Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I went to the fights last night, and an HOA meeting broke out

This evening is our annual homeowners' association meeting. The thought of it has leached all the joy from my week, casting a pall even over my last birthday before I descend into the abyss of being thirty. This year seems especially onerous because They want to impose a "special assessment" that is a de facto 25% increase of our fees, not to mention forming an "architectural committee", hiring inspectors, and otherwise bringing the nanny state to fruition. To combat this, Darwin and I has decided to both attend, which means that on top of all the frustrations of arm-wrestling people who want to bilk us out of our hard-earned money, we'll be wasting a perfectly good evening of baby-sitting. And you can bet that everyone will be in a swell mood because the city has been replacing the water pipes in our neighborhood, with the necessary but still irritating result that our water has been out every other day this week.

I find the very concept of HOAs offensive, so I'm predisposed to be disruptive. Let's hope the evening ends in minimal bloodshed...


Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Lol it may well have been a horrible evening... but your wonderful telling of your anticipation had me rolling in the aisles here ;-)

j. christian said...

I find the very concept of HOAs offensive

They might often be offensive in practice, but in theory it's not a terrible idea. I'd much rather have something local like an HOA making those decisions than, say, the city, county, state, or (egads) federal government. THAT would be a true nanny state intrusion. In theory, the HOA is just the community deciding and policing its aesthetic norms, and pooling its resources to that end.

I probably feel this way because I used to live near a guy who painted his house sangre and parked rusting pick-up trucks on his lawn. Market forces can't do much in that case, unless I moved.

Rick Lugari said...

In the Inferno didn't Dante say petty would-be tyrants in the tenth circle of Hell. That they will be a minority in an HOA?

I sympathize with Mr. Christian, and consider myself fortunate that I don't have any neighbors with terribly bizarre tastes or excessive sloppiness, but I disagree with the idea of an HOA. I guess I'm sort of Chestertonian when it comes to a man and his property...if the common man can't choose to sit on his living room floor to eat his dinner or to side his house with scavenged hubcaps, then it's not really his house or not worth having. It may suck for the neighbors (presumably like you and I), but at least they would have the same freedom to do with their own property as we desire.

Let the bloodletting begin, MrsD. Do it for the common man!

j. christian said...


Is that Chestertonian or Libertarian? I guess I'm not sure what the difference is, because it's pretty clear that Libertarianism is anathema to Catholicism (i.e., for the libertarian, liberty = radical autonomy, there is no objective truth or morality, just subjective preference and moral relativism, etc. etc.) As Catholics, we believe there is an objective reality to truth, beauty, etc., and hubcap siding is probably NOT objectively beautiful. (?)

To take another example, when I saw a news story about doctors urging the government to regulate people's salt intake, my impulse to recoil at the Nanny State and petty tyrants was in full effect. But on reflection, why shouldn't it be that something that is objectively harmful (in large amounts) be regulated?

Maybe I'm missing something that the smarter folks here can explain.

Darwin said...

Two things strike me here:

1) It may be that in some cases one has the right to do something because of one's property ownership that one still ought not to do because of the effect it would have on others. Decorating your house in a way that offends your neighbors might be this sort of thing.

2) I don't know if I actually think this, or if I'm just trying it on for size, but it may be that some sorts of concern about how neighbors decorate/care for their houses consistutes some kind of pride -- either in making it look like a desireable neighborhood or in affirming that your choices are best because they are copied by everyone else. It might be that Chesterton would argue that it should be a matter of indifference to us if the odd fellow down the street paints his house checkerboard or floors his driveway with bottlecaps -- and that the drop in property valies is only an example of man's generally fallen nature.

Certainly, there are some things that might cause a neighborhood to lose property value (say, a lot of "foreigners" moving in) that should not, and thus should not be forcibly avoided. An HOA rule keeping foreigners out would be wrong even if it really did serve to support property values.

In this particular concrete case, I think the big problem is that some folks in the neighborhood object to "cheap" additions such as awnings and decks. The fact is, we're one of the least expensive neighborhoods around, and many people in it don't have much money. So while setting up a committee to harass them may keep them from making any changes to their houses, I don't think it will serve to "increase property values" which is what the committees and inspections are supposed to achieve.

Sara said...

My annual meeting was this week also. Unfortunately (!) I was too sick to go. What a shame....

I wonder if the annual three hour long meeting that inevitably devolves to a shouting match over the homeowners' united refusal against the board president's request for a $30,000 assessment to repair tennis courts no one ever uses will count toward some of my time in purgatory that I have coming. Of course, the extremely sinful thoughts that cross my mind during said shouting match may just cancel out any benefit derived... :-)

Rick Lugari said...

