Chapter ThreeIIIChapter Five
In an industry that harbors some pretty disreputable characters, the Board of Directors (your neighbors) is likely to be the most sinister of the bunch. This is where the whole CID experiment really spins wildly out of control. Here’s the crux of the problem:
Once the developer has sold nearly all the homes in a subdivision, he will turn the association over to the homeowners who are supposed to elect a Board of Directors. But it rarely works out that way. These HOA “elections” are incredibly easy to steal. The process is supposed to appear to be democratic, but I can almost guarantee that the appearance of democracy will prove to be an illusion.
neighborhoods designed for neros
The Board is usually made up of eight to ten volunteers. These volunteers decide among themselves who will be the president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, etc., etc. In most cases, the Board will also include a representative from a Management Company. The management company is what you might call a “conflict for prophet” organization. But we’ll have to wait until the next chapter to expose those reprobates.
The purpose of the Board is to oversee the maintenance of the common area and uphold the CC&Rs. However, I think you’ll find in most CIDs, maintenance comes in a distant second to covenant enforcement, which can become an absolute obsession.
The board has a fiduciary obligation (meaning they are being trusted by the rest of the homeowners) to act in the best interests of the association, but they rarely do.
If there were high levels of participation among the homeowners then, theoretically, you should have fewer problems. But in almost all cases, the homeowners have no time for, or interest in, neighborhood politics. These are the homeowners who have jobs and children and numerous other familial obligations. This situation creates a void, which will attract those most likely to abuse these positions of trust. This group would include those homeowners who, for whatever reason, have a great deal of time on their hands and a distinct inclination towards adversarial engagement. In a CID, the inmates really do run the asylum.
What I’m describing here, and what you’re most likely to get, is what is referred to as a “rogue board.”
And what’s so appealing about these volunteer, board positions to people of this sort? The answer is simple - complete power over one’s neighbors.
the keys to the kingdom
The CC&Rs provide board members with powers and perks that would make any third world totalitarian dictator emerald green with envy.
No experience is required. There are no minimum levels of education or competency required. Any idiot can be an HOA board member.
Freedom from prosecution. HOA board members cannot be held legally responsible for their actions while serving on an HOA board. There is no punitive incentive to hold those maniacal, totalitarian tendencies in check.
Personal vendettas are financed by the HOA. Board members can bring suit against a homeowner for any reason. The association pays all their legal expenses.
Democracy is no obstacle to tyranny. The HOA private, corporate government provides no system of checks and balances. HOA board members simultaneously occupy the legislative, judicial, and executive branches with absolutely no local, state, or federal oversight. The homeowners are sitting ducks. In disputes with homeowners, the board acts as accuser, prosecutor, judge, and jury.
barbarians at the gates
Now who do you think will be just dying to occupy these positions of boundless authority completely free of personal accountability and requiring no more qualification than a measurable pulse? Of course, it will be the neighbors from hell!
You know who they are. Every neighborhood has its crackpots, its loose cannons. Your parents warned you about them when you were kids. “Don’t go near their house on your way home from school, and don’t hit your baseballs into their yards.” Well now those crackpots are going to have complete control over your neighborhood, and to an alarming extent, your own personal property.
Any of your neighbors who shows a pronounced inclination towards aggressive, anti-social, adversarial, and authoritarian behavior is going to be fighting tooth and nail for a position on your board of directors because, for these personality types, that's where the action is. They’re drawn like a moth to a flame; It’s simple human nature at its worst.
Once on the board, these people tend to develop an adversarial posture towards the other homeowners, imposing on the association their own personal standards of neighborhood appearance and homeowner deportment. They will micro-manage your property through means of creative interpretation, and outright embellishment of the CC&Rs.
Our neighborhood, because it had almost no common area and no standardized appearance had few restrictions, but within a few years, our board had re-interpreted the CC&Rs to include every conceivable enhancement or alteration to be subject to board approval.
the morning, noon, and night patrols
As I said earlier, covenant enforcement often becomes an overpowering obsession. In my old sub-division of 264 single-family homes, one of our board members walked the neighborhood twice daily in search of covenant violations. Most of the other board members made frequent foot patrols of their own, as did the Management Company representative who drove through the neighborhood twice a month. However, from one board meeting to the next, they couldn’t remember if they had agreed to a contract with the landscaper.
