Category Archives: Zoning and Land-Use

Find Out What Happens When HOAs Stop Being Polite — And Start Getting Real

Homeowner associations [HOAs] are a bit of a prickly issue for libertarians. On one hand, they are voluntary, so you don’t have to choose to move into an area that has one. On the other hand, they are common enough (and arbitrarily nasty enough in many situations) that it is a significant limit to purchasing decisions to avoid them. Further, choosing a home with an HOA does not necessarily mean that the HOA you move into will resemble itself 5 or 10 years down the road — it may be much more restrictive. Much like local control of politics and federalism, choice is better than non-choice, but at the same time when a libertarian sees an organization that infringes upon property rights, the libertarian bristles.

Occasionally, though, an HOA does something worthy of genuine outrage. Especially when they do so in a callous and inhuman manner, which is the case here:

Kimberly, a 6-year-old in the custody of her grandparents, is facing eviction by local law enforcement because her grandparents live in a retirement community. The child has lived in the house her whole life, as her mother is unable to care for her due to unspecified drug problems. Now authorities plan to remove the girl from the only home she’s ever known and place her in foster care with strangers due to a homeowners association policy.

Kimberly’s grandparents, Jimmy and Judie Stottler, have been unable to sell their home and move elsewhere due to the housing market crash. The Stottlers have even lowered the price from $225,000 to $129,000, willing to get completely hosed on the move just to keep their family intact, but no one is buying. The battle has been going on for several years, the better portion of Kimberly’s life, but the Stottlers are of limited resources to fight the situation.

That’s bad. But this quote (from the HOA president) is the truly callous part:

“No, the sheriff will. I will merely be the President of the Board who is trying to enforce the policies of our association that she agreed to when she moved in.”

Yes, you’re not the one throwing a six-year-old girl out of the only home she’s ever known, and the care of two loving “parents” who never expected a child to be thrust upon them to be raised because her biological parent had abdicated all responsibility. You’re not responsible, it’s all the sheriff — who just happens to be acting on the orders you gave him. What’s the life of a small child worth? Obviously not as much as your rules.

I’ve never understood how the acquisition of a little bit of power can seemingly remove someone’s sense of humanity. Maybe this douchebag never had it to begin with?

Common Ground for the Left and the Right on the Bill of Rights

Petty Meddlers Face Jackboot

Homeowners’ Associations are one of life’s little sour tastes of government. Petty meddling nannies who tell you that you can’t do X, or that you must do Y, in order to keep the neighborhood “uniform” or somesuch. Sadly, it’s also a microcosm for most peoples’ reactions to government. When it’s a neighbor doing something they don’t like, they scour the by-laws for a way to run off to the HOA board of directors to get a nice little note sent to the neighbor. But when it’s their own behavior scrutinized, they think the HOA board of directors is an intolerable PITA.

So you can imagine I’m not a big fan of HOA’s, and there’s a little bit of schadenfreude in watching them get their hands slapped… But I still can’t support this (via Ezra Klein — hence calling this “good” — on Waxman-Markey):

Lots of small tweaks were added in the past day or two. And some of them were good! Rep. Dennis Cardoza, for instance, added a smart amendment to discourage neighborhood associations from prohibiting solar panels of aesthetic grounds.

So, they can tell you not to paint your door green, but they can’t stop you from filling your roof with a solar array the size of a tennis court.

I have a coworker facing this issue right now. He lives in Newport Beach, CA, and his HOA has some waterfront homes. One of his neighbors with oceanfront (cliff, not sand) is planning to put solar panels down the face of the cliff to electrically heat his pool. This, of course, is California. There are environmental laws, and the HOA doesn’t want to see this happen either. But being California, they ALREADY have laws that stop the HOA or anyone else (including the Greens) from interfering, because solar energy takes precedence. Now it sounds like this will extend nationwide.

This is one of those issues that gets thorny for libertarians. It comes down to property rights, but the question of what legitimate hindrances can be placed on the owners by HOA’s. After all, an HOA is a contract that a buyer of a house willingly enters into. But it doesn’t seem to me like an issue in which Congress has any right to intervene.

As a renter who is waiting for the complete collapse of the market before I buy a home, I know that I may be faced with a tough decision regarding my purchase based upon whether or not I’ll choose a neighborhood with an HOA, and whether the existence of an HOA is enough to dissuade me from the house we otherwise find desirable. But I know what I don’t want, and that is for Congress to be the one telling my HOA what it can or cannot do.

