Re: The Tyranny of Homeowners Associations
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2013 07:55:45 -0800 (PST)
On Feb 24, 2013, at 3:40 PM, "David L. Mandel" <dlmandel [at]> 

> A private, undemocratic* association taking on functions that traditionally 
> belong to local government, lacking the latter's wider vision, accountability 
> and constitutional limits on suppression of free expression and private 
> behavior, is quite another.

Many people also consider local governments to be narrow and undemocratic. When 
trying to bring people together who don't understand how to establish a good 
governance system, it will be a mess no matter what you do.

The rights of homeowners associations have not traditionally been those of 
local governments. They have traditionally been those of landowners, which used 
to be synonymous with those paying taxes because only landowners could pay 
taxes. Taxes were levied on the basis of how much land was owned. With the rise 
of the merchant class and then income tax, it is more accurate to define the 
rights of taxpayers who may or may not own land. 

Benefits that are not tied to taxes are traditionally not secure and the 
influence of those people on governments is also not secure. Some would say 
nonexistent because benefits are still intended to just keep these people out 
of the way of commerce and the more well-to-do.

> This constitutes privatization of the public sphere and is generally pursued 
> to facilitate development and management for profit, not the needs of all 
> residents, let alone the broader neighborhood and society.

People bought the land and built homes and set up associations from the start 
to be organizations of home owners. Associations are governments. Nothing was 
privatized because it wasn't publitized in the first place. Unless the 
association was homesteading, the land didn't belong to the government and was 
not governed democratically. 

The local and national governments are of the people and by the people, whether 
it feels like it or not. If you go to each person in your cohousing community 
there will be some people who will say they have no voice in the running of the 
community. "They" are in charge. Even in cohousing. 

But just because some people have chosen not exercise their rights, or don't 
know how, doesn't mean that everyone else is tyrannical.

> *Undemocratic because typically, each owner has one vote, regardless of the 
> number of people living in the unit and regardless of whether the owner, for 
> whom it may be only an investment motivated by profit, lives in the 
> development at all -- not to mention the lack of oversight and accountability 
> required in elections to public bodies. 

Homeowner Associations are associations of homeowners, not residents. Residents 
who are not owners have no financial risk. If residents could determine the 
future of the community, there is the possibility that they would do it at the 
peril of the owners. And then there would be no community for anyone. 

Public housing projects may also be run by associations of residents, with more 
limited powers, but I'm not sure they are any more democratic or taking into 
consideration the needs of all residents.

If I had to identify the least fiscally responsible people in our community 
from the beginning to the end, they would be those people renting rooms (as 
opposed to leasing units). That certainly doesn't imply that all renters are 
fiscally irresponsible, but I would much prefer to distribute decisions amongst 
the owners.

At Takoma Village we do have two classes of votes -- level one that includes 
decisions that involve financial risk and level two, that don't. Residents who 
make a commitment to involve themselves in the community and participate in 
workshare become associate members and vote on the second class of decisions 
that are more likely to govern daily life.

> While state CID law may dictate this structure for cohousing communities too, 
> I suspect that most of them, like mine, limit non-owner occupancy from the 
> start and find other ways to give voice to additional residents, including 
> non-owners.

One thing the process of lawsuits does is educate the public and the government 
about the rights of people, homeowners and residents in this case. Lawsuits are 
not all bad or frivolous. And we forget their ability to educate people about 
the issues. Do they do it well? Not all the time. But they do more than would 
be done without them.

At bottom, the problems of government come back to those of education, 
particularly to understanding governance and ways to organize ourselves for the 
benefit of all. One way to avoid the we/they description of government is to 
have a governance system that cannot be rigged without the express consent of 
those governed. Of course, I think sociocracy could provide such a system. 
Voting does not.

A wonderful essay from 1945 that explains the basis of sociocracy is by Kees 
Boeke who first applied it in his residential school of 400 teachers and 
students who governed the school together, by consent. It is posted here:

Sharon Villines, Washington, DC

Sociocracy, Dynamic Governance, Agile Organization

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