568: Home Rules

A Thousand Things to Talk About
568: Home Rules

Would you (or have you) purchased a home or condo under Homeowner’s Association covenants?

Full episode script

Owning a home, or really just finding and maintaining a place to live in any way, can be one of the biggest and most expensive things in our lives. It’s also often where we pour a lot of our time and emotional energy, with lots of social, personal, and financial associations.


Homeowners associations, and their sister organizations condo owners associations, provide a legal framework through which individuals can agree to abide to rules and regulations about the area in which they live.


In theory, it sounds like it could work very well. In reality… it’s a lot more complex.


Covenants and regulations about home ownership or maintenance have long been written into the deeds of homes around the United States. In 2010, NPR took a look at racially restrictive covenants written into the home ownership regulations, some of which people do not even know are written in to their homes. Quote:


This kind of language is in deeds across America, not just in the South. Seattle Historian James Gregory and a team of University of Washington students have amassed a database of thousands of deeds with racist wording. “Racial restrictive covenants became common practice in cities across the county, dozens of cities in the North, the South, the West,” Gregory says. “For, you know, a quarter of a century, this was the thing to do.” Sometimes the deeds read “whites only.” In Seattle, Gregory says Asian restrictions were common, while Hispanics were the target in Los Angeles. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not enforce the racial restrictions. In 1968, Congress outlawed them altogether.


But restrictions from HOAs aren’t always so blatant. Often, current HOAs will put limits on things like home color, political signage, gardens in yards, or how vehicles are stored. There are also often limits on things like kids under 18 using shared facilities without supervision, which is often judged as illegal discrimination.


But – these associations aren’t always about creating perfectly cookie-cutter, tightly controlled communities.


In 2016, NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling reported on a community of mobile home owners that were able to use the structures of HOAs to save the land they were renting from being sold out from under them. Since mobile homes are quite expensive to move, and many mobile home owners are living on low or fixed incomes, when a landlord decides to sell mobile home parks, they can often be left with nowhere to go.


Yet a foundation was created to help mobile home owners in exactly this situation, and they use the legal structures of an HOA to purchase and manage the land, saving them from becoming potentially homeless.


So – when a legal structure can be used for good or for ill, it creates a difficult decision for some, and an easy one for others.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.