The District of Corruption Owns Your Driveway

In Washington, DC aka the District of Corruption, the friendly local meter maids are now issuing parking tickets, on your driveway.

Beverly Anderson is mad as hell. She just started to get tickets for parking in her own driveway.

That’s right. The District of Columbia is ticketing people who park their cars in their own driveways.

“This is clearly an attempt by the city to extort money out of property owners,” Anderson tells WTOP.

Anderson has received two of the $20 tickets in the past month. Anderson has owned the Capitol Hill house (and the driveway, so she thought) for more than ten years and has never gotten a ticket. And she’s not alone.

Well, you’re probably thinking that DC’s Department of Public Works have raided Marion Berry’s crack stash. However, there is strangely enough, a legal justification behind this obvious money grab by the District of Corruption:

“Any area between the property line and the building restriction line shall be considered as private property set aside and treated as public space under the care and maintenance of the property owner.”

Basically what that means is most property owners in the District don’t own the land between their front door and the sidewalk, but they are responsible for taking care of it. It’s why you can get a ticket for drinking beer on your front porch in the Nation’s Capital. You’re technically on public space. It’s also why the city can ticket you for parking in your own driveway if you don’t pull your car deep enough into the driveway beyond the façade of your house or building.

Apparently, in DC, you just own the building and land directly under it. You merely maintain District property outside of your front door. How nice of them.

Perhaps every property owner should sue the District of Corruption and the Federal Government for fraud because they thought they were buying the house and the entire lot. Instead, they’re taking everything between the front door and the sidewalk. Any DC residents up for that lawsuit?

h/t: Hit and Run

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Frustrated Property Owner Sends A Giant “Screw You” To All Of Alexandria, Virginia

Anyone who has dealt with the pettiness that often finds itself residing in zoning boards is likely to understand this one completely:

To many in Old Town Alexandria, the sex shop that opened recently on King Street is nothing short of scandalous, a historical desecration just blocks from the boyhood home of Robert E. Lee.

But to Michael Zarlenga, it’s justice.

Zarlenga spent $350,000 on plans to expand his hunting and fishing store, the Trophy Room. He worked with city officials for almost two years and thought he had their support — until the architectural review board told him he couldn’t alter the historic property.

Furious and out of money, Zarlenga rented the space to its newest occupant, Le Tache, which is French for “the spot.”

“I can’t say I didn’t know it would ruffle feathers,” said Zarlenga, 41. “Actually, I was hoping for a fast-food chain because I thought that would be more annoying to the city.”

As you can imagine, this has ruffled the feathers of quite a few people in Alexandria and has even sent the local prosecutor on a pornography hunt in an effort to find some way to shut the business down.

Considering the way they treated Zarlenga, though, it’s pretty clear that the City of Alexandria has nobody to blame but itself:

Zarlenga’s saga with the building dates to 2001, when he opened his hunting and fishing store. In 2006, he bought the building with the idea of renovating and expanding it to include more retail space, a bathroom and an elevator.

He hired a Washington architectural firm, which created eight designs for the project. The final one included plans to raise the roof on the back of the building and demolish a small section of a historic brick wall that was built about 1800. Most of the back wall would have been incorporated into the renovation.

Zarlenga said he consulted Alexandria’s historical preservation staff along the way to be sure everyone was on board with his plans. He said he relied heavily on the advice of Peter Smith, who at the time was the principal staff member of the city’s Board of Architectural Review.

(…)

Zarlenga said he felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under him. He appealed to the City Council but lost in September 2007. Council members suggested he go back to the staff of the architectural review board and submit new plans.

For Zarlenga, it was the final straw. He choked back tears as he told the council he was finished: “I have no faith in the staff. . . . They have completely taken the integrity, as I see it, out of the system. . . . The simple fact is there’s no money left, okay?”

And so, he rented the space out to a business sure to ruffle feathers and piss people off, and he’s not done yet:

[T]here’s another piece of Zarlenga real estate that might start causing buzz. He owns a shuttered, dilapidated building several blocks away at Princess and Royal streets. Some of the broken windows have been patched with duct tape.

“As far as I’m concerned, that corner will always be an eyesore,” Zarlenga said. “That’s a little slice of revenge.”

As far as I see it, they have nobody to blame but themselves.

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