Mr. Christian,

I'm not speaking from a Libertarian perspective, nor could anyone consider Chesterton a Libertarian as we understand the term. I don't see how a man siding his house with hubcaps is embracing moral relativism. I may consider it tacky and not beautiful in the slightest, but I can't say there is a whole lot of architecture I consider beautiful. I appreciate beauty in architecture, but where in the moral law do we find that a building must be a work of art, or even objectively beautiful? I live in a small ranch style home in one of the older suburbs of a depressed industrial city. I don't consider my house (just an average house - no hubcaps or cars on blocks) objectively beautiful at all, but I do find beauty in the fact that it is mine and if I want to put a statue of the Blessed Virgin on my front lawn or even paint my shutters green and red at Christmas time I can. And as I consider it, one of the aspects of dealing with an HOA is that if you wanted to do something to your home that would make it objectively beautiful you most likely would not be allowed to. I recall a couple of years ago there was a dispute in this area over a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the man had his yard professionally landscaped and the statue placed but the HOA made a stink about it (I don't know what became of the case).

j. christian said...


The hubcap guy isn't doing anything immoral, but then the role of government (for better or worse) is not merely to legislate on matters of morality. We have seatbelt laws because reason tells us that it's safer to wear a seatbelt, not because it's morally right. Presumably, a libertarian views seatbelt laws as an intrusion of government into his (radically autonomous) life. I doubt that's the Catholic perspective, although I'm sure there are plenty of Catholics who disagree with seatbelt laws, since there is nothing (as far as I know) in the CCC that speaks of the morality of traffic safety precautions.

What I'm asking is, what is the "decision rule" (for lack of a better term) that, in prudential matters, sways the Catholic in favor of legislation when there is a clear, objective reason for that legislation? (Go back to the regulation of salt intake for another example...) In other words, when does a Catholic cry "Nanny State!" and when does he say "Amen"?


SK said...

I tend to view this as a simple matter of knowing what you got yourself into. In our area (and we live within 10 minutes of the Darwin Estate) most of the neighborhoods are pretty new and were planned out by the developers in advanced. With that in mind I think that the HOA is responsible for a set number of things, those things you agreed to when you bought the house (around here you are required to be given a copy of HOA rules before you can buy into an area).
Our current neighborhood has a pool and a playground. I knew that when I bought the house and I accept that I'm responsible, in part, for making sure that they are maintained. Our previous neighborhood had almost no amenities as all (we were close to a city park) and I expected to have almost no expectations from my HOA. Similar expectations should be made of decorations, additions, etc. Make sure to plan it well in the beginning and then stick to that plan.
I don't see a reason for an HOA to need to add additional rules unless they are simply trying to escalate the status of the neighborhood. I suppose I think that if you want to live in a nicer area the best solution would be to move, not force all of your neighbors into something bigger than what they signed up for.
Certainly it is a good idea to hold the existing rules, whatever they may be, into account. I just think that any changes to those rules should require 100% approval from every homeowner.


Rick Lugari said...


I don't think we're really that far apart on a matter like this. You aptly identify the question. Since in a great many instances there is no objective right or wrong, we have to use our prudential judgment, that is hopefully rooted in a well-formed conscience, and weight the pros and cons. For my part, I first look to the morality of any given action, when the objective morality is not a factor I look at how it affects the family and the common man, both short term and long term. This is where I part company with a number of Catholics on the political left. It's not that I am an extreme individualist (something of which I don't think there really are in our political climate) I just think government policy should be designed to serve and bolster the family - and part of that is respecting the dignity and autonomy of the family. The family is our fundamental form of governance, it's the default. The state should serve the common good; I think the greatest measure of the common good is the family.

I'm all for democracy as a means of sifting out the common good or social norms, however, I think the threshold for what we put up for democratic influence should be well thought out. We are fallen creatures, prone to selfishness or exploitation of others, which is in part why government is moral and Individualism isn't. Democracy can protect us from that exploitation, but it can also be a fearful master. I'd rather be vigilant and fault on the side of being too "liberal" rather than oppressive, that's all.

Rick Lugari said...

And for fun, a few words from the devil Screwtape:

Thanks to Our Father Below, the threat was averted. Our counterattack was on two levels. On the deepest level our leaders contrived to call into full life an element which had been implicit in the movement from its earliest days. Hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom. That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it. In his perfect democracy, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed (though he didn't know it) whatever the Government tells him to do. From that starting point, via Hegel (another indispensable propagandist on our side), we easily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state. Even in England we were pretty successful. I heard the other day that in that country a man could not, without a permit, cut down his own tree with his own axe, make it into planks with his own saw, and use the planks to build a toolshed in his own garden.

Such was our counterattack on one level. You, who are mere beginners, will not be entrusted with work of that kind. You will be attached as Tempters to private persons. Against them, or through them, our counterattack takes a different form.

I don't think the consideration is a blanket rejection of the notion of building codes per se, but an identification of how absurd we can get when we are perpetually enforcing "good" on others.

j. christian said...


I think you pretty well summed up how I feel as well. I tend to err on the side of being cautious about the use of government power to achieve "good" outcomes.

On a case-by-case basis, I imagine well-intentioned Catholics can disagree on these matters of prudential judgment. I suppose the only difficulty arises when all the short- and long-term effects (especially those concerning the morality of the outcomes) are not clear or are not agreed upon.

Thanks for your comments!

Rick Lugari said...

And thank you, J. A friend told me about a nice Chesterton quip, so I googled it. Here it is:

“Always live in the ugliest house on the street - then you don't have to look at it.” And as my friend pointed out, you'll have the best view!