The Dreaded HOA

42 thoughts on “The Dreaded HOA”

  1. I understand why you elected to follow the rules, but it sure sucked the life out of that nice little patio oasis. Anyone who would object to that, or wrap carpeted stairs in plastic, has to be more than a little neurotic. Glad I’m not his prisoner! As a live and let live type, never understood such regimented mentality. I suspect latent OCPD could be involved in such cases. And still seems a bit odd how one overly uptight person could effectively impose their narrow view over a majority.

    1. I spent months in open opposition to the new guy. Everyone in the building did. Everything was against some rule or other. But I discovered that when most people outside our building heard about the conflict they tended to either side with the guy and the rules or say that’s what you get when you live in a condo. So I stopped and took another approach.

      I realized my goal wasn’t to store things in the common area of the building. Instead my goal was to have nearby access to things. It didn’t take long for me to find new homes for everything next door, around the corner, and across the street with likeminded friends and neighbors. Now everyone is happy – although the new guy and I don’t ever speak to each other.

  2. I thought you were a poor housekeeper who lived in a potting shed behind a church/small rental apt and built a 2-car garage/house in HI to retire to? You own an part own an apt building in SF…lol. Good for you, but that YT video I just came from was a wee bit misleading. We couldn’t be more different, yet also very similar, so I’m enjoying your blog, thanks for sharing. On another note: I don’t know how you city folk do it honestly, live on top of one another and in one another’s way. My neighbors are acres away and it’s still a tiny bit intrusive.

    1. Jamie – There’s a thirty year gap between these stories. Opportunities accumulated slowly over time. I was in my twenties then and now I’m middle aged. San Francisco was seriously less expensive back then. These stories aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re consecutive.

      As for living on top of each other – some people like city living and some people like the country. I like both. What I don’t like is the stuff in between. Suburbia does nothing for me.

  3. Hello Johnny,
    I am sorry to hear about you having to remove the items from the common area when they appeared to be very nice and practical for emergency situations. I have lived in a HOA for 30 yrs. My HOA is a little different in that there are 9 tracks of single family homes and 3 sub associations that consist of condo and townhomes (which have their own rules). To change our Master CC&R’s or rules passed down by the builder and City we would need a 51% vote of owners. Since our association is a considerably large HOA with 1388 units, it has been impossible to make any changes. If only we had a small HOA we might be able to make changes to our 30 year old rules. The HOA cannot even get a quarter of the owners to vote at election time.
    I do believe however that HOA’s have some benefits, no clutter on balconies, no cars parked on lawns, maintained properties to name a few and especially a sense of Community. The fallback of having an HOA is that rules may be too stringent in some areas and some may not even make sense. I joined the Board of Directors for my HOA because the communication between board members and residents was way to hostile. I focus on Community and that means trying to create a happy and healthy environment for families to raise children, elderly to feel needed, and adults to rest and relax after a difficult day of work by walking the beautiful trails in our tree lined community. But because rules are in place I have a responsibility as a board member to address any violations to the rules. This is especially true, when neighbors complain about each other not following the rules. As a board member I try to ease compliance of rules by working with residents. I enjoyed reading your Blog and commend you on complying, but am saddened that the practical and aesthetically pleasing items had to be removed. Unfortunely, I started my Blog out of frustration and to vent about a small number community members that were focused more on instant gratification during a recent event I attended. With any Community there is the GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY. I hope to write more in the future about my Community and all the positive experiences that can be had living in an HOA. Thank you again!

    1. It took me five minutes to find new homes for the objectionable items in the common areas of my HOA. I have earthquake water, tools, shelf stable food, medical supplies, and so on around the corner and down the street at the homes of good friends. And the HOA is content. All’s well that ends well.

      My point is that all HOA rules are designed specifically to mandate a very particular kind of middle class respectability at the expense of productivity, utility, and resilience.

      Towels hanging on the balcony railings are reminiscent of clothes lines hung in alleys in tenement slums. Prosperous people have washers and dryers – even if it’s 112 degrees in Scottsdale you can’t dry a towel in the sun. It’s about order and discipline to distinguish the residents of the HOA from lesser people. Property values are at stake. The damp towel on the terrace sends a powerful negative signal.

