Friday, October 21, 2011

Homeowner Associations and the Rumor Mill

Consider yourself lucky if you don't live in a homeowner association. It has to be one of the biggest scams in America. Rumor has always had it that living in one increases, or at least maintains, the value of your home. That's because your not likely to have someone move in next door that trashes their yard, creates an eyesore and causes a blight in the neighborhood. That's a crock. In a neighborhood of three-quarters of a million dollar homes, it's not likely that you'll have a bum move in next door. But, that's the rumor. So, in an association, there are "inspectors," appointed members of the neighborhood, who go around periodically and write letters of warning to you if they find a weed growing in your lawn, or your house needs painting, or your driveway has a stain on it, or your house number painted on your curb is fading. The Gestapo squad is what we generally call them, and we dutifully pick the weed or paint the house.

Speaking of painting the house; it has to be a color the association likes, otherwise you can't paint it. That's why every third home in our association are just a shade different in color, except for one that is. A few years ago we voted in a person as President of the association board who we thought would be a good president. Man, that was a mistaken assumption. As soon as she became president, she painted her own home a bright blue. It stands out like a sore thumb. We also voted in a few friends of hers, unbeknownst to us, and they cooked up a few surprises for us, at least according to the rumor mill. Well, at least one thing that happened is fact and not rumor; the quarterly dues rose about 30%, from around $140 to around $200 and there was no noticeable gain from the raise. I mean we, or at least I, didn't notice anything new in the neighborhood, such as a security guard, a gate or an improvement at the swimming pool. Nope. Just about everything remained the same, so where was all that added money going? The rumor mill eventually supplied an answer.

I heard that a woman living on the edge of a canyon, and we live on a hill surrounded by canyons, drained her private swimming pool over the bank behind her house and into the canyon. She used a garden hose, I'm told, as a siphon. Now a siphon doesn't create a lot of pressure as it pulls water from a source, but I guess this particular siphon took several days to drain the 20 or 30 thousand gallons from the pool and eventually eroded away a huge chunk of the canyon wall, enough to threaten the foundation of her house and the house next door. The house next door turned out the be owned by one of those friends of the president of the board and who we voted in as a board member.

Now anyone of reasonable mind would think that homeowner insurance would pay for such damage as was caused by the silly woman draining her pool, or perhaps the one owner could sue the other for damages, but that's not what happened. Instead, the board voted for, and approved, a $1.5 million contract that, by the way, all of us would pay for, to repair the damaged canyon wall, which of course caused the homeowner dues to skyrocket. Apparently the rumor mill wasn't all wrong, here. There was some truth to it. Everyone was p.o.'d.

We eventually voted out that board and replaced it with all new members. But alas, someone is dissatisfied with the new one. Apparently some guy on Bellingham Drive, the next street over from ours, wants a diving board and the board voted it down. They didn't want the liability problem the diving board caused, as well as the added insurance cost of the liability insurance. This new board has successfully reduced the homeowner dues to $120 per quarter, and I am real happy with that. The board just doesn't spend money to be spending money. It actually analyzes the necessity of new stuff before they buy into it. I like that. And so, the board voted down the diving board because of the added expense.

But, one woman complained that her three year old needed the diving board because her toddler hit its butt on the concrete when it jumped into the water from the pool side. Well! What the hell does she think its going to hit when it dives from the diving board? Its head, likely. And too, what mother would let a three year old dive from a diving board? At three years old, jumping from the pool side seems much more safe than jumping from a diving board. It seems to me that the association board is saving that mother more grief than she knows. But, we now have a bru-ha-ha, and presumably egregious wrongs committed by the board of directors. Whoa my god! The world is ending, or so you would think. The guy on Bellingham wants four members, all but the president, recalled for, he claims, self-serving, cover-up, compromised voting, vote manipulation, abuse of power, circumventing the by-laws, obstruction of communications and pretty much any other vague criminal act you can think of.

He ran around the neighborhood collecting signatures for a petition to have a recall vote. But of course he wasn't all that truthful and forthcoming when he ask for signatures, saying only enough to get a signature for a diving board. Low and behold the signatures were for a recall.

I suppose the truth of this matter lies closer to the idea that this current association board is doing a fairly good job. It has reduced our dues to something a little more reasonable, there are not so many Gestapo inspections as there used to be and it seems that we pay for things that are pretty much equally shared by the neighborhood. Well, I'm not fond of paying for that outside swim team club that uses our pool just because one or two of the club's members live here. According to the rumor mill, more than 80% of them don't live here. As far as I'm concerned, they should not be using our pool. But then, as far as I'm concerned, we don't need the extra expense of the pool anyway and we can fill it with dirt and I'll be fine with that. If I want to go swimming, I can find a place to do that and pay $20 admission once instead of $100 every quarter to keep our own pool open six or seven months a year.

But, I guess if you ask me, I would dissolve the association entirely. I don't see a logical reason for having it either. The fact that we live in a homeowner association had squat influence on our home values in the latest mortgage scam-fest. Our home values fell like a rock when the housing bubble burst, association or not. So, don't tell me that an association holds home values. That's a crock.


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