You might think a small condominium complex of just 20 units could run itself harmoniously, as familiar neighbors interact regularly, share pertinent information openly, and enjoy each other’s individual freedom of expression. It can certainly happen, especially in a space more than a half century old. Over the years and through the decades, given a changing mix of unique yet sensible residents, the overall way of life should be rooted in peace and mutual respect.
This ideal remains an appealing thought, no doubt. Sadly however, in the case of at least one such complex, you’ll need to think again. What would seem a given proves not to be, as logic and common sense that were once the order of the day, now quickly dissipate in favor of arbitrary, small-minded policing. At this point you ask: How does this happen, and why?
The answer lies in that occasionally useful yet historically logic-lacking and self-important entity called the Homeowners’ Association, or HOA. Within it, the more specific answer hits you like Christmas lights in July: There’s always one.
The “one” rises to psuedo-power through a maddening combination of apathy, absence and downright spinelessness. Some homeowners don’t care, others are not around, and the remaining few simply can’t handle confrontation and therefore will accept it. And now you ask yourself: Care about what? What exactly is “it”?
It, to elaborate, is the matter of one new resident who’s lived in the complex for a very short time, making her way onto the HOA board and soon becoming the HOA president, voted in by the aforementioned apathy, absence and spinelessness. In other words, who voted her in? Herself and two other people, perhaps? Clearly the voices of 20 homeowners have not been heard, if this new president ever faced any challenge at all.
Now “the one” has taken her unearned place, conveniently comforted and encouraged by one or two fellow residents who’ve decided to support her “vision.” From here, that self-serving vision is off and running, and nothing will be the same again. What once was, for any number of years and decades, will soon be no longer. The complaints begin, the violation letters get written, and new so-called rules are “proposed.” All the while, the apathy continues. The absence remains. And most frightening of all, the spinelessness prevails. “The one” is well on her path to turning a 50-year-old property into her own creation, merely to suit her own narrow idea of what “everyone” wants, all other residents who’ve lived there 10 times longer be damned. The individual freedom of expression that was clearly established on day one now faces extinction, and jaw-droppingly enough, no one seems to feel threatened, at least not enough to fight back.
HOAs maintain necessary order, such as keeping tin foil out of windows and piles of garbage off balconies. The element of enforcement, however, can be taken too far, as “the one” in this case has proven. Whether one unit displays a bird feeder and the other a decorative wind chime should not be a topic of discussion, nor should any newcomer dictate policies to 25+ year residents. The fact that it happens, though far from uncommon in HOAs of all sizes, is simply deplorable. After all, it’s one thing if strict rules of uniformity exist in a development from day one, when potential residents can choose whether or not to live there. It’s quite another for any HOA to try to create such rules decades in, thus altering the longstanding way of life of an existing community.
A mere 20 units should not be subject to such impersonal, bureaucratic strife. In other words, it doesn’t have to be so unpleasant or difficult! Regular and relaxed interaction, open sharing of information, mutual respect, and most of all, freedom of expression, should easily flourish tomorrow just as it all did yesterday. Ironically enough, while an HOA might justify their efforts as promoting harmony, in reality all it’s doing is stripping away any harmony already in place. And for what? For everything to look the same, void of personality and distinction?
The bottom line for any home buyer, or even renter, is this: Beware of the HOA under which you’ll live. Find out everything you need to know ahead of time, and make an informed decision that suits your lifestyle. More importantly, find out whether longtime rules are well in place and generally accepted, or if controversial efforts are underway to create new ones. Most of all, amid the possibility of wrongdoing, know what flies. After all, what you might think is common sense, won’t necessarily be so, thanks to a misplaced, unhappy individual who does nothing more than ruin the otherwise pleasant community for everyone. In the end, there’s always one.