      It’s the same process the creates flowering trees that bear no fruit because they would stain the sidewalks and driveways and look unsightly. Middle class people can afford to buy food at the market and don’t need to grow it themselves. Chickens? Horror. That’s for poor people and immigrants. “Not our kind of people. We have rules against that.”

      Earthquake supplies in the common areas? They’re unsightly and their presence implies that we live in a dangerous place and bad things might happen. “That’s not the tone we wish to set. Hoarders are troubled people who need help from a mental health professional.”

      The cumulative result is a landscape where everyone is extremely limited in what they can do to cultivate resilience to economic and other difficulties and ever more critically dependent on complex, expensive, and over stretched systems for the necessities of everyday life.

      As long as nothing goes wrong we’ll all be fine in our manicured environments. But in a genuine crisis the HOA residents are going to discover that they’re delicate hothouse flowers that can’t survive the real world when circumstances change.

      1. I hear your discord of HOA rules in your message, but not ALL rules are bad and not all rules can be referenced to the privileged few. I bought into a planned community/HOA not know what to expect. The population in my community is not middle class per se, most live from paycheck to paycheck trying to create a life for their families. And a lot of us are preparing to make this our retirement home. I was in support of your earthquake preparedness supplies and sorry that you and the others that you know let one unit move you to not challenge the rules, especially if you had the majority of units in support. Our HOA is too large to challenge the rules without getting over 50% of the owners to change them. As far as clothes lines, I don’t know if you are aware there was a new law that came into effect, I believe in 2014 or 2015, stating that clotheslines are allowed and that the HOA’s could set up reasonable standard once the law came into effect. New laws are superseding some many things that were once dictated in the HOA Rule. So our community does have clotheslines. And the note on hoarders, I maybe have chose the wrong word. As a person versed in mental health I know that hoarders have problems that need to be addressed. I should have said items stored outside the homes which should be in the garage, behind a gate or out of cite on balconies. Please note that I agree with you about the rules that made you remove items that were relevant to safety and the furniture that was not offensive in my eyes. CHANGE is a key word that is often seen as negative. CHANGE is growth and our Community is growing from CHANGE. We still have our bumps in the road but we continue to embrace change for without change we will be stagnant and die. Our community is currently working on developing a community garden. Many of our residents already have container gardens and have removed their lawns to plant gardens in their front & back yard (with the changes the City has made in their development codes allowing gardens). Healthy Communities is a movement that is just now making its way down south to us. Northern California has been creating healthy community for YEARS. The old is becoming NEW, respect for environment and prevention We are all agents of change and I am proud of our Community coming together…even if I don’t like some of the negative voices I hear from residents, I still keep an open mind. I often find myself trying to hear the message through the anger. Just my thoughts. Sorry if you had a bad experience and again I enjoyed your blog. Peace and Out! 🙂

  4. Hmmm: isn’t this what the Mormon’s require? supplies of food and water, blankets, etc. to provide some support if unemployed, emergency, etc? Why not employ the FEMA, etc. who did such a sterling job in New Orleans?

  5. I’ll likely be the only one, but I side with the antagonist in your story.

    What if every adult in your complex decided they needed an equally large, unsightly item in that courtyard, for equally reasonable purposes? A silo of sorghum? Industrial generator? Their own backup freezer? It’s likely that others are just too considerate to subject their neighbors to their own whims.

    I read similar attitudes to yours in CL apartment listings… “we are carefree and chill, must get along with our dog, but please don’t bring another” or “chill couple renting one room, no couples please”.

    Basically, it’s only not chaos out there because some of your neighbors have restrained themselves from piling up propane canisters. It seems fine to you, but only you are benefitting. You don’t live with Hunter S Thompson, it’s condos in SF. You shouldn’t expect to survive anything that would require that water.

    Don’t be that neighbor. Laissez faire only works when everyone is considerate.

    1. In this scenario I did the right thing by removing my unwanted objects. Right?

      My points here are:

      1) As an individual I want to be prepared for any future unpleasantness and I found a way to achieve that goal in a way that satisfied the HOA rules.

