Privatizing Tyranny:  Homeowner's Associations on the Loose


Former Marine George Andres was devastated after the tragedy that occurred in New York on September 11th, 2001, and like most Americans wanted to show his patriotism by hanging a flag in the front yard of his Florida home.  He was ordered to take it down because the laws that governed where he lived said the flag must be hung from a pole that was attached to the house.  George’s was not. This man lives in America and was ordered to remove the most patriotic symbol this country has in the wake of probably its greatest tragedy.  It is protected Free Speech when someone burns the American Flag, yet this man was granted no Free Speech rights for simply flying the flag on a unattached pole.  George has continued his fight with support from Gov. Bush, who gave him a check for $100 to help the $30,000 in fine he has incurred for leaving his flag up.  The regulations that offered Mr. Andres no free speech rights were those of a Home Owner’s Association (HOA). 

An HOA (also referred to as Common Interest Developments) is an association that governs the by-laws of a specific community.  These by-laws are referred to a Codes, Covenants, and Restrictions and are generally found in newer residential developments for a few reasons.  For one, they are able to make it a requirement to move in to some alluring new development, and because they are a fairly recent mode of governing communities. 

In his book Privatopia, Evan McKenzie explains that these new private governments would provide a profound shift in American politics, besides the constitutional questions it causes.  Lobbyist Robyn Boyer Stewart is working to organize this new constituency she believes “will dwarf such legislative powerhouses as the public employee unions and trial lawyer organizations.”(McKenzie 194)  One issue she believes will unite this constituency is the idea of double taxation.  Residents in a HOA pay dues to provide for some of the same services that the municipal taxes they pay are for.  Stewart sees this as a uniting force and one politician foresees it as a problem noting, “I predicted… that the day would come when people would refuse to pay taxes because the are already paying for these services through their homeowners’ association.”(193) The problem McKenzie sees with this is that residents in these Common Interest Developments would be able to enjoy the benefits of public services, but those who still live in the public sector would not be able to enjoy the services provided by these private sectors.

    This new method of private government began spreading in the early 1970’s as cities and municipalities began to face serious budget crisis.  These privatized communities eased some of the financial burdens of municipal governments as Federal aid was slowed to a trickle.  Now HOA’s are on the rise, especially in south Phoenix.  South Phoenix is home to a number of new developments including Mountainside a community from KB Homes and a Great Western homes development and both require membership in a HOA.. Even the new Habitat for Humanity community has a homeowner’s association.  This does not leave much room for homeowner creativity in landscape, house color and so on.  In south Phoenix there a lot of very unique houses, like the Coke house below, that are not allowed in a HOA community.


If one has a choice to sign a covenant this means they have a choice, right?  Not necessarily. If all these new communities require membership in a HOA, maybe we will not have a real choice after all.  Or maybe we can just follow Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s advice and “Put aside our differences and our obsession with rules and regulations and use common sense to make decisions.”(Miami Herald 6/15/02)


Kurt DeRuyter

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