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September 8, 2005

Homeowners association mans barricades against Katrina refugees

(Er, excuse me, I mean "evacuees". I meant no disrespect.)

Ocala, Florida:
Tammy Coggins returned to her Majestic Oaks home after a weekend in Atlanta and found the welcome mat pulled out from under her good intentions.

While communities throughout the Sunshine State and elsewhere are welcoming Hurricane Katrina's storm-weary survivors, Coggins and others in the 500-home southwest Ocala subdivision were told by their homeowners association that their deed restrictions prohibited them from doing the same.


Across the nation, tens of thousands have offered their homes as temporary shelter for those displaced by Katrina. Placement is made via Internet registries such as HurricaneHousing.org, HomeFlood.org and Craig's List where everything from a spare sofa to luxury condominiums are available to victims, often free or for a nominal charge.

The notice was sent after the board learned that a homeowner planned to shelter three families evacuated from New Orleans. Vice President Audrey Andrews said the board's action was "blown out of proportion" and that she apologized only for it gaining news media attention.

"I think our intent was correct," she said. "It's a neighborhood problem (but) it got out . . . If a letter of apology will help, fine."

Andrews said the board was merely enforcing restrictions approved by homeowners as recently as last year.
The homeowners association (H.A.) was letter-perfect in its enforcement of association rules, but stone cold-hearted in the extreme at the same time. The least they could have done was to take a quick vote from its members about a temporary relaxing of the restrictions. Judging from the reaction by subdivision residents, it looks like the votes would have been there.

Has there ever been an instance where an H.A. hasn't gotten too big for its britches and become much more heavyhanded than its founding members ever intended?

The neighborhood where I live has deed restrictions, but no H.A. Enforcement comes through the threat of civil action against a violator, so in general several homeowners must pool their resources to hire a lawyer—a voluntary association created for a specific purpose, and disbanding afterward with no further financial obligation. About three years ago nine of the fourteen households on our street banded together to threaten legal action against two of the other homeowners, who were renting out their houses to multiple unrelated people (college students, BTW). Apart from being a deed restriction violation, such a use of these houses would have seriously affected the value of the houses that weren't violating the restrictions. So, the nine households pitched in equal shares of the legal fees (about $600 per household), and we persuaded the two violators to stop their illegal use of the property.

After it was all over, our lawyer offhandedly suggested that we could more easily prevent such occurrences in the future if we formed an H.A. I said that an H.A. was a cure that was worse than the problem, and happily, most of my neighbors agreed. We all returned to our homes and our lives, and that was that.

So (as Tim tries to get back to the original topic of the post), don't get me started on homeowners associations and their beancounting, fascist boards.

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