2005-10-01

Countywide homeowners association

Homeowners' or neighborhood associations often impose sets of rules on households that are rather extensive, invasive, and restrictive. The rules don't simply ''preserve'' property values since various and conflicting standards actually determine those values. The rules instead specify neighborhood standards to establish a cohesive culture and uniform designs, and some of the rules involved are idiosyncratic. Both aesthetics and nuisances are regulated by a central plan. Deed restrictions alone may accomplish some planning, but with an enforcement entity -- a homeowners' association -- they are more effective.

Homeowners' associations have fostered islands of greater regulation and planning among the variety of neighborhoods that exist in population centers. Residents can exercise their free choice to live where they wish, seeking or avoiding such regulation to match their own taste. Athens-Clarke County, however, has increasingly expanded its municipal regulations of residential properties to the point of restricting the free lifestyle choices that are traditionally available in a population center. The county government here has intruded into household privacy to the extent that we usually only allow a private association to do with our prior permission and free choice. Strict regulation and idiosyncratic rules should not be imposed across a range of people with different lifestyles and economic backgrounds by officials that do not even share their ZIP codes.

Let me get to the point: Athens-Clarke County has become more strict in the realm of enforcement than even homeowners' associations. Associations are now the oases of relaxed regulation in terms of enforcement. It is really confusing! Sure, associations are more invasive as far as landscaping and mailbox color, but one would much rather get in trouble with an association than the county's Department of Building Permits and Inspections. To illustrate this point, let's compare enforcement by a sample association in Athens with that of the county government.

First rule violation
Assn.: written warning
County: $50 fine

Second rule violation
Assn.: $25 fine
County: fine of $50 or more

Failure to pay fine
Assn.: property lien
County: criminal proceedings
possible jail time or $1000 fine

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