photo credit: Orrin

In an effort to improve “community standards” and increase property value, it has become popular in recent decades for real estate developers to form housing associations—pseudo-governmental governing bodies that enforce certain policies and standards upon the whole community. As HOAs have proliferated, property rights have all but vanished.

It is important to understand at the outset that a person does not have a certain right if he cannot make use of it, or can only use it in limited fashion. The right to bear arms, for example, becomes nearly meaningless if it is encumbered with rules and regulations that determine how, where, when, and why you may bear arms. When the burden of limitations upon the so-called right delve into frivolous minutia—once only the envy of micro-managing bureaucrats—then that right has degraded into a privilege extended by the individuals who govern you.

However, rights are often subject to the security and well-being of the community. Just as it’s not right to use free speech to induce fear or catastrophe (say, by yelling “fire!” in a crowded setting), or use your freedom of assembly to assemble in the girls’ locker room, so too are property rights subject in certain cases to realistic and acceptable laws put in place to protect your neighbors.

Such limitations on natural rights, though, are few in number and generally understood to be necessary. In contrast, some of the measures found in the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) of most HOAs are downright draconian. Telling property owners what color paint they must use (specifying exact shades, no less), how high their trees and playgrounds may extend, which flags or signs they may display in their yard, and which vehicles they may park in the driveway are not the types of regulations established in an environment where liberty may flourish.

Indeed, the very existence of such rules implies a drive towards uniformity—a hallmark of communistic flights of fancy. In a proclaimed effort to establish a community of ideal and improved standards, the HOA works by suppressing the varying manifestations of property rights they deem injurious to the desired standard of living. What’s worse is that these pseudo-governmental agencies are free from many Constitutional restrictions their municipal counterparts are subjected to, and are a far cry from providing a fair, representative system to oversee the administration.

In many HOAs, the board is comprised of elected volunteers; in communities still in their infancy, the developer usually has full control of a paid staff (the salary and benefits our HOA employees give themselves amount to 46.5% of their overall revenue), leaving the residents without any say in the ever-shifting policies. To such property czars, the concept of property rights and individuality are a foreign concept deemed dangerous and easily dismissed. Instead, their totalitarian drive for uniformity and perfection makes them a natural enemy of individual property rights.

This is no small matter—an estimated one-sixth of all Americans are subjected to such contrivances. To the extent that HOAs are allowed to impose such stringent rules, property rights will continue to fade into the annals of history.

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