      2) The process of complying with the rules means that the entire building now has no Plan B in the event of an earthquake or other difficulties. There’s a trade off between order and vulnerability. As a society we deeply discount preparedness in favor of immediate tidiness.

      3) We had group cohesion for many years. Then a slight shift in the population of the building tipped the group into conflicting world views. I decided that the in-fighting was more destructive than whatever benefit the water tanks and freezer might have provided.

      1. Johnny, in hindsight, do you think it would have helped to make a decision with your friends when you purchased the building together, that anyone who is selling their condo, would only sell it to someone who has similar values about community, similar mindset about emergency preparedness/tidiness level? For example, if early on, if you all established a rule that each condo can use, say 50 sq. ft of space in common area for their personal furniture/ equipment. Then anyone who moved in there will be someone who know what they are getting into, thus preventing this unpleasant scenario? It seems like that in the first 10 years, you were living in a co-housing situation, and as the condos change hands, they are sold to folks who just want to buy a condo in S.F.
        (As someone who is interested in co-housing, pocket neighborhoods, and community building, these sort of dynamics–boundaries, setting, rules vs unspoken consensus– is of great interest to me)

        1. It’s more subtle than that. When we converted to condos we did legally designate specific parts of the common areas to individual private ownership like the separate storage units and car parking spaces. But there were the remaining areas that stayed common like the laundry room, back stairs, and patio. No one has ever sold or moved away. All the original people are still here. The shift in demographics and tension came when one of the original owners got married and the new partner demanded the changes. He’s a prison guard by profession and temperament. “The Rules.” As I said, both the live-and-let-live system and the command-and-control system work. The two just don’t mix. I responded by moving my earthquake supplies to neighbors so I still have everything I need nearby – as well as like minded people to share with. Problem solved. Mostly.

  6. I am.completley uninformed and unfamiliar with HOA procedures, but couldn’t you try to have the HOA vote to allow some of those items in common areas, perhaps transferring control of them to the HOA with stipulations for their shared use for owners? If you would be outvoted, then it would mean a majority of your neighbors don’t want them there, not just the one.

    The water barrels especially would be useful in an emergency, as you point out, and seem like they should be straightforward to govern their availability during an emergency. The other items maybe not so much.

    1. I’m confident that if the members of the HOA were officially gathered there would have been a three-to-one vote in favor of keeping the emergency water tanks and the freezer. I chose to remove the items instead because the stress of fighting was worse than the possible future unpleasantness of not having these things on hand. This decision was made easier by the fact that I had a good place to relocate them to with someone who actively wanted them.

  7. I grew up in New York City and lived in a co-operative apartment building like a good percentage of all New Yorkers. A co-op is a corporation of which each tenant owns shares which entitle them to live in a certain unit. It’s even more restricted than a condo. Instead of an HOA, there is a corporate board. There are plenty of horror stories, but I guess I internalized the various lessons as a child. The halls and public spaces are not yours. You have an easement to pass through, ideally without too much ruckus. On the plus side, the corporation owns the plumbing, so when something goes awry, you just call the super.

    This was back in the 1960s when a lot of people were worried about surviving a nuclear war. My father even volunteered for Civilian Defense. The building had a big party / meeting room that was called the rumpus room, and all through the worst of the Cold War we had barrels of water and crates of crackers and other rations stored down there. I seriously doubt they would have made much difference if there had been a nuclear war, but I understand the survivalist instinct.

    We had a branch of the family out in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake, the last big breakdown in SF. I got the impression that there were organized groups, government and otherwise, bringing in water and food for the relief. Apparently, this is when SF changed from a horse city to a car city. Cars and trucks don’t get spooked by fires and weird cracks in the ground. The big challenge to the family was rebuilding, not survival. Relatives on the east coast sent money to the relatives on the west coast, and a few years later the relatives on the west coast repaid them. Unfortunately, no one kept precise accounts of who sent what to whom. So, the east coast branch of the family bought a burial plot with the money, sort of a posthumous co-op.

    I can see how a few gallons of water might help during an emergency, but that’s not a plan for societal collapse. It would have to be a whopper of a collapse to disable all relief efforts, but short lived if a few hundred gallons of water were going to make a difference. What exactly are you expecting?