These frequent patrols, along with the board’s request that neighbors turn in other neighbors suspected of violating the covenants, gave our neighborhood that comforting “concentration camp” ambience we are told is so popular with American homebuyers.
should somebody call a doctor?
So what, if anything, is wrong with the people that are so desperate to be on a volunteer board of directors? My own, admittedly untrained, observations lead me to believe they are simply troubled individuals in search of some measure of self-aggrandizement. To me, the worst offenders always seemed to be angry, bitter people totally lacking in humor with an inclination to take themselves way too seriously. And if I was to be painfully honest, I'd have to admit that my experience and research clearly indicates that the worst offenders are likely to be retirees.
You’ve probably heard people described as difficult to be around. These are usually the kind of people who are going to see your board positions as an opportunity to set themselves upon pedestals when, apparently, no one else would.
Here are a few examples taken from my Shavano Ridge archives, which, I believe, express that certain delusional quality:
• At a general meeting of the association, during a heated discussion concerning the board’s heavy handedness, one of the board members stood up and said, “We are the board and only we know what is best for the community.” This comment prompted a hasty adjournment and a dash for the parking lot.
• Following a similar theme, this statement was published in our neighborhood newsletter.
“Without the CC&Rs, there are no neighborhood standards to provide guidance and instructions to residents for living in the community.”
In other words, the homeowners with their demanding jobs, mortgages, with a family and children to raise could not conduct themselves in a responsible manner without guidance from the board.
• In a conversation with a local reporter, one of our board members gave explicit instructions on how the board was to be approached:
“…They can voice complaints by coming to us in a respectful manner."
I think most people would agree that respect must be earned, not mandated. Actually, this theme of respect (or lack of it) would arise often. Could it be that some seek, through board participation, a measure of respect that they feel may have previously eluded them?
• The story I thought was the funniest (or maybe the saddest depending on your outlook) was this:
One of our neighbors, a retired school administrator, was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the board’s high-handed approach to neighborhood administration. She thought she might help by joining one of the board’s committees where she might be in a position to try to encourage them to present themselves in a more positive manner. But the board’s vice president decided that, rather than join a committee, my neighbor’s skills would be put to better use by acting as her own personal secretary. That's right, a personal secretary for a volunteer HOA board member? As you might expect, my neighbor felt it best to decline the vice presidents generous offer.
I could go on indefinitely with these anecdotes, as could anyone else who has lived in a CID, but I think you get the idea. When you see and hear people carrying on in such a manner, you would be wise to do all in your power to keep them off your association board because, not only are these people a general nuisance, like all pests, they are damn hard to get rid of.
don’t they have something better to do?
Most of these rogue boards become entrenched. That is another indicator of a problem with your board of directors. If you’ve got board members that just will not go away, you have an entrenched board. They get themselves reelected again and again and again. By getting elected, I mean they go door-to-door collecting proxy ballots from disinterested homeowners and elect themselves. We had a core group on our board that held those positions for over thirteen years.
As I said earlier, most HOA boards are going to degenerate into an oligarchy; the situation is designed to encourage that outcome, but there is a rare exception to this rule.
lock the gate and throw away the key
In her book, Homeowner Associations: A Nightmare or a Dream Come True?, Joni Greenwalt says that the best board members are those who don’t want to be on the board. What she sees as the best board members are people with job and family commitments much more rewarding than serving on a volunteer HOA board. In short, they have lives. They approach the task as a necessary obligation to serve their community and they usually do it well. They are usually reasonably well adjusted people with little psychological baggage and nothing to prove to anyone. Unfortunately, people like this are not likely to get on the board, and when they do, they usually don't last very long. They serve their time and then move on. I only know of one neighborhood where a situation like this occurred.
A group of homeowners, recognizing the inherent dangers of the CC&Rs should they fall into the wrong hands, and further recognizing a group of “wrong handed” neighbors salivating over the prospect of getting in a position to abuse their neighbors, campaigned and got elected to the board. They didn’t really want to be on the board but they felt it necessary in order to protect the rest of the community from abuse.
That one situation, though true, is so rare as to almost be a fairy tale. That kind of forward thinking and teamwork is not to be expected. It’s very difficult to keep a levelheaded group on a board. It’s usually an all or nothing deal, meaning you can’t allow any troublemakers to get on the board or you will probably lose the stable members.
