Menckens Ghost

More About: Philosophy: Libertarianism

The dysfunctional HOA of the USA

By Mencken’s Ghost

Feb. 23, 2012

My wife and I live in a small townhouse in a gated homeowners association, or HOA, of 176 homes.  The similarities and dissimilarities between life in the HOA and life in the USA are striking.

In theory, HOAs should be libertarian paradises, except for those libertarians from the anarchist fringe who believe the wacky notion that life would be swell without any government or formal laws and rules.   

First, HOAs are based on the libertarian principle of voluntary association.  People move to HOAs voluntarily and with full knowledge of the rules and regulations.  In that sense, they are similar to legal immigrants who move to the USA.

Second, the rules and regulations of normal HOAs are based on another libertarian principle of people being allowed to do whatever they want--as long as they don’t harm others, infringe on the rights of others, take the property of others, disturb others, or behave in ways that negatively impact the value of other people’s property. It is none of the HOA’s business if a resident smokes pot, is in a gay marriage, is in the one percent or 99 percent, is an atheist or God-fearing, or buys stuff from suppliers outside of the HOA.  Moreover, HOAs don’t invade other HOAs to force them to adopt the invader’s rules and regulations. 

Third, HOA fees are based on services rendered, such as the maintenance of common areas and streets.  Residents cannot vote to give themselves free stuff at the expense of other residents or to redistribute the fees in order to satisfy their yearning to be charitable with other people’s money.  Also, thankfully, HOAs cannot engage in deficit spending by printing fiat money and issuing HOA bonds.  Residents are free to help the association and their neighbors through volunteering and free choice, or, if they prefer, to be left alone.

Unfortunately, this libertarian paradise is under constant attack.

First, amazingly, numbskulls move to the HOA and immediately begin to violate the rules and regulations that they knew beforehand and that made the community a desirable place to move to in the first place.  They are like citizens of the USA who are determined to destroy the things that have made the country prosperous and free.  A few numbskulls end up making life miserable for everyone else.

Second, special interests from outside the HOA can’t keep their noses out of the HOA’s business.  Take one of the most powerful and most self-serving special-interest groups at the state level:  realtors.  Realtors got a law passed in my home state of Arizona to forbid HOAs from restricting the use of for-sale signs on the front lawns of homes for sale, including homes in gated communities, where the general public can’t drive by and see the signs.  Even if they could see the signs, it’s a closely guarded secret in the real estate industry that for-sale signs are really about advertising a real estate agent’s name and not about helping to sell a home.  In fact, in a down market, a proliferation of for-sale signs in a neighborhood can have a detrimental effect on prices and salability.

An aside:  Think about how much better life in the USA would be if federal, state and municipal laws were passed to outlaw the passage of any law that benefits one special-interest group at the expense of everyone else.  Of course, such laws would never be passed, because they would dramatically reduce the power and importance of politicians and the campaign contributions they receive; and because the laws would keep busybodies from trying to remake the world into their own narcissistic image.

Third, like most citizens of the USA, most HOA residents are apathetic.  They don’t read HOA newsletters, don’t attend HOA meetings, don’t review HOA financial statements, and don’t get actively involved in their community--until it’s too late and the HOA is facing a crisis in finance and governance.

To summarize, about one million times more people live in the USA than in my HOA.  That means there are one million times more numbskulls, one million times more apathetic people, one million times more special interests, one million times more rules and regulations, and one million times more chances for things to go awry. 

That’s a scary thought. 


Mencken’s Ghost is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at 

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