Monday, November 27, 2006
[HOAs run wild: First in a series about reigning in common-interest-community rules]
In the latest example of homeowners associations run amuck, an HOA in Pagosa Springs, Col., has ordered a resident to take down a Christmas wreath in the shape of a peace sign. The private government contends that it violates the association's no-sign rule. Some residents have complained that the peace sign expresses a political message and is offensive to those with relatives serving in the military.
Rules of HOAs fulfill a useful role by serving as private regulation of anti-social activity that does not quite rise to the level of a nuisance under public tort law. Ten barking dogs, piles of garbage in the front yard, and a 50-foot statue of Elvis over the house: these are the kinds of annoyances that HOA rules are properly aimed at. They are especially welcome in our society of individualists, for whom respect for others' feelings and interests is a low priority.
But homeowners associations have run wild, and are imposing upon Americans an unnecessary uniformity of action, and sometimes of thought. It is truly cockeyed when a nonverbal symbol such as a Christmas wreath is impermissible solely because it expresses a THOUGHT, such as "peace." Although the First Amendment does not apply to private HOAs, of course, state law should ensure that residents (who often have no choice, in a nation in which about half of all new housing units come with substantive covenants) do not have to give up their free speech rights at home. Which kinds of actions and speech should state law protect? I'll leave this to later blog posts. But the peace wreath is a good place to start …