The HOA Outlaw

July Men's Room column

Julymensroom Main

When owning a property in a Community Association, you have a responsibility of maintaining harmony within the community.”

So began the “courtesy notice” I got from my homeowners association. I’d committed two “non-compliant issues,” capital offenses in HOA land. The letter had a ten-digit “reference number,” like a criminal indictment.

“It is the duty of the Association, as outlined in your community’s governing documents,” the letter continued, “to enforce the use restrictions and applicable rules and regulations that have been put in place for your Community.”

HOAs get lots of criticism, much of it deserved. Somewhere right now, a rigid board of directors and a defiant homeowner are locked in an endless battle over a swing set painted orange, or whether an iguana counts as a service animal, or some fan’s pitiful mission to fly a New York Jets flag from the porch.

My HOA isn’t that bad. They run a clean operation. Their annual meetings are boring and uneventful. They put up bunting on the Fourth of July and plant pansies in the winter. But they send a clear message: There’s a rule for everything, and everybody must comply with every rule every minute.

Each time a different HOA president takes office, it’s like a new sheriff comes to town. In my community, it’s usually some geezer who dreamed of a career in law enforcement but wound up in engineering or chemical manufacturing. Now he’s retired, and he’s our problem. He hooks his thumbs into his khakis, climbs into his Lexus, and heads out at 15 mph to lay down the HOA law – spotting crabgrass, rusty barbecue grills, bird droppings on mailboxes, and the unauthorized operation of golf carts in authorized rights of way.

Trash can visible from the street? Non-compliance. Mildew on a windowsill? Non-compliance. Dog hasn’t been washed in a month? And no pedigree? Big-time non-compliance.

I got busted for weed (“Please clean up flower beds”) and for a missing house number I took down to replace the outdated original. Never mind that I don’t have flowers, or that the full house number is painted in glowing white on each side of my bird-dropping-free mailbox.

I wanted to tell that snooping board in non-compliant language where they could stick their governing documents. However, that would only earn me closer scrutiny by the Nitpick Patrol. In no time, they’d cite me for eating store-brand cereal, forgetting to floss last Thursday, and washing darks with lights.

Besides, I couldn’t ignore the shameful truth: I had not maintained harmony within the community, and at high noon the board had drawn its citation pad to duly enforce the use restrictions and applicable rules and regulations. If I didn’t clean up my act (and my flower beds), my next stop might be HOA jail, where I’d face hard time raking out the sand traps on the 12th fairway. My mugshot would appear on the community website as HOA Outlaw of the Month.

Sometimes we have to play by the rules, even the ones put in place just so somebody can enforce them. So, I weeded. I put up new house numbers. I pledged to walk the straight and narrow for the sake of my soul, the good of my community, and, most important, the approval of the HOA.

Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.

To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to

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Categories: Culture