Be a good neighbor

I read about this situation on the American Preppers Network site. A woman is growing an organic garden in her front yard and has run afoul of her HOA. I know I should be shocked, upset, outraged, etc., but you see, I’m the president of my HOA and have a different perspective.

HOA’s have rules, and everyone is supposed to receive a copy of those rules when they move in. They are responsible for reading and obeying the rules. The HOA is responsible for enforcing them. If you find the rules prohibitive, don’t buy a house there.

Now don’t get me wrong. My HOA is not nearly so restrictive. And I’m in the process of working to change the rules where they are. For example, when our neighborhood was built nearly twenty years ago they had rules against xeriscaping. Times have changed, and I think we need to allow xeric landscaping now.

But in changing the rules I have to consider all the angles. Let’s face it, some xeriscaping can look pretty trashy if not done correctly or maintained well. I don’t want someone saying “Hey, weeds are natural and drought-resistant. I’ll just let my yard go to weeds.” When we do change the rule we have to make a clear, enforceable standard about what we will accept.

I, obviously, am all in favor of self reliance and making your own property produce as much as you can. As HOA president I do my best to be supportive of that. I haven’t clamped down on the people who are keeping chickens, though the CC&Rs clearly forbid it, because they are out of sight, and are not causing a nuisance.

But at the same time, if you live in an HOA it’s your responsibility to know what the rules are and to live by them. If you don’t like the rules then let your HOA know. See if they can be changed. Work with your HOA to find ways to satisfy the rules (screening things with strategic landscaping can go a long way) and still make things work for you.

But in the end, if you can’t, perhaps you should move to someplace more accommodating of your lifestyle. If I were to decide that I needed to raise a few sheep as part of my self reliance program I wouldn’t dream of just getting them and waiting for the HOA to complain. It’s clearly against the rules. I would move someplace where it’s okay.

You see, I’ve seen the other side of things, too. We used to live in a neighborhood where there was no HOA. The duplex across the street was a rental, and the landlord lived in another town and didn’t care. The weeds and grass were seldom less than a foot high, and usually brown. Those weeds would blow seeds into our yard, and it was a constant battle to keep them out.

Down the street lived a man who kept his Vegas-style Christmas light display up and turned on year-round. Down the other way was a house where they hung a 6-foot inflatable pterodactyl from a tree branch hanging over the road. The last time I drove through the old neighborhood I saw they had also added a metal rocket as tall as the house to the front yard.

Certainly there are worse neighborhoods, but when people see that sort of thing they can be hesitant to move in. Would-be sellers have to drop their asking price to entice someone to buy, and the lower it goes the more likely the buyer will also be someone who doesn’t care about how their own property looks. Pretty soon property values in the entire neighborhood are dropping.

Yes, I’m probably venting a bit here. The attitudes expressed in the comments on the APN site were rather frustrating, and decidedly anti-HOA. I know some HOAs are over the top. But as the volunteer president of an HOA who continually feels caught between the “let it all rot” crowd and the “not one inch out of line” crowd, I see a definite need for balance–and for some external pressures to put in at least a minimal effort to keep one’s place looking acceptable.

So go ahead and use your land to the fullest, but please be aware of the rules and do your best to operate within them. You never know when you’ll need your neighbors. It’s best to be a good neighbor yourself. If more people would be, we wouldn’t need HOAs.

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