    1. The problem with the HOA is that we had one set of arrangements that worked perfectly well for many years. Then things shifted and we moved in a different direction with a lot of conflicting personalities. Each system works well enough, but as I said, the two don’t mix.

      I’m not preparing for nuclear war or a Hollywood style mega disaster.

      First, I plan for ordinary difficulties like unemployment when money is tight. Most people experience this sort of problem at some point in life. I know I have. Having plenty of good food in the freezer means I can continue to eat well for a year until things improve. A full belly goes a long way to make you feel better when other things are going wrong.

      The earthquake that worries me the most isn’t the one that kills me instantly and leaves the entire city a smoldering ruin. That’s not the most likely scenario. Instead, there could be an earthquake or some other event a hundred miles away that doesn’t affect us here at all, but it clips the water supply coming in from Yosemite. Same with natural gas pipelines and a lot of other critical systems. We could be without running water for weeks or months before the infrastructure is patched. I don’t want to be standing in line holding my empty jugs with a thousand other people waiting for the FEMA tanker truck to arrive. Five or six hundred gallons of water and a high quality filter will go a long way to make life better under those circumstances.

      The shelf stable foods I keep on hand are also there for multiple scenarios. Since this is stuff I use on a daily basis anyway I don’t see the downside of buying extra and keeping a reserve. And having home canned foods like chicken soup and beef stew on the shelves is convenient for everyday meals and just happen to be perfect for emergencies.

      All of this is part of a larger set of lifestyle choices that make me better able to ride out the smaller, but far more likely events that may come along. I don’t see any downside to any of it, yet I can see the trouble that could arise from not taking these basic precautions.

      1. Katrina *cough cough* This is very smart and I applaud your efforts. We do the same here just not on top of one another. I also depend on our freezers WAY too much, need to can more, esp protein.

  8. I am really sorry to see this, Johnny. Many times I have trotted out earlier pictures you posted of your prepper backyard oasis to show friends and family how one can be both prepared and whimsical. I can also tell you from experience with similar relatives that being wound tight is a personal hell from which there is no escape. The wound-tight neighbor will find something else to obsess over. My mother once lived in such a building, only it was three old ladies who saw her as the upstart newcomer who had bought out their aged friend when she moved to a nursing home. They gave my mother hell over her cat, who liked to walk out on the common balcony. Eventually my mother received permission to hire a carpenter to construct a decorative screen that separated her end of the balcony from the others’. As a Christian, my mother became alarmed at the way hate was building in her heart toward one neighbor in particular. Commanded to love her neighbor, she began buying small gifts of food and the like and leaving them in secret at the neighbor’s doorstep. This eased the tension considerably for my mother at least.

    1. This most recent experience with the HOA actually helped me let go of a lot of long festering feelings. Once I realized the situation was never going to be resolved since none of the personalities were so inclined to accommodate each other something snapped in me and I finally relaxed. I only worry about things I can fix. This just wasn’t going to be one of them. My earthquake preps and freezer are now in a better location with someone who’s actively on board with the concept. The HOA battles here in my building no longer include me so the conflicts are between others – and I don’t have to participate anymore. My attitude has shifted. I love my apartment and neighborhood. I realize I’m incredibly lucky to live in a ridiculously expensive city at a rock bottom price. The building itself has simply stopped being important to me. I’ve let go.

      1. That’s a great outlook. To be commended. It also came through in your post, very zen instead of fighting against it.

        Also I really love your photography throughout your blog. What kind of camera do you use?

  9. We moved to Florida for the lovely weather after I retired in 2010. We rented until 2014 and sold a condo back in the Midwest and bought a Golf villa in a resort across from the beach. The HOA goes up every year and their additional Phase 3 is even higher and the sad thing is the grounds, gold course, pools look great, our villa are falling apart. It passed all inspections. I hate HOA and will try my best to find some place without an HOA. Our affair didn’t last long. So much for trying to get along. Lol

  10. We moved to Vegas two years ago from Silicon Valley and bought a house in a tiny HOA, only 20 homes, even though my wife had a horrendous experience with one when she lived in a condo in Santa Monica.

    Happily, our HOA doesn’t care what backyards look like because of tall walls and fences. Plus, there are no common areas. The only common property is the gate.

