Bayport HOA: Too Militant?

I will admit, from the very early days the concept of an HOA has always concerned me. Not because they are inherently bad, but because their boards tend to attract people who want to control their neighbors lives. To dictate what people can and cannot do with their own homes. For the first 10 years we were in the house, the HOA was, for the most part, not acting unreasonably. Their main focus was on improving the landscaping to make it more economical to maintain, especially in light of water shortages and the rapidly increasing cost of water. Then came the parking disputes and the more militant board members.


Parking

Bayport covers a relatively large area (it is almost 500 homes). In some parts of the development, parking can be scarce. Everybody has at least two spaces in their garages, but they are not generous. If you have a larger vehicle, it might be difficult to get two in the garage and actually be able to get in and out of them. Others have more than two vehicles. Whatever the reason some people choose to park one or more cars on the street.

Additionally, those nearer the apartment complexes that neighbor the development often find, or at least suspect, apartment residents are parking overnight on their streets.

A committee was convened and made little progress for a number of years. Then the board changed and suddenly there was a proposal for new parking rules. The proposal had a number of significant issues, in particular it tried to make residents pay for permits to park on the street, and furthermore limit the number they could have. Feedback was provided and the board went away to try again.

Permission to have Visitors

Version two removed the payment and limit, but added license plate registration and some new rules for visitors. In particular, if residents have a visitor who needs to park their car for more than four nights in a month, they need to ask permission from the board. Permission to have a visitor. Doesn’t even need to be an overnight visitor since the patrol starts in the early evening.

Have somebody stay for a week with rental car, or just come by for a weekly event in the evening, they might need permission. Babysitters working in the neighborhood with their own cars may be even worse off: they may not sit for the same person more than four nights in a month, but could easily be in the neighborhood more times than that in aggregate, for different families.

It wasn’t that residents need to notify the management company either. It was that they need to ask for permission from the board.

Feedback about the various issues with the new plan was submitted, but the new board simply ignored it all and passed their new rules unchanged by the feedback.

Parking Privilege

Didn’t take long for the new board to find another use for the parking regulations that were claimed to be about stopping people from outside the neighborhood parking overnight on the streets either.

Just this month we receive a notice that the board wishes to make changes to the penalties they can impose when residents do not comply with their demands for architectural or landscaping related changes (more on this later). The first change on that list (and, based on the way the new board ignored the feedback on their parking proposal there is no chance they won’t just make these changes) was to remove the “privilege” to park on the streets from those who don’t do as they are asked or pay their fines. Yes, they plan to stop residents parking at their own homes to force compliance with their whims.

They also want to increase the amount for fines, which the management company backs since it gets them to the magical $1,800 threshold where they can start foreclosure proceedings.

These changes were introduced as being necessary to “protect property values.” This argument is often pitched by realtors as a positive feature of an aggressive HOA. Of course, that only works if the people buying houses don’t discover how petty the HOA is, and that they could be banned from parking in front of their house, or even having visitors stay with them, if they let their grass grow too long. Of course, it should come as no surprise that realtors care more about property values than about the quality of life: their income is directly related to transaction prices.

Security Out, Parking Patrol In

Another indication of just where the current board sees its priorities is the canceling of the security patrol to pay for a parking enforcement patrol. Instead of there being somebody patrolling the neighborhood, keeping an eye on things like packages left on doorsteps or kids causing trouble, we have a parking enforcement patrol the only purpose of which is to stick warning notices on cars that haven’t been registered with the HOA, and call the towing service whenever they can.

The HOA is now spending our dues to prey on us instead of providing a security patrol to protect us.

Alternative Agenda

I have always had my suspicions that the parking rules were not just about the nearby apartment residents parking on a few of the streets overnight. For a start, that affects so few of our streets. Then one of the board members confirmed as much in a private message to me on Nextdoor. A message where she misquoted me, and then proceeded to berate me for have a different opinion on the importance of the parking issue to hers, even suggesting I should move if I didn’t like the rules. In this message she makes it clear that her real complaint is that one of her neighbors parks his cars on the street and not in the garage, which she feels is unfair on her:

Not that it affects you, and not that I think you even care, but my neighbor and I park in our garages. Unfortunately we have neighbors near us with multiple cars who do not park in their garages. When we have company or workmen it can be problematic. Is that fair and equal?

Landscaping & Painting

Another recent notice, this one in a newsletter, stated that the board is also going to start being more aggressive about pursuing landscaping complaints against residents. We have also seen them being more aggressive about house painting, even demanding minor changes in color shades based on advice from a paid colorist. Subjective changes based on the personal taste of the head of the committee.

Militant HOA = Bad HOA

The pattern of recent behavior is very clear:

  1. Ignoring resident feedback (not even responding to it).
  2. Ramping up complaints about landscaping and painting issues.
  3. Imposing stricter parking rules with required registration.
  4. Increasing penalties, and using the new parking regulations to impose further penalties on residents at will.

I would argue that having an HOA which chooses to attack its members so aggressively is actually more damaging to property values. Personally, I value having a safe and friendly place to live far more than one where all the lawns are perfect and the houses are all uniform color schemes. The number of reported package thefts and car break-ins, which can be easily found online as public records, will impact property values far more than having a neighbor with an overgrown lawn, or one who parks their cars on the street. Yet the current board dropped the security patrol in favor of a parking patrol.

