Wednesday, March 04, 2015

HOA denies dying child's wish for playhouse

Fred Pilot just posted on this, but I decided to add my own thoughts.  Some things never change, such as the propensity of HOA and condo boards to blindly enforce rules regardless of the impact on people's lives and heedless of the potential for bad publicity.  In my first book on HOAs, I recounted an example from the early 1900s when Jesse Clyde Nichols explained how it was necessary to deny a similar request from a dying woman. It's the rules, you see. The rules are more important than any other consideration.


robert @ said...

"In Missouri, you can't buy a house with a covenant without knowing about that covenant. No one ever buys a house even potentially subject to an HOA without knowing about it unless they fail to read the contract"

"No one forces anyone to sign a contract."

"Let's rewrite this headline to make it accurate: Man tries to break $150,000 contract. He doesn't tell one of the parties in the contract. When blindsided, they respond predictably. This isn't a story about an evil HOA; it's about a father who, understandably, failed to effectively communicate with his HOA."

Those are actual comments by "randomguy186" in the reddit thread about this story. I don't know randomguy186's political orientation, but he perfectly represents the libertarian and Republican position on this issue. These are people who celebrate the sociopathy of corporations -- "corporations are people with rights but have no conscience, empathy, or morals" -- as a virtue, rather than as a distortion of a free market and the political process. They seriously believe that it is impossible for a private corporation to have too much power.

Consider another story, this one involving an H.O.A. corporation and a dead child. On July 10, 2007, a plane crash destroyed Joe Woodard’s house and killed his wife and infant son (along with a 4-year old girl next door). After he rebuilt his house, the H.O.A. corporation ordered him to tear it down, because the “shingles on the home and the elevation are not consistent with the community, and the home extends a few feet longer in the back than association standards allow.”

Trevor Bothwell — a contributing author to the biography Ron Paul: A Life Of Ideas (September 01, 2008) — wrote that:

HOAs are private organizations formed voluntarily between homeowners and, as such, comprise varying degrees of building and maintenance codes.
. . .
the internet is replete with stories of homeowners taking their HOAs to court in order to get some judge to overturn rules or policies they simply may not like. Unless HOA contracts are conceived or implemented fraudulently, I really can’t think of any reason homeowners would have a case in court, other than to try to get the government to forcibly usurp the right of the HOA to honor its members’ wishes.

In short, you know what you’re getting into when you move into a neighborhood that has HOA covenants. You either choose to put up with them, or you choose not to. However, one thing that shouldn’t be debatable is some perceived right to flout the rules you willingly agreed to.
. . .
As heartless as it appears Mr. Woodward’s HOA is being, I have to side with it over Woodward, ceteris paribus.

source: Trevor Bothwell. "Beware HOAs”. Libertarian Examiner. September 09, 2008.

This is the mindset and ideology — corporate values before family values — that the H.O.A. reform movement is up against, as much as some people want to deny it. What is there about governance by an unregulated private corporation, under the guise of contract law, with no consumer protections, for a Tea Partyin' disciple of Ayn Rand and Ronald Reagan not to love?

robert @ said...

"Many owners see the 'association' as a faceless antagonist run by people that they don’t know. The reality is different"
"Disputes between an owner and the 'association' are at base just arguments among individual owners. But many still don’t see it that way and choose instead to see the association as a monolith operating independently of the owners. And they can be excused for thinking that way. When disputes arise, they are characterized as 'Happy Valley Homeowners Association vs. John Smith' not, 'All of His Neighbors in Happy Valley vs. John Smith.' A corporation can be bureaucratic, but it also provides anonymity — a delegation of authority so individual owners do not have to personally enforce the rules. Those who believe the rules are beneficial want others to abide by them. Others just want to be left alone. But as long as there are rules in play, someone or something has to do it."
"Owners can sue each other directly to enforce the rules but most would rather not do that. It’s messy and expensive and personal."

- Tyler Berding. "It's Your Neighbors, Stupid". May 21, 2011

HOApologists expect us to believe that Jennifer Shultz's neighbors want to block the construction of Ella's playhouse, and are simply acting collectively through the corporation, which is necessary to enforce the rules. If the Stone Gate H.O.A. corporation did not exist, individual residents of the community would still be free to sue the parents of Ella Schultz for building a playhouse that violates the covenants. Of course, the individual plaintiff(s) would be responsible for their up-front legal costs, or would have to persuade their neighbors to help fund the lawsuit. The plaintiff(s) would have to prove actual damages; as opposed to being able to simply claim usurious fines and fees -- which are merely arbitrary and artificial accounting artifacts -- as "damages". Unlike corporations, natuaral persons are subject to additional pressures -- individual and societal morals -- that would prevent a neighbor from suing another neighbor, unless it was over something really damn important; and only if the benefit outweighed the cost.