    There was a vacancy on the board so I’m on it now, to prevent mischief. So far, there is none or even the slightest threat of it. Meetings are three people, friendly, take 45 minutes, and other homeowners never come.

    So far so good, fingers crossed.

    There was a horrific story here in Vegas recently. Predatory developer got people on boards of huge HOAs to vote for remedial construction. There were bribes and kickbacks. Several went to prison, at least one killed herself. One HOA that had a reserve of $5 million was left penniless…

    1. People strive for their view of perfection by creating more and more rules and regulations. And of course to maintain their authority to control others. It’s a natural part of the human condition. Either we give in to it, resist it, or flee from it.

  11. I’m very sorry to hear this. Building community is hard; when people don’t share the same values, it’s truly daunting. You are a great community builder, Johnny, a skill set not many have. A step backwards doesn’t negate all the steps forward you’ve made.

    You never know, it’s possible this person may disappear sooner rather than later. People who wrap their stairs in plastic don’t tend to find San Francisco amenable for very long.

  12. I live in a neighborhood of 94 homes on wooded acreage about 50 miles south of D.C. in Virginia off of I-95. I’ve been here since 1998, but had put off doing my HOA Board duty until I retired at the end of 2011. I joined the Board in 2012 with the notion of getting my 3-year term over and done with; unfortunately I ended up being president for all three of my years, and doubled as treasurer for a year when no one else volunteered. I can attest that the issues dividing neighbors are legion, and won’t go into details here except to say: Johnny, you have my sympathy.

  13. Let me get this straight. You and your friends OWNED an apartment building and you converted it so that you could not control who your tenants ( now neighbors) are? Not being real estate savvy I assume there were sound reasons . But to give up control of your life in a city known for eccentricities is something I would try to avoid at nearly any cost.

    1. You’re assuming that we had a choice about the condo conversion. We really didn’t. A non-conforming five unit building wouldn’t qualify for a conventional mortgage. Full stop. We went with an eight year commercial loan at a relatively high interest rate while we were all collectively on the hook for a single group payment each month. As in… if one or more of us didn’t make our share of the loan for any reason the rest of the group had to absorb the additional cost. This never happened, but in the theoretical event of unemployment, illness, or death we were all self-insuring the whole enchilada. Converting to condos and refinancing to individual ownership and segregated mortgages provided financial fire walls between each unit. By the way, it took eleven years to work our way through the endless multiple bureaucracies of the condo conversion process which meant we needed to refinance our first commercial loan into a new commercial loan while we waited on various regulatory agencies. Now that we’re all set with our individual mortgages we have the HOA to deal with. Pick your poison.

  14. Marxs and alienation, and all the other miss spent time reading this crap. Now, what do all these geniuses expect me to do? Adapt? I was lead to believe everything I read was science fiction. Wait till I get ahold of my librarian.

  15. If you and some friends own the building, couldn’t you have changed the condo board rules to permit reasonable personal items in the common area, or subject them to a majority vote or something? Seems weird that one control freak should be able to ruin the building owners’ ability to enjoy their property. Or is this a neighborhood-wide HOA, and and not building-wide condo board? Usually condo boards are building-wide, so maybe you could convert to that structure?

    1. There are things that are theoretically possible – like changing the written rules and procedures of an HOA. And then there’s the reality of that process. I looked at my options and decided to do the fast, easy, simple thing rather than the long, painful, hideous thing. Call me crazy.

  16. If you and some friends own the building, couldn’t you have changed the condo board rules to permit reasonable personal items in the common area, or subject them to a majority vote or something? Seems weird that one control freak should be able to ruin the building owners’ ability to enjoy their property. Or is this a neighborhood-wide HOA, and and not building-wide condo board? Usually condo boards are building-wide, so maybe you could convert to that structure?

  17. That is a disheartening story Johnny. I’ve had to intimate to a number of friends, who do nearly nothing to address the minimum FEMA guide lines for a few day emergency, my family comes first. When the crisis is over we’ll share, but not before. We don’t qualify (not hardly) as “prepers” but with a lot of attention we could get by on what we have. In fact, it would be just like when we were growing up.

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