HOA imposed suburban monotony—should we let their rules define us as a society?
This is a good one, in fact excellent; it has all the makings of a real live television soap opera, minus the sex: there’s toxic material, angry accusations, opposition, denial, rejection, and battery. We’ve all had issues with our HOAs, it’s a fact, but the question that I’d like you to bear in mind as you read about my recent interactions with Terra West, is whether petty rules and regulations that we’re forced to adherer to by HOAs have come to define us as a society? Not the usual type of material that I choose to write about on this blog, but I think that it’s a subject matter that many of you will empathize with and also agree that it can easily cause a wrinkle or two.
If you have ever had the pleasure of speaking with an HOA representative, then you know that it is one of those futile exercises in communication. One could argue that it is the customary power trip and petty politics that make it absolutely impossible to get your point across, whether speaking to a secretary or the upper echelons of the organization. At least this has been my experience with Terra West, and to date the CEO, Ms. Katherine Matheson has neglected to get back to me after I had directed my complaint to her.
This is how my recent exchange unfolded: My mother received yet another violation for dog feces outside her home in the Tapestry Development in Northwest Las Vegas. This is something that has become routine for her, even though her tenant does not own a dog. Time and time again I have had to brave the horrific smell as I cleaned up the piles of dog feces surrounding her home. A definite health hazard considering the quantities we’re talking about. I even caught one of the neighbors red-handed while they were outside, and their dog was right there in front my mother’s house—not on their property—but rather a safe distance away and conveniently on my mother’s property instead. I confronted the neighbor right then and there, and I was promised that it would never happen again.
I wanted to believe the neighbor, I really did, but something inside my head was telling me otherwise—that people who let their dogs relieve themselves in front of other people’s homes, kitchen window in this instance, as a rule, just don’t give a damn. They don’t care about the environment, and they certainly don’t care about other people’s safety either.
When I reached the Terra West office near my home, I explained to the secretary my concerns and to my surprise she looked irritated, even agitated by me—so much for great customer service at Terra West. I was not going to waste my time with a disinterested secretary, and certainly did not trust that she would push my case forward, so I insisted on speaking with management. I was told that someone would be phoning me and I was directed to a telephone in the waiting area. Indeed the manager phoned me up right away, and the conversation took a bad turn from the start when she chose to speak to me in a patronizing manner. She was so bold as to suggest that I should have never bought a property associated with HOA management. Her tone of voice fluctuated up and down, talking over me at times and I wondered how this woman had ever reached the position of manager in the first place. Her customer service skills were nonexistent. I admit that when I had reached my wit’s end, I spoke to her assertively but never raising my voice. However, my tone of voice seemed to shatter the usual silent existence of another employee in the office, not sure who she was other than remembering the angry look on her face and feeling the wrath of her anger on my arm when she struck me. Apart from striking me, she felt confident enough to threaten me with police for my disorderly conduct.
At that moment I felt stifled, it was one of those surreal moments in life that happens to just a chosen few of us, when the situation is so unfair and yet you find yourself up against a huge brick wall. The fact that she struck me in the arm didn’t seem to bother her or worry her whatsoever; battery charges eluded her completely. Perhaps it’s that foolproof guarantee that nobody can touch the HOA, ever, so she automatically knew that she fell under that umbrella of protection as well. It’s the only rational explanation that I have.
Getting back to the crux of the matter, she told me that the only way they would direct the violations towards the neighbor, whom I had caught red-handed, was if I actually gave them proof on video. I told her that I had already caught the neighbor, reported her name and address to them this past summer and was under the impression that I would not be receiving violation letters from that point on. She jumped at my words—stating that it was impossible—that they would have never promised this without proof on tape. But this was exactly what they told me in summer! I told her that what she was asking me to do was impossible, because once the owner would see me with camera in hand they would abort the operation, so it’s all useless, and a silly game of red tape at this point. Her tone of voice got louder and angrier, and it seemed as though she actually took pleasure in instructing me to clean up the feces immediately, since it was on my property.