Conflict of Interest?

Remember that claimed reason for the changes to the penalties for non-compliance? To protect property values. Two of the current board are in an interesting position with respect to that. It can be argued that protecting our property values helps us all, but it helps two of the current board in a more significant way: they are realtors actively working with houses in Bayport. That means that changes in house values affect their income.

The standard for recusal for a board member from a decision is when a board member has an interest, especially a pecuniary one, in a decision that is not shared by all other members of the board. I believe that means the realtors should recuse themselves from any decision relating to “protection” of property values.

HOA Nonsense

To be fair, this is more specifically about the companies that are paid to manage HOA affairs by larger associations, like the one we are part of at Bayport in Alameda.

Sadly, I have yet to experience any of these firms that actually care enough to use some common sense, or even to act in a way that is in the best interest of the members that they work for. That said, I doubt any of them see themselves as working for the home owners. I sometimes suspect they don't even see themselves as working for the board of directors of the HOA (who represent the members).

Or perhaps their own performance is measured in some way based on the number of these notices they send out. As if that was some indication that they were doing their job.

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HOAs and the Environment

Those who follow my Twitter feed might have seen that we received a snarky letter from our HOA here at Bayport in Alameda this week complaining about our front lawn. The complaint itself was not specific (it said something along the lines of the lawn needing “weeding, edging, mowing and/or fertilizing”).

Now, my opinion of HOAs in general is pretty low (and of the particular management company used here, Vierra Moore, even lower), since most of what I have seen from them has been silly time wasting nonsense. At our expense since our monthly dues pay for these time wasters. To highlight just how much nonsense Vierra Moore believes in, one of last year’s “straw polls” for potential new rules they could impose on residents included whether home owners should be allowed to fly flags, and if so what sizes and types of flag. Pathetic people. Learn how to live and let live. Let’s take away all the rules that are not ensuring safety and deal with it.

But, complaints about lawn condition have a much larger implication. By requiring that lawns be kept ‘green’ they are essentially requiring a massive, and unacceptable, waste of water. And the houses here in Bayport do not include grey water systems (a shame in newly built homes). Currently water is a precious resource here in northern California, with a serious drought entering its third year now. Why are we wasting it watering grass?

Unusually for me, I honestly think there needs to be a change in the law to prevent HOAs from requiring their members to run irrigation at all. If grass can’t survive naturally in the climate, then it is simply the wrong thing to plant. That said, even when it is burnt badly in hot summers, it usually comes back unaided when the rain returns in the winter months (as the many un-irrigated hillsides in the bay area demonstrate every year). Of course, it doesn’t look green all summer, but really people, is having a green lawn more important than having water to drink? Perhaps this year we can make brown the new green.

I do think it is time that cities and/or states stepped in here to prevent these pathetic, bullying organisations from being able to require their “members” to waste precious resources. So, I am going to be sending this post to a number of places, including local and state politicians, to see if anything can be done to knock some common sense into these HOA management company bullies.

Cindarella Bicycle

BicycleA grey, and relatively cold Memorial Day weekend here in Alameda. It actually rained a little on Saturday, was blustery and cold on Sunday and only a little better for Monday.

Today, of course, was back to blue skies and sunshine.

The photo was taken in the small playground area attached to the Ruby Bridges Elementary School here in Bayport, Alameda (even though Flickr still thinks that all the photos I take in Alameda are actually from Oakland).

Blossom’s Out

BlossomWell, on Ansel Avenue here in Alameda it is anyway. Our own tree has not flowered yet (it was later last year too).

As ever when trying to get photos of flowers, the second I get the camera out (in this case the Nokia N95), the wind picks up making it much harder to get good macro shots. Still, given the wind and the fact that I was only using a mobile phone camera, this came out OK I thought.

First Stones Laid

Yard Day ThreeSo, completely off the topic of the iPhone, Nokia N95 or anything technical at all, here’s a photo of the first few stones of our new back yard patio, laid today.

Today was actually day three of the job. The first two days were about getting the irrigation system laid, raising the drains up to the right level for the patio and generally preparing things.

Bayport Blossom

Bayport BlossomThe tree in front of our house, that had been totally bare since we moved in, has suddenly burst into a mass of blossom. I guess that answers both the questions we had about it: (a) is it even alive, and (b) what kind of tree is it?

There’s a few more shots of the blossom in my Flickr stream.

Moved In!

Don’t have any photos available yet (still need to unpack the PowerBook and get the photos out of the camera), but I’ve moved in to the new house. Was a busy new year’s weekend with all the moving (thanks those who helped us move all the stuff from my apartment), and it is still busy getting everything unpacked and dealing with getting appliances delivered, utilities accounts setup or transferred etc.

Added to that, Devicescape is busy with lots of updates to the hotspot login service we launched at the end of last year (if you use Wi-Fi hotspots anywhere, check it out, and if your favourite ones aren’t listed, tell us about them and we’ll get them added).

House Update: Friday, December 15

Friday, December 15Landscaping out front is done. We have plants, grass and our tree, although the latter looks a little sorry for itself at the moment. Still seems to be lots to be done though before it is ready for us.

It is also getting harder to get photos now without things blocking the view. Lots of activity in the street, both from the builders on our side, and folks moving in and getting work done opposite.