Tag Archives: civics

Homeowner Association Boards (HOA)

blog post on the tyranny of homeowners association boards sparked a chord of frustration and disdain in me this morning. The blog post was by Jonathan Nettler, “The Tyranny of America’s Homeowners Associations,” on the Planitizen website, “a public-interest information exchange for the urban planning, design, and development community.”

Nettler’s post selectively quotes a post by Kaid Benfield, “Coercion by Contract: How Homeowners Associations Stifle Expression, Sustainablity” on the Natural Resources Defense Council site for staff blogs, Switchboard. Benfield’s original post is much more  balanced than Nettler’s quote that portrays condominium boards as equal to Nazi’s in style and substance. It was Nettler’s distortion that was frustratingly passive aggressive.

Who Rules Homeowners Associations?

The problem with associations of homeowners, when there is one, is not the board, but the homeowners themselves. HOAs are self-governing. The state in which they are established generally has few regulations, usually limited to disclosure and owners rights. These are totally minimal compared to what homeowners themselves establish. The board can only enforce the regulations the homeowners have approved.

New homeowners agree to follow the HOA regulations when they sign their contracts. One presumes that these are adults who are beyond the age of consent and can read. They rule themselves.

Self-Governing Democracies

One of the tragedies of life is the lack of understanding of self-governance. In the years between 1850 and 1950 when people were struggling to build new democratic governments out of the aftermath of revolutions, the right to self-governance was hard-won. The refrain of progressive education in the early part of the 20th century was the importance of universal education in order to maintain a democracy. Civics was a required study on high schools. I don’t remember the statistics but this is no longer true.

Self-governance requires knowledge. The skills and understanding have to start in the family, the neighborhood, the schools, and villages. Whether a homeowners association is responsive to the needs of residents, depends on the residents, and on their ability to self-govern.

Do Condo Boards Have Any Power?

A homeowners association board only has as much power as the homeowners give it, and the only people on the board are the ones the homeowners elect. Objecting is hard but it’s the only way to confront the issue of badly performing board members.

Board members are people who have the same skills and deficiencies that each of us has. They are not miracle workers. They need help and support too.

The Buck Does Not Stop at Voting

Voting is not enough to ensure that our associations are democratic. Voting is actually nothing. What is important is the day to day understanding of what decisions are being made, how they are made, and evaluation of their results. It’s a living process, not a voting booth process—though attention to voting would be a start.

After serving on a condo board, I understand completely why board members become Condo Commandos: the behavior of homeowners. They don’t participate, don’t educate themselves, and don’t pay attention even to the financial health of the communities in which they have invested both financially and personally.

Self-Governance Requires Self-Education

It takes lot of work to make the decisions board members have to make. It can be overwhelming to do all the research and study that each decision takes. On top if it, to have to gently coax homeowners (or jerk them up by their collars) to make them pay attention is more than most board members have time for.

Being a board member means giving up many evenings and weekends to do the work required. Homeowners have to do the same in order to develop and protect a community they would be happy living in.

Each homeowner, like each citizen, has to self-educate if they want to self-govern. They need to help board members make good decisions. What many people do is leave the decision-making to someone else then sit around and complain about tyrants.

Inherent Conflicts in Democracy

To be a sociocracy, in the same sense that a democracy is a democracy, the principles and methods would have to be adapted to local and national governance. A sociocratic structure would be a radical departure from the way democratic governments are structured today. It might emerge more easily in a country that is just emerging from an autocracy because it could emanate from a single point rather than having to unify several conflicting governance structures as we have in the United States.

In the United States government, policy decisions and the implementation of those decisions are delegated to completely different sets of people: the legislative branch and the executive branch. There is no overlap. (They often are not even on speaking terms.) This produces a system in which an executive unit can inform (and beseech) the legislative unit to set certain policies, but has no control over whether it does so. The legislative units can set policy but can also be thwarted by executive units that fail to implement them or choose to implement them using an interpretation contrary to the aim of the policy.

This necessitates a third unit, the judicial branch, to decide which unit is right. Their basis for settling conflicts is to look the constitution, policies, and previous judicial decisions. The resulting deliberations and arguments can take many years. They are expected to be impartial

In addition to being in units that can easily obstruct the work of another unit, all or most of the leaders in the  United States government are elected by, appointed by, or deeply affiliated with political parties. Since there are effectively only two political parties, Democratic and Republican, this results in a polarity. While party leaders may nominally be elected government officials, the powerful party decision-makers are most likely to be people with money or with professional credentials, like campaign managers. Thus the people who determine, directly or indirectly, who is elected or appointed are not necessarily even a part of the government.

The branches of government are in conflict by definition. They are designed to oversee and regulate each other, not to work together toward common aims. Further conflicts are produced by political party affiliation, each with their own aims, creating divisions with the branches. With no common aim, there is no ability to judge success — and no ability to be successful. The battles are big and the accomplishments small. Not only small, but subject to being overruled by another branch of the government, if not this year, the next. And each leader is subject to being deposed not because of poor service to the government, but to poor service to the party.

In sociocratic organizations, governance, making policy decisions, and operations, implementing those decisions, are not separate in theory or practice. Both functions are carried out by the same people. With the legislative and the executive functions joined, the judicial function of settling disputes between them becomes irrelevant.

Each government unit would combine the functions now performed by committees in the House and Senate and by agencies in the executive branch. Policy and practice would inform each other and share a common aim. It would be self-defeating to write ineffective policies or to purposely ignore policies. Policies would be written within defined domains so pork-barrel additions unrelated to the work of the unit would be impossible.

Government officials would be elected by the government agencies in which they would serve, making political parties irrelevant.

Questions: Where is the guiding hierarchy? Who serves the function of a (good) corporate board? How do the states link to the federal government?