I suggested to the manager that perhaps, after years and years of the feces problem persisting, and innocent people having to bear the burden of cleaning up after other people’s dogs—a task that could be deemed toxic and hazardous—perhaps they could think outside the box this time, and come up with a solution that would eliminate the issue for once and for all. They already have inspectors walking about the property on a regular basis, so it seems reasonable to make a change in policy and make that move towards a solution that would protect the innocent instead of empower the culprits. She told me that it was not their role to educate people about dog feces . . . But I begged to differ with her statement; I told her that because they were in the habit of sending out violations to innocent people such as my mother, then it’s easy to surmise that they do in fact play a significant role in teaching people about dog feces. When you walk through the Tapestry neighborhood it’s advisable to wear a mask if you do not want to inhale toxic material. It seems that if this is a problem that has persisted for many years, then perhaps they should adopt a different measure of dealing with it. She would not entertain anything that I had said, not even suggesting that I direct it towards a different person or agency perhaps—just a big fat “it’s not our job to do that!” I accused the HOA of acting like a horse with blinders, and she completely lost her temper, she yelled at me for cursing her. I was taken aback once again; I explained to her that it was not a curse but rather an analogy to someone who refuses to accept what’s happening around them.
On my drive home I toyed with the idea of driving directly to the office of Ms. Deborah Ogilvie, President of Terra West, but it seems that my car knew better than to try another useless exercise in communication, and as though taking charge of things I found myself right outside my driveway, still pondering the situation, still in shock of the horrible treatment that I had just received. It was a given that the women with whom I had interacted would back each other up with lies and all sorts of excuses—it would be just more of the same thing.
A neighbor at the Tapestry Development where dog feces is inside as well as outside of his gated property. In this instance easy to determine that the feces belong to his pet.
I know that I am not alone here, I read enough complaints about HOAs across the nation that I realize that mine is but one of many similar complaints against an organization that initially was erected in order to better the quality of our lives, but somehow, somewhere down the road, the lines have been blurred and they have become nothing more than bullies that are a royal pain in the butt for most of us. I am also aware of the silly rules and regulations or covenants that we, as home owners, must adhere to. However, I don’t get it, I don’t understand why we have to put up with HOAs that seem to be causing more trouble and pain to innocent homeowners, rather than tackling situations in a case by case basis, and actually doing a service that would benefit homeowners who are expending monthly fees on their “expertise.” Instead, HOAs seem to have honed the skill of imposing arbitrary fines and liens on homeowners in what seems to be pure vindictiveness.
Would life really be any worse if there were no HOAs managing properties? I mean, if they cannot prevent your neighbor from leaving their dog’s feces in front of your front door, then what could be worse really? Other people believe that HOAs are necessary in order to protect the value of their property, in case a neighbor decides to “desecrate” their property. Not a convincing argument just because of my own experience of fines over the years for stupid, unnecessary things. During one year my mother’s tenant did not report to the property manager, in charge of her property, that letters from the HOA were mistakenly arriving at the house. She let that go on for almost 12 months. In the end, my mother was fined thousands of dollars for being in arrears of an original fine, because of awning that the HOA wanted her tenant to remove. It was useless to reason with anyone at Terra West. It was a small bit of awning that she attached to the inner part of her balcony that nobody could see unless they actually walked down that lane and made it their business to notice something “out of the ordinary.” When I lived in the Terra West neighborhood years ago, I once received a violation for a few lights that I had left over from the holiday season. I had consciously decided to leave them up, they were white, and only a few, because I thought that it made my balcony look nicer, but according to the HOA I was in violation of their rules. I know, it’s all part of those silly, useless covenants that determine what color you may paint your front door, or what height your fence should be.
Again, let’s examine each case on its merits: the fact that the neighborhood had been half-built by the developer, and we were left with trailers and dumpsters filled with building materials that were also scattered on the ground, including all the trash left behind by the builders such as candy wrappers and empty soda cans, bent and torn flags surrounding the neighborhood—that did not worry the HOA. They didn’t care that our neighborhood looked like crap, because there was so much more that they could do in terms of making our lives miserable. Things remained this way for years, until building resumed there not long ago. In my last neighborhood in Providence, the HOA prevented us from planting cacti; we live in the desert, yet they had decided that cacti were against regulations. We were fined for having an overgrown bush; but we enjoyed having a verdant looking garden, it was far from being an eyesore, but rather the opposite and more like suburban nature in all its glory.
It seems as though these petty rules and regulations have come to define us as a society, it’s embarrassing really if you think about the rest of the world, or serious problems right here at home, yet still, we give a prominent role to an organization that has nothing better to do than nitpick at stupid, unnecessary “violations” or necessary violations but directed towards the wrong people. They’re also a wonderful tool for those nosy neighbors who have nothing better to do than to peek into your yard in order to find something out of line as per the HOA rules and report it to the one and only organization that would heed to their stupidity as well. Again, I scratch my head, and it’s not that I choose to live in a place that is governed by an HOA, it’s more a case of asking where one can find a place that is not governed by an HOA?