There is a battle that goes quietly with no fanfare and is being ignored among leaders in our country. This battle is the existence of Home Owners Associations (HOA) and covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&R). The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) needs to listen up because this affects all ham radio operators. If you are a ham radio operator, there are no other words in the English language that bring more fear. These institutions are rapidly taking away the freedoms of ordinary Americans faster than Congress. Those that live in older neighborhoods may not even know about these organizations and rules that are robbing Americans of the right to do as they wish with their own property.
These CC&R’s are rules that a property owner submits to the local county clerk that apply to that property that must be adhered to by any person that may purchase the land in the future. The CC&R’s usually authorize and even mandated the formation of a Home Owners Association. An HOA is an organization where the citizens of the neighborhood run for offices and form a board. This HOA contains many committees such as an architectural control committee that oversee any improvements you may wish to do with your (cough cough) property. They have veto power and have the authority to object to you improving your own (cough cough) property. These CC&R’s were originally intended to protect the investment of developers until they can sell all the properties in a neighborhood. As long as the developer owns one property in the neighborhood, they contain unilateral power to create, change and enforce any rules they see fit. They even have the power to change the rules after you move in. Once the developer sells all the properties in the neighborhood they usually turn the HOA over to the citizens.
These rules were originally benign and were just intended to keep the property in good condition. The intentions were positive and were not to be feared but welcomed. Unfortunately the scary secret is that these rules NEVER expire! You heard me right…If you buy a piece of property, that has these CC&R’s attached to them, they are in force for thousands of years. The home that you just spend hundreds of thousands of dollars really does not belong to you after all. Not only does the city, county, state, and federal laws apply to your (cough cough) property but so do these CC&R’s. These CC&R’s are even more enforceable than the local laws because if you are ever involved in legal action, the judge will say that you agreed to these rules when you bought the property.
There are no limits to what these rules can entail. If your neighbors suddenly have an ‘axe to grind’ so to speak, they can band together and change the rules on whatever you are doing making it illegal. If enough of them agree to accepting a rule, then you are bound to them. Your only saving grace is if your local laws allow you to fall under a ‘grandfather clause’. These HOA’s have authority to impose liens against your property that you are responsible for. These liens can be foreclosed upon resulting you you losing your (cough cough) home. If you do not comply with these rules, you can have fines placed upon your (cough cough) property that you must pay or lose the home. These rules usually tell you what can be done to your (cough cough) property such as the color of the paint, types of fences, antennas, grass, landscaping. They even tell you that you are not allowed to park a boat, or any other vehicle in the driveway.
The intention is supposed to help maintain the property values of all the properties in the neighborhood. Unfortunately this property value is not a Constitutional right. Personal freedoms are. When a person purchases these properties, they are giving up their freedoms that are NEVER returned. In some cases this is done voluntarily and in some cases it is done without their knowledge. For example… My wife and I recently picked out a neighborhood in Southwest Oklahoma City where the developer would build our new home. During all the paper shuffling we were given a piece of paper that was titled “The Top 10”. This listed ten items that were the biggest violations by home owners in that neighborhood. It asked us to sign and agree that we would not do these ten offenses. These offenses ranged from parking a car in the street to not keeping up the lawn. The one thing that was missing from all these papers were the full list of CC&R’s. I eventually found and printed them from a web site. It took 40 pages to print and I was shocked to find what I was agreeing to. I read these 40 pages about ten times and with each re-read I would find another rule that was unacceptable to me. Chief among them was a statement that gives the developer unilateral authority to change the rules at any time for any reason. In other words, if the rules were acceptable to the buyer when they moved in, they could be changed afterward.
The point in this last paragraph is that I was never shown the 40 pages and if I had not been so suspicious by nature, I would have never known of their existence until after I moved in. I wrote a three page letter to the developer requesting to back out of the purchase and thankfully they were generous enough to return our earnest money. They could have refused to return it because I was not disapproved for the purchase. Even if they had not returned the earnest money, I would have gladly forfeited it simply because my freedom is more important than the couple thousand dollars in earnest money.
Where I have a serious problem with the existence of these CC&R’s and Home Owners Associations is that virtually EVERY new neighborhood being built today has them. If you buy a new home in any city in America you are going to have them whether you realize it or not. Advocates of HOA’s will argue that a person makes that choice to move into one of these covenant restricted neighborhoods and so they can choose to move somewhere else if they are not acceptable. As I said before, these covenants are binding FOREVER! Eventually these new homes are not new anymore but the CC&R’s are still there. Currently the only choice you have to avoid them is to move to the country or buy an older home. Eventually there will be no more homes available that do not have HOA’s. There is only so much country available within driving distance to work. My point in all this is that we are losing that choice that HOA advocates say that we have. Ham radio operators are enemies to HOA’s. Most HOA’s will not allow antennas of any kind to be installed where they can be seen from the street. In some cases, they go so far as to forbid antenna installations even if they cannot be seen.
The developers have lobbyists in Congress that go to bat for them and allow these rules to persist. They argue that if they do not have the rules in place that a developer may not be able to sell their properties if someone in the neighborhood paints their house purple. My answer to that is “TOO BAD”. There is no Constitutional right to have property values. There is no Constitutional right to impose unreasonable restrictions on your neighbors just so you can keep a certain level of property values. I have heard people argue that if you do not like the rules then move. I say that in addition to the personal freedoms trumping property values, they need to move if they do not like my car up on blocks in the driveway. Somehow in all this debating, people seem to get mixed up and accept the premise that property values are a right. That premise is wrong on all levels. Property values are not a right and are a normal risk that anyone takes when they purchase property. Personal freedom is a right that must be protected.
These CC&R’s and HOA’s are bad in their very existence simply because of what they stand for. They will argue that they are there to protect a person’s investment but by doing this, they are removing the rights of their neighbors. I would submit to you that freedom and rights to be free are FAR MORE IMPORTANT than some fictitious property values. What these HOA advocates will not admit is that they make these restrictions so that they can keep out those that they see as being unworthy. This usually is defined by a person’s socioeconomic status. They do not want someone that may be working on their car in the driveway. It does not matter that the person cannot afford a better car or to hire someone to fix the car. They are passing judgment on those people and saying “I don’t want them in my neighborhood.”
The ARRL claims to be the largest lobby in Congress to advocate for the rights of amateur radio operators. The problem is that every time the ARRL comes knocking on the door for donations, they always tout what they are doing to protect us from such as broadband over power lines (BPL) while ignoring the biggest threat of all. HOA’s are the biggest threat to ham radio that exists today. It is not the FCC’s testing rules, or the cost of radio gear. It is the rights and freedoms of law abiding citizens being taken and preventing them from being able to operate their radios because an over zealous HOA has their thumb upon them. If the ARRL wants to save ham radio, they need to make this argument to Congress and make CC&R’s illegal. We know this will never happen but it is the only way ham radio will stand a chance at long term survival.
For those of us that are lucky enough to find a piece of property that does not contain these power grabbing rules, then savor them. Our children will not be so fortunate because there are only so many farms available. We managed to find an older neighborhood that was destroyed by a tornado. All the homes are brand new but the neighborhood rules were in place since the 1970’s. This is how we managed to get around the rules. Unfortunately, this is not available to everyone and as time goes by there will be fewer and fewer homes available without these oppressive rules. I say to the ARRL, that if you want a worthy fight, then go fight this one and you will have amateur radio operators joining you in droves. They will gladly pay the dues for membership. I know I would.