Here's an interesting one - a Fairfax, Virginia Homeowners Association (HOA), had to file for bankruptcy after its board egregiously and capriciously went after a couple. The board initially started their incompetent harassment in 2008 after Sam and Maria Farran placed an "Obama" sign on their front lawn. It was, apparently, 4 inches too high. Yup: four inches too high. Neighbors panicked. I don't mean metaphorically - I mean literally. They worried that property values would plunge because the Farran's election season political sign was four inches too high. And, if I know these HOA's, because it express support for one Barack Obama.
A wee while later, after threatening to put a lien on their house, the HOA punitively fined the couple for having political signs that were too large. And then Mr and Mrs Farran wanted to do some home improvements. In a thoroughly private board meeting, the board retaliated by arbitrarily denying them permission for a new deck . It was all a bit too much for the Farran's. So they resorted to that Traditional American Response - they sued on both counts. And won.
In tale after tale, I hear about petty homeowner's associations. A board member for the Olde Belhaven HOA, the one the Farran's ran into, once "compared some residents’ refusal to install window-pane dividers to the “cat and mouse game Saddam Hussein played with the USA,” e-mails show. Ultimately, Hussein “paid the price,” he said, concluding that the residents should comply". (And you wonder where the Right gets its hyperbolic tendencies?) In a moment of sheer illumination, one resident of the Olde Belhaven community said “When it comes to the Farrans, it’s their way or the highway.”[quoted]. I'd be more inclined to say: when it comes to HOA's, it's their way or a stiff, arbitrary and unnecessarily punitive fine.
After losing, and being liable for the Farran's legal fees, the Olde Belhaven HOA has been forced to raise its rates, for which they blame the Farran's and not their own pedantic idiocy. Another recent story from late last year shows similar power-grabbing by an HOA leadership, this time in Reston Virginia. (The board president had owners' cars towed in a pre-dawn "raid" the day before Thanksgiving!) I used to work with an idiot (he really was an idiot, a pedantic one) who was a board member of his co-op board (the Manhattan equivalent). One of his claims to fame was scheduling a 7:30AM Saturday meeting to push through some rule he liked. I remember he lodged an official complaint about me with my boss. When told of it, I summed it up as "He's complaining that I made him do some work? Really?" I then wandered off for a coffee. Really. :-) )
As the first article notes, up to one in five Americans live with a Homeowners Association. They're very popular because they take care of things like snow removal, leaf cleanup in the fall, general maintenance and so on. They're also very unpopular because they are often run by people who think they're mayors or lords of some medieval fiefdom. One thing I've never failed to notice is how right wing these people tend to be; they're all about freedom of speech, unless it's speech they disagree with. They're all about freedom of expression - elsewhere. And no you can't paint your door that color. It's too lively. You ever wonder how so many on the Right feel they can arbitrarily impose upon others? It starts where they live.
When a governing body has the power to issue arbitrary fines, and it has the power to foreclose upon your house because you don't comply with their often petty demands - you're not living in the Land of the Free. You're living in a Kafka-esque nightmare where The Trial isn't a work of fiction, but a living fact. The moment you find yourself objecting to the color of someone's door or their window treatments because it reduces the uniformity you like, you're not promoting and celebrating freedom - you're a mini-prick. Which is what many Homeowner's Association leaders seem to aspire to be, anyway.