Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Man accused of choking neighbor over Christmas lights - WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral & Naples, Florida

Man accused of choking neighbor over Christmas lights - WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral & Naples, Florida: "BOKEELIA: The president of a local homeowners association says he was choked by one of his neighbors after a disagreement over Christmas lights Monday. Lee County sheriff's deputies responded to 16958 Captains Drive after 67-year-old Robert Dale Burkett reported that he'd been assaulted. Burkett says he told the neighbor, who has not been named, that he and his wife weren't following the rules regarding Christmas lights."
As Bing Crosby sang, "I'm dreaming of...CHOKING MY HOA PRESIDENT!!"

Thanks to Fred Pilot. Ho ho ho.


Anonymous said...

According to the Independence Institute, self-described as Colorado's Free Market Think Tank, "Since HOAs are very local and small, participants are often neighbors and hence have incentive to settle disagreements in a civil manner."

Disclaimer: I used to do some work for the Independence Institute as a volunteer researcher and writer. If anyone there is reading this, they know who I am, especially since I've been involved in an e-mail exchange with the author of that piece, trying to convince him of the error of his ways on this issue. As I pointed out earlier, that article is the only mention of HOAs on the Independence Institute's web site. See . That the Independence Institute is the parent organization for Center for the American Dream and the Property Rights Project makes their position on HOAs all the more frustrating and puzzling.

Evan McKenzie said...

That's a fascinating comment. I love the irony of that "settle disagreements in a civil manner" business. These libertarians are obsessed with microeconomics. Everything has to be about rational individuals calculating their preferences and incentives. They have so little comprehension of how people actually behave in real social situtions that it is pointless to talk with them about anything except the stock market.

Anonymous said...

As a small-"l" libertarian myself, I'm afraid I have to agree with your comment about libertarians.

There are degrees of freedom. I'm certainly free to choose between purchasing a Ford, Chevy, Honda, or Toyota. I'm certainly free to choose between Windows or Macintosh. I'm certainly "free" to leave my job, although less free given the disparity of power between employers and employees (especially in the current market), and the necessity of earning a living. I'm certainly "free" to leave my HOA, but less free given the extremely negative consequences of walking away from my equity and mortgage, and the lack of non-HOA options in housing.

While changing brands of cereal or laundry detergent is a minor choice, changing jobs and homes is a major disruption, and often not a practical option for many people. Yet we're supposed to accept that all are equally free choices.

In Libertarian Utopia, an employer could demand sexual favors from female employees as a condition of employment. CC&Rs could be amended to give HOA board members the right to primae noctis. After all, employees and residents voluntarily signed a contract surrendering their rights and agreeing to any changes in the contract, no matter how one-sided the agreement is. If a woman doesn't like it, she's free to leave her job or HOA community.

Telescreens in every home? Why not? In Libertarian Utopia, HOA residents have no more rights at home than they do at work, since both are the results of voluntary contracts.

I acknowledge that the above are extreme satirical examples, for the purpose of ridiculing Libertarians. On more serious note, it's frustrating that libertarians, the champions of private property, fail to realize that as a "member" of an HOA "community," you never truly own your own home. It is always collateral in your "agreement" with the HOA, even after the mortgage is paid off.

I think Kerry Howley was on to something when she recently asked "Are Property Rights Enough?"

Potential Libertarian: What’s libertarianism?

Seavey: A philosophy of freedom and property rights.

Potential Libertarian: Oh, right. Freedom like civil rights?

Seavey: No, not that kind of freedom.

Potential Libertarian: Oh. Freedom like the freedom to be openly gay?

Seavey: No. That has nothing to do with liberty.

Potential Libertarian: Oh. Um…

Seavey: Let’s talk about easements!

It was one of the more thought-provoking pieces of libertarian writing, or a critique of standard libertarian thinking, I've come across in years.

But she received overwhelmingly negative feedback from the readers at Reason (see the comments section to her article).

Even the big-L Libertarians, who reject Howley's notions about cultural coercion, should be appalled by HOAs. HOAs represent one of the biggest threats to private property rights in the United States today.

The author of "Free-Market Alternatives to Zoning" is aware that "When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators." Yet somehow he fails to make the connection between legislators, developers, the CAI, etc., and then fails to realize that homeowners associations are not simply a result of a free market.

