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The Tyranny of America's Homeowners Associations

In the last three decades HOAs have grown six-fold in the U.S. They now cover 20 percent of American homes, and stifle sustainability and expression through “one of the most significant privatizations of local government functions in history.”
February 20, 2013, 5am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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A Community of Brick Suburban Homes on a cloudy summer day
Anne Kitzman

Kaid Benfield unleashes his wrath on America's 323,600 homeowner associations, which "preside over the homes and neighborhoods of an astounding 63.4 million Americans." He details the ways in which such "governing associations" use their powers to stifle expression and sustainable practices, such as planting produce gardens, air-drying clothes, and installing solar panels.

"I use the word “governing” deliberately, because that is very much what HOAs do (and what my condo board did, when I lived in Adams-Morgan)," writes Benfield. "For example, they have taxing power, setting mandatory dues that if not paid can result in the placement of a lien on your property or even foreclosure; they have regulatory authority, setting rules for everything from when you can take out the trash to what color and materials you use in your window treatments to what you can and cannot grow in your yard.  They have enforcement power, too, including the right to issue cease and desist orders and to impose financial penalties in the form of fines.  One legal observer has called the exercise of quasi-political powers by HOAs 'one of the most significant privatizations of local government functions in history,' pointing out how quickly some of them move to foreclose on private homes because of dues underpayment."

"In a lot of places – probably in most – it’s a sort of government-among-friends, where rules are applied and interpreted with good faith and generosity, where neighbors cooperate on upkeep, and where buildings and communities look better and function better because of it."

"But, in others, homeowners’ associations appear to have more in common with the Soviets than just a communal process."

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Published on Tuesday, February 19, 2013 in NRDC Switchboard
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