, potential homeowners are attracted to these especially beautified communities. We all want to live in safe, beautiful, comfortable spaces. As such, I’ve found that involving myself with my HOA instead of avoiding it has helped me to forge a community that aligns with my values, rather than one that restricts my self-expression. Like it or not, one man’s restrictive HOA guideline is another man’s saving grace: I’d never been more grateful to my HOA, for example than when “Chad” across the street decided that he could park two class A motorhomes near my driveway for weeks on end. Thankfully, my HOA interceded on my behalf, and my driveway—with portable basketball hoop included—was mine again.
Although I challenged my HOA with what I believed to be a reasonable exception, I’m glad I did so in a way that fostered communication and understanding. Now, other families have hoops set up in their own driveways, which only better serves the community as a whole by encouraging neighborly behavior. In the end, I discovered how crucial it is to foster a working relationship with my HOA, as they ensure that we all live in a comfortable, safe, and aesthetically appealing neighborhood. Now, if I have a question about a remodeling project or a paint job, I work with both my designer and my HOA. If I have a good working relationship with them, I can better navigate what’s best for my home—and when I actively engage with the board of volunteers, I’m working within a democracy, and not a dictatorship.