Homeowner Associations Have Draconian Rules. Why?

    I’ve always been somewhat puzzled as to why people choose to buy houses in neighborhoods with homeowner associations (HOAs). They always seem to have such draconian regulations in their covenants. Like the following examples I recently found produced by one such association:

    “No clothing, laundry or wash shall be aired or dried within public view.”

    “Air conditioning units in windows are prohibited.”

    “Play equipment will only be permitted in the back yard where it is not visible from the street.”

    “Compost piles are prohibited. Vegetable gardens are only allowed in the back yard, not to exceed 10 feet by 10 feet.”

    Why are people so willing to forgo the freedom of air drying their own laundry, or just having air conditioning in one room rather than the whole house, or putting the garden where it will get the best light? And why are neighborhoods so terrified of seeing children?

    Another regulation says no decks or patios, or arbors, are allowed in the front yard. This suggests to me that not only children, but also people in general are not to be seen.

    These kinds of rules are not so much about maintaining a certain visual design within a neighborhood, such as the vernacular architecture of a given place. That’s something that many local governments try to establish through their codes. But HOA rules seem to be more about social control.

    The theory, I suppose, is that many people will only be willing to invest in a neighborhood if they can be certain that their neighbor will not damage their property values by painting their house a garish color, or creating a giant mud pit in their yard that will breed mosquitoes. I can understand people’s fear of the unknown.

    Then again, many homebuyers invest in older neighborhoods that have none of these covenant restrictions. Most of them wouldn’t buy their homes without a sense that property values were at least stable, if not likely to rise over time.

    HOA restrictions really do limit a lot of people’s life choices, though people often buy homes without carefully reading the covenants, so they don’t find out about the limits until some time later.

    A guy I know in one of these neighborhoods wanted to build a garden in his front yard, but it turned out he wasn’t permitted to do so. While his front yard is huge, the back yard is barely wide enough for one row of veggies. Would he have bought the home knowing he would be restricted in this way? Possibly not, although clearly it was not the first thing on his mind when he went looking for a house.

    I wonder what other readers make of so many Americans’ willingness to live in these neighborhoods with these limits on their everyday activities. Is it a means of guaranteeing security without living behind walls topped with broken glass? Are these limits enough to cause people not to have loud parties, or invite potentially unruly friends over, or to make trouble on the sidewalk after dark?

    Or perhaps another way to look at HOA rules is that they make the world OK for diversity. People are more willing to live in a neighborhood with people different from them, if the rules have a way of keeping people from actively doing the things that make them distinctive as people. At least they have to do those things indoors, out of public view.

    David Holtzman is a planner for Louisa County, Virginia, a freelance writer, and a former Shelterforce editor.


    1. Thanks for the article but why do you say HOA gives diversity? All houses wear “uniform”, so boring ! if you don’t see people hang out in the front porch or play basket ball in the driveway, it’s not an alive community. what good is the “diversity”.

      I like that my neighbors paint their houses in different colors & plant different trees & flowers than mine. one of our neighbor has vegetable garden in the front yard, tomatoes & other. Another yard has fruit trees. many different colors. nice!


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