One of the reasons these rogue boards are so difficult to dislodge is because their unpleasant demeanor can insulate them. It is difficult to find people willing to associate with them. Once one zealot gets on your board the more moderate members tend to retreat.
Here are a just a few of the opinions voiced by some of my neighbors after attending one of our board meetings:
“We have been shocked and disappointed to see how some well meaning neighbors and friends have been treated at board meetings.”
“…I was horrified at the disrespect given my neighbor by the board…their attitude was sit down, shut up, or we will take action against you.”
“There is no common courtesy or respect. That’s why many people don’t go to meetings.”
“I have never seen adults act in such a disgraceful manner!”
That last opinion sums up my own experience. Until I met with our board to discuss our differences, I too had never witnessed a group of adults behave is such an infantile manner. It was a real “jaw dropper.”
After that meeting, my wife and I concluded that, as a group, our board was capable of neither rational judgement nor rational expression. This prompted us to consult with a lawyer; a misadventure I’ll save for chapter six.
I’ll close out this chapter with a real-life example of a reasonably pleasant neighborhood about to succumb to a HOA reign of terror. This excerpt (announcing a new order with all the subtlety one would expect of a Nazi storm trooper) was taken directly out of the neighborhood newsletter. Bear in mind as you read this statement that in this particular neighborhood, membership in the association is not mandatory. This appears to be a classic example of a board of directors overstepping their bounds. Heaven help the homeowners.
It is the intent of our Association board to rigorously enforce both “code compliance” with the City inspectors and the covenants on your individual homes/lots. Each homeowner received a copy of the covenants for their respective sections of the sub-division upon closing at purchase. These are enforceable and violations will be noted when an issue surfaces. Bear in mind, that the developers of this sub-division have an architectural committee in place to ensure compliance with covenant restriction issues. There are numerous violations within the sub-division that have been overlooked or ignored for far too long, and must change to ensure that all of us know that our community remains a showplace for our homes and the valuation of properties do not deteriorate.
As your new board member for Code Compliance, I intend to scrutinize the sub-division for violations of the covenants and have asked the City Code Compliance Inspectors to conduct a semi-annual sweep of the neighborhood. You, as homeowners, will be notified when a problem exists that needs to be corrected and we trust that you will comply willingly. Some noted violations that are known to exist follows:
• Parking of boats in driveways or in front of property.
• Parking motor homes in driveways or in front of property.
• Parking trailers (all types) in driveways or in front of property.
• Maintenance of yards and fences.
• Installation of fencing IAW covenants which state no fence will be higher that 6 feet.
• Improper installation of TV antennas. Must be on rear half of residence out of sight.
• No storage of non-operational vehicles in driveways or on parking. If registrations and safety inspections are expired of they will not start, they must be removed.
• All pets must be under leash when outside the owner’s yard and are not allowed to defecate on private property or sidewalks/street.
• All pets are required to have ID collars and city licenses or they will be picked up by the city if found loose in neighborhoods.
• Replacement of mail receptacles IAW the United States Postal Service.
• Encroaching on city and or CPS property and right of ways/easements.
These are but a few of the noticeable violations within our community that require compliance by our homeowners.
I think most people would agree that all of the issues presented in the above example, provided they actually where included in the covenants, would require rational evaluation and resolution, but I doubt that will be possible. I see danger signs already.
Several of these “issues” involve city ordinances; they are issues between the city and the property owner, yet I think it’s safe to assume this board plans to take center stage in all matters.
Then there is the overall tone of this announcement. This is representative of the type of authoritarian control freaks that are so attracted to these volunteer positions. The sheriff has come to Dodge and he (or she) is going to clean up the town.
I should point out that this article was accompanied by a picture of the new “code compliance” officer who is now retired. But the photograph does not show him as a friendly, retired neighbor. The photograph, which appeared to be many years old, showed him in full dress military attire; the posture was ridged and the expression stern. Clearly, the adversarial posturing of this HOA board has already set the tone for the conflicts, which are sure to follow.
Few new homebuyers are aware when they sign the CC&Rs that they have given up many of the rights they enjoy as American citizens.
The CC&Rs make no provisions for democratic principals and the Board is not obligated to recognize them. For that reason, homeowners should take a keen interest in those who seek a seat on their Board of Directors.Home
Chapter ThreeIIIChapter Five