Beth said...

Thanks for the links to these interesting articles.

On the topic of choice--I read a libertarian argue on the Volokh Conspiracy blog that public safety is an inadequate reason for licensing/regulation: "It is not a legitimate use of state power to require that buildings be made safer; that is what people should be free to demand, if they want it. And if they want to skimp and live/work/ or visit less safe buildings, that is there choice."

Some utopia.

Beth said...

I just read that Independence Institute article--it is breathtakingly idiotic. eg "Unlike a government, HOAs cannot extend their jurisdiction to homeowners who have not opted in. Since HOAs are very local and small, participants are often neighbors and hence have incentive to settle disagreements in a civil manner. You would also have more influence on your HOA than on Boulder City Council." Three ridiculous claims in as many sentences.

Evan McKenzie said...

Talking with libertarians about HOAs is like discussing evolution with a young earth creationist.

Anonymous said...

Tell me one more time how GREAT these places are to live! I trust the HOA president was driving these people crazy with nit picky little things, he himself did not follow, or simply made up to harass someone HE didn't like. If this was a woman ((homeowner) even if she were doing nothing wrong), she would be terrorized, threatened, posssibly assaulted, and they would be fining and assessing her all the way to a secret foreclosure, victimizing her throughout the entire process! Some of these "groups leaders and associates," are GANGS of thieves, thugs and bullies! Equivalent to Domestic Terrorists!

Anonymous said...

"Equivalent to Domestic Terrorists!"

I think the "terrorist" label has been over-used since 1995 and 2001. I'm not aware of HOAs blowing up buildings.

But if you said "equivalent to an organized crime syndicate that engages in extortion and racketeering," then I'd agree with you.

Notice that I had to say "equivalent to," because unlike organized crime syndicates, HOAs and their agents are sanctioned by the government. And what they do is perfectly legal.

Anonymous said...

This thread is over a month old. But since this is where I criticized the Independence Institute for its naivete regarding HOAs, this seems the appropriate place to continue.

I'm currently reading through their issue paper Randal O'Toole, and published by their Center For The American Dream.

The summary of the paper is that "Homeownership is the ultimate American dream and the aspiration of families all over the world. Thanks to the post-war boom, U.S. homeownership rates soared from less than 44 percent in 1940 to 62 percent by 1960. Since then, however, the rate of increase has slowed so that only 7 percent more families own their own homestoday."

Hmmm. What happened around 1960?

The opening of the abstract states that "Smart growth and other forms of growth-management planning create artificial housing shortages that impose significant burdens on low-income families and first- time homebuyers. This paper examines several sources of housing data to determine the specific effects of growth- management planning on housing prices."

In a 48 page paper on housing prices, the only mention of homeowners associations are the following passages on page 32:

As University of San Diego law Professor Bernard Siegan observes, homeowner associations and protective covenants can provide the benefits of neighborhood zoning without the risks of utopian social engineering. University of Maryland public policy Professor Robert Nelson suggests that legislatures allow homeowner associations to opt out of city zoning and take over the planning and management of their neighborhoods. Nelson even suggests that rural landowners form neighborhood associations to allow farmers and landowners, rather than developers or government planners, manage the pace of rural development.

and on page 33:

In sum, neighborhood zoning, homeowner associations, and sensible financial structures are better tools for dealing with growth than growth boundaries, onerous planning processes, and concurrency requirements or impact fees. States and regions that have not adopted growth-management policies should use these tools instead. States and regions that have adopted growth-management policies should repeal those laws or ordinances and replace them with policies that will not drive up housing costs or produce other unintended consequences.

Hmmm. I thought the purpose of HOAs was to preserve property values; ie, keep home prices high.

While HOAs may or may not preserve property values -- I have not seen any definite study on this -- they do increase the cost of home ownership. The HOA fees are not included in the home price, but is a tax that only goes up over time. At least I've had my county property taxes go down.

And even after the mortgage is paid off, the home is still collateral to the HOA, and can be foreclosed upon, without oversight by the court, for trivial amounts and reasons. This alone should alarm the self-proclaimed proponents of individual property rights.

It's amazing that, when 80% of all new housing is built in HOA/CID communities as a result of government incentives and mandates, that somebody could write a 48 page paper on "How Smart Growth Makes Housing Unaffordable" and ignore this important variable.

