Homeowner Association Hell

Let’s Do Something About This…

I’ve lived in Miramar, Florida long before the city made headlines as one of the fastest growing communities in the United States.

The very spot from where I write this article was not so long ago home to a cow chewing her cud.  Anything west of I-75 was the Everglades.  And airplanes in distress could easily land on the Sawgrass Expressway because the road didn’t go anywhere where people lived so drivers had no use for it.

Since then, a lot has changed in southwest Broward County. But one thing has remained constant.  By all accounts (based on totally unscientific polls I’ve conducted) it’s the #1 source of stress for those of us who value our homes and all the good things this community offers us.

I’m talking about our neighborhood Homeowner’s Associations… the gatekeepers of our communities… the people held responsible for maintaining the beauty of our architectural landscape while simultaneously making life miserable for many of us.

They’re the people who send us friendly reminders to clean the bird poop off our mailboxes while conveniently overlooking the orange house with purple shutters in the middle of the block.

The associations claim it’s their job to uphold the standards set forth in the bylaws of our communities.

In order to accomplish this, the association commandos (as they’re affectionately known) patrol our neighborhoods like vultures ready to pounce on their unsuspecting prey. You can spot them a mile away. Their cars creep to a stop in front of each house as they furiously scribble life and death notes in their legal pads.

Notes such as: “Illegal Snoopy banner hanging from a flagpole made of a wood not in compliance with the association’s bylaws.”

Pass the lethal injection, please!

All kidding aside — why do we complain to one another about our associations yet put our tails between our legs and do nothing about the frustrations they bring us?
Many of us have been forced to hire attorneys to fight for us. But even attorneys throw their hands up at the absurdity of it all.

“Just plant another tree and pay the $1500 fine.” That’s the advice one Pembroke Pines resident got from his attorney after being sued by his association for neglecting to ask for approval before cutting down a tree whose roots were cracking the sidewalk in front of his house.

I wonder what would happen if the board members of these associations and their attorneys stopped to consider that they too could become victims of their self-imposed power.

How would they feel if, like me, they received a call at 10:30 at night from their elderly parents telling them that a process server just came by to hand them a lawsuit for not pressure cleaning their roof in ‘30 days or less’?

Associations threaten.  And they know they can win because the people they sue don’t have the time or the deep pockets to fight back. 

As one neighbor told me, “I just couldn’t afford to take any more time off from work to go to their mediations and hearings. And so, I cut my losses and gave in.”

Like playground bullies, associations over-enforce their bylaws until the people they claim to be protecting are left with no choice but to cry uncle.

Even if you’ve never been a direct victim of an association’s lawsuit, you’re still affected. Consider this: The money the association uses to pay the lawyers they hire to sue your neighbors comes from the dues you pay each month.

And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you pay association dues and your association sues you, you’re paying to sue yourself!

I’m not suggesting we get rid of associations altogether. And if you serve on the board of an association, save yourself the effort of writing me hate mail. I’m not against you. My aunt and uncle serve on the board of their homeowner’s association so I’m very much aware of how frustrating things can be on the other side of the table.

Stripped down to their core essence, associations are there to make sure we respect the rights of our neighbors and they respect ours. But at the end of the day, what harm is there in a Snoopy banner hanging in front of a house? Will pressure cleaning our roof in five weeks instead of four lead to the demise of our cities?

Intimidation is an association’s weapon. But even playground bullies can be sent home crying when the ‘little guys’ get together to fight back. In this case we, the little guys, are in the majority.

Associations work for us — not the other way around. Bylaws and rules that no longer work for the community as a whole must be challenged and changed.

Are you ready and willing to do something about it?

I welcome your comments and ideas.

Author: Barb Besteni

I've been in a writer long enough to know that change is not only inevitable, it's what keeps us going. Don't fight it, don't fear it. Embrace it and have fun.

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