Everybody Loves to Hate Home Owner Associations

My plane landed safely at Reagan National Airport. We were deplaned on the tarmac in the dark, away from the gate, to find our black suitcases by the jet way in the lightless, windy, and below 20 degrees Fahrenheit night. After much confusion and shivering, we were loaded onto buses and delivered to the terminal.

I am not sure it was the airline offering us third world jet service or the airport’s poor planning, but I was glad to be home. My trip to Nashville revisited the past, the present, and the future of home ownership within the context of HOA.

I wanted to see for myself the gated Hampton Reserve, a very affluent subdivision nestled between Crockett Road and Concord Road in Brentwood. The stately brick homes form a lovely community divided into 92 lots, all dues-paying members of the Home Owners Association.

In my former life in a communist country, we were herded into 5-story apartment complexes made of concrete blocks and reinforced steel after our former homes were confiscated by the government. We had nowhere else to go; therefore we were a very captive audience.

Once renters in these 300 square feet tiny apartments, we were forced to form a Home Owners Association, paying dues for all the repairs to the building, plumbing, roof, grounds and stairwell maintenance. We were not really owners of the building or of the apartments, we paid subsidized rent to the communist government, but we were responsible for any kind of repairs the building or individual apartments needed. Each family had to pay an equal amount of monthly dues which varied from year to year. And if that was not bad enough, we had to take turns to sweep and mop the hallways, maintain the common areas outside, mow the grass, weed, and plant trees and bushes.

I am not sure if the HOAs in this country were modeled after the communist HOA or vice versa. What I am sure is that a handful of people got to dictate policies for the majority whether they agreed to it in principle or not. Obviously, if you wanted to rent an apartment under communism, you had to sign the rental contract that included the participation in the HOA.

If you want to buy a house in certain urban areas in this country, you have to sign an HOA contract dictated and formulated by a small group of busybodies with vested interests or who like to control and tell other people what to do with their properties under the guise that it keeps uniformity of code and maintains property values without the display of pink flamingoes. HOA manuals can be quite thick and include many asinine provisions that infringe on our liberties as homeowners.

In the case of Hampton Reserve, Susan DeCuyper sued three former HOA board members, alleging that “they tried to obtain neighborhood common land.” As she was quoted in the Tennessean on November 24, 2013, “At its core this is a case about greed, abuse of authority and what a handful of rogue individuals are willing to do to their fellow neighbors.”
The allegations include attempts by former board members to “conspire” in order to “modify the subdivision’s original covenants and restrictions to permit the transfer of special portions of neighborhood common land to a select few residents at no cost to them.” (Quint Qualls, the Tennessean, November 24, 2013)

The subdivision has 13 acres of common land and some of the board members attempted to acquire part of the common land in order to build private swimming pools. The HOA had failed to build a community center and swimming pool as promised. Other homeowners had objected to the free acquisition of common land but their community emails were allegedly intercepted and blocked which is against the law – the Tennessee Wiretap Act penalizes such violations with $10,000 per person. The lawsuit asks for damages in excess of $1 million.

According to the Tennessean, the three defendants “have resigned their positions on the HOA board and have stopped their attempts to gain portions of the common land.”

Scott Johannessen, a resident of Hampton Reserve and Susan DeCuyper’s attorney, wrote a message on his Facebook page which reflects the predicament of urban homeowners around the country who belong to an HOA that controls privacy and rights to use their property freely.

“Our freedom is founded on the individual’s rights to property and privacy. No self-interested group or person should ever be permitted to obstruct or unilaterally take away another’s fundamental liberties, whether such interference or confiscation encompasses the expanse of our national boundaries or is restricted to the confines of our own neighborhood. The right thing to do always transcends locality. Even those who disparage this fundamental truth should want nothing less.” https://www.facebook.com/scott.johannessen?fref=ts

The outcome of the lawsuit is of interest to homeowners around the country who find themselves in conflict with HOAs over flying the American flag, having a garden or fruit trees in the back yard, Christmas lights and ornaments, Easter decorations, satellite dishes on the roof, children visitors, pets, yard sales, vans parked in the driveway, unapproved patios, pools, decks, or landscaping.

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