Anonymous said...

> Hmmm. What happened around 1960?

"But in the 1960s and '70s, as land prices were getting more expensive, developers started creating [CIDs] in order to create more density and therefore increase profitability."

In devising CIDs, developers managed to build more houses on less land -- avoiding local density codes -- through creation of "private communities" with their own roads and utilities infrastructure. "They build a shared infrastructure with common utility lines so the physical infrastructure is a lot cheaper," explains McKenzie. "Then they build private streets, which are very narrow and not as deep, so they're cheaper streets. So they need a lot of repairs."

But who will take care of the infrastructure and the roads? Not the city, of course, because these are private communities. Instead, the HOA, run by volunteer homeowners with help from profession property managers and lawyers, must levy assessments from homeowners to pay for the cost of maintaining the property. With such an arrangement, developers get the best of both worlds: an escape from city planning ordinances that restrict their profits, and an entity that inherits the results of their cost cutting.

from "The Myth of Privatopia" (December 17, 2002).

Did it ever occur to Mr. O'Toole and his colleagues at the Independence Institute to wonder if that had something to do with the fact, which they lament, that "the rate of increase has slowed so that only 7 percent more families own their own homes today" (2006) than in 1960?

I don't know if HOAs/CIDs are the culprit, since there are a lot of variables, but it's a large factor to ignore.

Anonymous said...

A few hours after posting the above, I got an e-mail from Randal O'Toole, via the Cato Institute e-mail list, promoting his new book, along with a book signing event.

Like Brian Schwartz's "Free Market Alternatives to Zoning," O'Toole seems to rely on Robert H. Nelson for his information about HOAs.

I have no idea why libertarians are so enamored with Robert Nelson. He is an advocate of legislation to allow HOAs -- one of the greatest threats to individual private property rights in America today -- to expand into non-HOA neighborhoods, against the wishes of homeowners affected.

Anonymous said...

Since this is where I started criticizing The Independence Institute, "Colorado's Free Market Think Tank," this seems like an appropriate place to continue.

While looking for something about open space, I came across this 2003 editorial by Jon Caldera, the Institute's president.

"Many people want to live in a covenant community. There, the collective decides the architectural flavor of the area, and the rules and codes are dictated by that flavor."

As our host as said, proponents of HOAs "seriously underestimates how supply-side driven" their creation is. See his FAQ on the subject here.

Anonymous said...

And continuing with my criticism of the Independence Institute, those self-proclaimed proponents of individual private property rights (as long as it involves criticizing the government and not private corporations and their lawyers), I found this on Jon Caldera's web site at

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold on a second here. In addition to controlling house sizes, they are controlling the way houses look – so that they are in harmony with the rest of the neighborhood! Which means the commissioners get to decide what is considered “compatible” and where a neighborhood begins and ends. Isn’t that what a home owners association is for? "

It's amazing that Jon and the Independence Institute are so critical of Boulder's (Colorado) limited growth policies, which makes Boulder a very desirable, and expensive, place to live.

Yet he continues to live in Boulder, while believing that HOAs are a wonderful manifestation of the free market and small scale democracy.

If he's been living in Boulder since 1984, I'm going to guess that Jon Caldera does not live in a mandatory HOA.

As much time and ink and air and bandwidth as they've expended on the subject of property rights and home ownership, I should be amazed that they've somehow overlooked one of the most significant housing trends over the past 30 years.

And they've ignored one of the biggest threats to individual private home ownership in America today.

But, as I posted here (comment still pending), Jon Caldera and the Independence Institute have done more to make this right-wing conspirator question the "Free Market" philosophy than the left-wing media, entertainment, and educational establishments combined.

Perhaps if they, and the rest of my fellow conservative/libertarians, would stop confusing "capitalism" with "free markets," and "corporations" with "corporatism," we could start thinking about what's wrong with our ideas and make them better.

Libertarian author James Hogan has written, the free-market mythology has become a quasi-church, with its proponents believing in a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem.

As George Orwell observed in his essay about "Charles Dickens" (1939),

The central problem -- how to prevent power from being abused -- remains unsolved..."If men would behave decently the world would be decent" is not such a platitude as it sounds.