Conversely, the existence of an H.O.A. corporation creates perverse incentives and moral hazards for them to engage in the most destructive of litigation for trivial amounts and reasons. The directors hide behind the corporate veil and use other people's money, while the corporation's managers and attorneys profit by creating strife and conflict. Even the HOApologists admit that H.O.A. corporations behave in ways that individual home owners do and would not, except that they tout this as a benefit!

"Organizations are of course made up of individuals, who bring with them the sorts of societal dilemmas we've already discussed: both the dilemmas between the organization interest and the individual's own competing interests, and thge societal dilemmas that come from the individual being a member of the organization and a member of society as a whole. But we often treat organizations as if they actually were individuals, assuming that societal pressures work on them in the same way they do on indviduals. This doesn't work, and results in some pretty bad trust failures, and high scopes of defection."
- Bruce Schneier. Liars and Outliers. February 2012. Chapter 12.

Any individual home owner who sued the parents of Ella Schultz would quickly be shunned and scorned by his neighbors. But when an H.O.A. corporation does it, we accept this utter insanity as normal. Only from a corporation do libertarians and Republicans accept the excuse "I behave like a sociopath because I have rights, but I have no -- and should not have -- moral obligations".

robert @ colorado hoa . com said...

”Because HOAs are very local and small, participants are often neighbors and hence have incentive to settle disagreements in a civil manner.”
- The Independence Institute. “Free-Market Alternatives To Zoning”. February 28, 2009

For years, Ward Lucas, the author of Neighbors At War — who also lives about an hour from me, although we’ve never met — has been claiming that there is a “sea change” among conservatives and libertarians about H.O.A. corporations, including think-tanks like Cato and the Independence Institute. As a former Reagan Republican turned small “l” libertarian who was a member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy for over 25 years until, not coincidentally, my H.O.A. experience a few years ago, I vehemently disagree with him.

Whenever stories like this are reported, I search conservative and libertarian media for reactions and any sign of outrage. As is par for the course, there is none. So far, the “family values” and “property rights” pundits are silent about the plight of Ella Shultz. But I did find this story from a few months ago, from the libertarian Reason magazine blog:

Little Girl's Playset Is in Her Own Backyard, City Wants It Destroyed Anyway
Robby Soave|Oct. 8, 2014 5:55 pm
"Fellow libertarians, we may be observing peak bureaucratic cruelty in Santa Fe Springs, California. City officials told Jessica Torres and Felix Miranda to destroy their backyard playset — a gift to their handicapped 10-year-old daughter from the Make-A-Wish-Foundation — because it is a "public nuisance," according to Young Tiffany suffers from seizures and can't play at the public park, so the Make-A-Wish-Foundation gifted her a personal playground. It sits in her backyard, on Miranda family property. Nevertheless, the city thinks it has the right to force the family to disassemble the playset. When Torres approached a city official, she was treated as courteously as would be expected by anyone else who has ever gone up against the tyranny of local government."

Read the whole thing, and the comments too:

# "It would be a lot more honest if instead of having a deed local governments issued an occupation license."

# "I once joked to the town clerk that I was only renting my house, and that they would come and take it if I didn't pay rent. She cheerfully agreed. I was not amused."

When government does it, it’s "cruelty" and “tyranny”. When a private corporation does it, it’s freedom! The corporation is merely exercising its rights by enforcing a contract. Foreclosure for failure to pay property taxes is oppression. Foreclosure for failure to pay privatized taxes — in the form of H.O.A. fines and fees — is always the home owner’s fault. Collective corporate rights trump individual rights.

Some guy named Evan McKenzie — you may have heard of him — once described “repressive libertarianism” as “where certain people who call themselves libertarians invariably side with property owners who want to limit other people's liberties through the use of contract law. Property rights (usually held by somebody with a whole lot of economic clout) trump every other liberty. The libertarian defense of HOAs is the perfect example. The developer writes covenants and leaves. Everybody who lives there has to obey them forever, even if they lose due process of law and expressive liberties. As private corporations take over more functions of government, this position could lead to gradual elimination of constitutional liberties”.