HOAs can bring out the ugly in some neighbors. But here’s why they’re useful

·3 min read
Madeleine Cook/mcook@star-telegram.com

When homeowners associations are operated by smart, responsible neighbors, they can be a neighborhood paradise. When they’re run by wannabe tyrants, they can be an absolute nightmare.

Without guidelines, human nature tends to follow the second law of thermodynamics: Everything gets disorganized and worse over time. Entropy reigns and mere anarchy is let loose, not just on Main Street but also on your street. Some HOA rules encourage people to eschew this and be the best version of themselves: Organized. Clean. Considerate. Responsible.

If you’ve ever driven through a neighborhood with dilapidated housing, uncut grass and trash strewn about and thought I wouldn’t want my kids growing up here, it could just be an area without an HOA. Without guidelines, many people are unable to maintain order and care for their properties the way their neighbors would like, if not just for sanity and aesthetics then also the bottom line.

Laws and by-laws that offer boundaries on fencing, lawn decor, and home maintenance standards can create a neighborhood that looks well-manicured, welcoming, and can even increase property values. If you’ve lived outside Texas in an area that won’t allow fencing due to the HOA, you’d know a neighborhood can look beautiful without rotten, decaying wood panels lining some backyards.

Clear-cut regulations that HOAs offer can give eternal do-it-yourselfers guidelines to understand which projects to actually do and which ones to let go. HOA rules, enforced with respect and kindness, can tamper unwanted late-night noise or excessive partying and even keep neighbors, children and animals safe.

Sounds like utopia, right? That’s because it largely depends on the region and the kind of neighbors who run the HOA.

Unfortunately, HOAs also reveal the flip side of human nature, too. The people in charge can become authoritarian, picky, nosy and downright tyrannical. In a free country, an HOA with too many rules, run by people who seem like the world’s most fussy and self-righteous neighbors, can induce nightmares for even the most relaxed residents.

In Houston, an HOA was so presumptuous — or wanted to be — that they tried to ban pickup trucks. In Houston, Texas. A Tesla is smaller, sure, but have you ever ridden in a new F-150 Raptor? It’s a cowboy’s version and it’s pretty bougie.

The Legislature actually had to pass a law to force HOAs to allow the American flag to be flown on properties. Really?

Some HOAs take it upon themselves to exert too much control over matters of taste and style — even if the thing in question doesn’t risk the integrity of the neighborhood. Take one HOA in East Texas: It sued a deployed soldier’s wife over her backyard swingset.

Zoning is one thing, especially vital for the preservation of historic districts, but the lack of zoning in parts of Texas often translates to allowing HOAs unrestricted dictatorial power.

HOAs were originally designed to elevate human nature to a higher standard. They were a common sense way to keep order, ensure respect among neighbors and keep property values high — something that benefits anyone.

Like any thing meant for good, human beings can either improve upon it or turn it on its head and make it the worst version of itself. Unfortunately, some HOAs in Texas are run by self-righteous mini tyrants who have taken a good thing and made it a pain for all the neighbors who live there.

For the rest of us, the order and beauty they bring elevate home into something closer to paradise.