Monday, April 11, 2011

The Homeowners' Association

By Shane Cashion

My neighborhood rests in what I consider to be the locus of St. Louis, just a stones throw away from our best university and most attractive park. Because of its central location, we attract all sorts of visitors looking to raise money, sell us something, or convert us. In an effort to deter these interlopers, many of us have “No Soliciting” signs on our front doors.

Yesterday, as I was taking our bulldog for his seasonal walk, I noticed that my neighbor had posted a “No Soliciting” sign on her front door that was at least five times larger than any other sign in the neighborhood. I couldn’t help but walk over to check it out. To my surprise, it wasn’t a “No Soliciting” sign, but instead a sign protesting our HOA’s recent agents’ election. She was expressing her outrage over what she perceived to be corruption … in our homeowners’ association. Our HOA appears to be corrupt.

This actually comes as no surprise to me. I’ve long considered homeowners’ associations to be the most dangerous organizations in the world. There are literally thousands of them, and they all share two common goals: to incite rage and to divide neighbors. Having seen these organizations in action, I’m convinced that sharing a cell with Charles Manson would do less harm to the sound mind than engaging your HOA in any meaningful way.

As for my neighbor, I’m not certain what happened at the election to fuel her anger. I never go to the meetings. The agents don’t like me, and I’m afraid of them. Not long after I moved into the neighborhood, the HOA held a special meeting to address rumors concerning the University’s purported interest in buying our homes. The University is out of land, and if it ever hopes to expand, our neighborhood is the closest target. Like any busy, self-absorbed person, I only skimmed the flyer explaining the purpose of the meeting. What’s more, I arrived twenty minutes late.

As I was sitting there at the meeting, doing my level best to catch up, one of the agents singled me out: “Sir, you have a pained look on your face. Is there something you wish to add?”

Had he known me better, he’d have recognized that I always have a pained look on my face. “My name is Shane. It seems to me that if we want to get a deal done, we need to present the University with a unified offer. I say we hire one appraiser and all agree to demand 10% over the appraisal. Gang, this is a really big opportunity for us to move these houses and if we ever want to get it done, now’s the time! Let’s do whatever it takes to make a deal! Thanks for your time.”

One would have thought I’d just told the world’s dirtiest joke. It wasn’t so much the silence that unnerved me as the sheer horror on the faces of both the agents and the homeowners in attendance. Finally, a man who regularly paces up and down my block wearing safari netting around his head, broke the silence: “Sir, this is a preservation meeting. Didn’t you read the flyer? We’re trying to block the University from buying our homes. Not sell them. These homes are historic! Have you no pride?” Embarrassed, I quietly walked out, disappointed that the University wasn’t going to scoop up my house.

In a twisted bit of irony, our HOA’s meetings take place across the street from the Church of Scientology. Now and again people wearing crazy Halloween costumes assemble in front of the Church to protest what they believe to be the Church’s efforts to brainwash their members. Little do they know, in a low-slung shelter just a few steps away, a far more sinister organization conducts its meetings: The Homeowners’ Association.

I’ve personally witnessed members of both organizations leaving their meetings. By appearances, the Scientologists looked revived, yet at the same time calm, tranquil even, as if a weight had been lifted. Contrast this with the agents leaving their HOA meetings. Their faces contorted; rage in their voices as they barked back and forth: “How freakin’ stupid is Mary to think….I COULD KILL HER!” “Mary? What about Todd?! “YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING TODD!!! YOU SELL DEFIBRILLATORS!!!! WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY KNOW ABOUT VARIANCES!!!! JUST SHUT UP FOR ONCE, YOU IDIOT!!!!!!!!!!” “Seriously, who votes for these people? You know sometimes I don’t even know why I bother….” “I’m with you, Ken. But remember, the neighborhood would go to hell without us.” “True.”

Next week the HOA is holding a special meeting to determine whether we can recognize the newly elected agents, or whether the election failed to comply with the HOA’s bylaws, as my neighbor with the big sign on her door seems to believe. While I have no intention of attending, I am thinking about buying a Jason mask from the Friday the 13th movies and standing outside their meeting with a sign that reads:


Ben Small said...

My wife and I are officers in ours, a tiny little HOA with only eleven properties and actually only about four families that actually live in the HOA. Still, we've had our issues, including an ATF and Federal investigation into one of our neighbors, his threatened lawsuits against us because he refused to build a pool that met our architectural requirements -- he wanted to put Niagra Falls in our backyards -- and difficult bank reps when they foreclosed on him. It's a thankless job, but can become downright dictatorial in some locations. I'd quit my officer's position in ours but was told there was nobody else. Argh.

Earl Staggs said...

I've heard amazing horror stories about HOA's but, fortunately, have never had to deal with one. Our local news yesterday told of one which, after a tornado all but destroyed homes, sent a reminder to homeowners that any repairs had to be approved by the HOA. NOT what people rushing to replace roofs and windows wanted to hear. If I ever have to deal with an HOA from Hell, there may be bloodshed.