Posts Tagged hoa
Posted by CyberLizard in Uncategorized on March 30, 2009
Damn, am I sore! And dirty. Unfortunately, it’s not from getting it on, but rather from diving into the garden. You may recall my confrontation a while back with my HOA. I must confess, I entered quite a depression after that. A great deal of time and energy had been invested in my garden. Well, spring is here, planting time is upon us and it’s time to quit whining and start sticking it to the man. The rules say “no vegetable gardens”. So what I figure is that if 51% of the plants in a given bed are not “vegetables”, then it doesn’t qualify as a “vegetable garden”. That’s a reasonable interpretation of the rules. And if not, fuck ‘em. It’s an interpretation I’d be willing to fight for.
You might remember this post wherein the future of my garden is threatened by my neighborhood’s Home Owners Association. You might also remember my carefully worded and researched reply. I hadn’t heard anything in response and, being very ADHD and somewhat passive-aggressive, I didn’t follow up on it. No news is good news, as they say. Well, I finally got news. Just as Fay was starting to really blow, we discovered our upstairs window was leaking. As we were frantically moving bookshelves and pulling up carpet and trying to stem the flood, the postal carrier pulls into our driveway to deliver a certified letter. From our HOA.
In short, they decided to forward the matter to their attorney. “With no positive response to previous notice, the Board has no other option except to proceed with legal action.” So either my response was not “positive” enough or they didn’t give a shit about what I had to say. Naturally, I felt it necessary to respond:
Dear Board of Directors:
We were very disappointed to receive the Final Notice of Violation dated August 19, 2008. Especially disturbing was the statement that no positive response had been sent with regard to the prior notice. Apparently the letter attached to emails sent to the board members and the hardcopy mailed to the [management company] office did not count as positive response. Perhaps we do not understand the bureaucratic processes of home owners associations.
We are attaching a copy of the previous letter we sent in response. Furthermore, a hard copy has been sent out the the address listed above via certified mail, return receipt requested. We hope that this will constitute sufficient response to the violations. If any further information is needed, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are very interested in working with the board to resolve this matter.
Now here’s where my expectations came crashing into reality. What I expected was a dialog between reasonable parties where the issue could be discussed and resolved in a professional manner, even if the boards decision went against me. In my original response, I included reasonable questions requesting clarifications on the rules and advice on how to best follow them in the event the board did not see fit to rule in my favor. What I received was something much different:
I for one live on the street as this vegetable garden and it is a sight. It keeps getting bigger and bigger and looks terrrible. She can build a fence even though she is on a corner lot. I say we stick to the no vegetable gardens and if you are considering changing this, drive by and have a look yourself. It will change your mind. This is my thought
Now, a home owners association is a quasi-legal organization with the authority to file liens on your home and even to initiate foreclosure. The board of directors act as the representatives of this body and, indeed, of all the members of the community. That a member of the board would feel that this was an appropriate response to a reasonable discussion of policy came a quite a shock. In addition to the factual errors (the garden hasn’t grown since it was established, unless you count the growing of the plants) the attitude just blew my mind. After the shock came anger. Much anger. Darth Vader-type anger. If I could have force-choked this individual, I probably would have. While I despise bureaucracy, I have an appreciation for the niceties and formalities that generally accompany legal proceedings. I would expect this kind of reply in a blogs comments section or on some internet forum. Coming from one of the leaders of an organization that, quite literally, could force me out of my home was disgusting.
At this point, the representative of the management company that our HOA hired to handle all the paperwork and act as enforcer decided to throw in her $0.02:
They have received 3 notices and they haven’t removed the vegetable garden. What more needs to be discussed?
This person has no role on the board, has no decision-making authority and has absolutely no business interfering in a discussion between the board and a resident. At least that’s my opinion. Besides which, she was completely incorrect. We did respond and have been trying to engage the board in a dialog. Which they apparently are steadfastly trying to avoid.
Fortunately, not all the members of the board are such small-minded individuals. Later, another member offered their take. While well-meaning, it was full of fallacies that I will address in-line below.
I did read your letter that you sent, you did respond,
Good of you to notice. You’d think that maybe this could be relayed to the guard dogs that the board hires to do its dirty work.
I believe the notice is referring to the action that needs to happen. It clearly states as you have noted that vegetable gardens are not allowed in the neighborhood unless properly contained.
No shit, why do you think I was writing a response?
I can totally appreciate where you are coming from in your letter, growing your own produce is very beneficial, I myself do it, but it is contained in pots on the back porch and in a tiny fenced area in the back of the home displayed neatly. I have driven and walked by your home on several occasions and recognized your vegetation as an eye sore. Tomato bushes in general grow rather wildly, the manner in which you have planted them is the problem.
So in other words, tomato plants are ugly and shouldn’t be planted in a Square Foot Garden, only in “tiny fenced areas” because that’s how you like them.
The wood enclosure which surrounds the plants looks bad and the location that you choose is random.
Two things wrong here: the wood enclosures are cedar planks used for the siding of houses. They form a border 8″ high around the square beds. Not exactly a hideous bit of landscaping. And their location was FAR from random. The two beds are exactly 36″ apart and stand 36″ from the nearest landscaping, to allow for the passage of the lawn mower. They were placed on the south side of my house which recieves direct sunlight all day long.
It is obvious that you have a green thumb and I think that is great, speaking for myself I would not like for you to tear them up, just move them and make it look neat. I know you have a patio just off of your slider, why not plant the vegetation to the left of that patio and put some PVC 12″ fencing around it with some trellising? We have a long weekend ahead of us, maybe this could be a project for you.
Nice thought, but that location is in perpetual shadow and is so waterlogged that the only thing that will grow there are swamp plants. There’s about an hour a day that the sun can penetrate most of the back yard. The south side is the only viable location.
I think your property would look a lot nicer is you chose to take my advice, I am not sure what the other Board members might think about your garden because quite honestly we haven’t discussed it.
In retrospect, this part bothers me more than anything else. The association documents outline a process for handling violations that includes the right of the homeowner to respond and seek relief. What’s the fucking point of allowing a response if you’re not even going to address it?
I do wish you well, I hope my response has helped, feel free to contact me again. My intent is not to hurt any feelings, just to be honest and helpful, constructive criticism, I hope you see it this way.
I don’t give a shit about hurt feelings or how you hope I see it. What I see is an HOA BOD with a disregard for its residents and a rigid mindset that says that the only attractive yard is one that looks like theirs; i.e. chemical-drenched St. Augustine grass and landscaping completely unsuited to the Florida climate that can only be maintained by regular chemical applications and the waste of thousands of gallons of water. I see a board with no concept of professionalism and apparently with poor reading comprehension skills, since they didn’t address my clearly worded questions.
Well, as per my standard response to all bureaucratic and authoritarian bullshit, fuck ‘em. Unfortunately, this attitude can result in even more financial problems that I really don’t need right now. I don’t have the time or energy to fight this kind of crap. I’m dealing with a combination of stupidity, small mindedness and apathy. The amount of shit I’d have to go through to get these people out, assuming that the rest of the neighborhood isn’t populated with the same type of people, is just too much right now. I’ve got a wife and two kids and a stressful job. Gardening used to be an outlet for my stress, a form of meditation. Guess I’ll have to get back on the cushion, ’cause the garden has gone bye-bye.
All right, that’s probably a little extreme. You may remember that I received a violation notice from my neighborhood’s homeowners association. After my initial anti-authoritarian streak calmed down and I was able to think rationally, I decided to respond in a more logical, thoughtful manner. Here is the content of my reply letter. It will only be a battle if they choose to make it one.
Dear Board of Directors:
This letter is in response to the Notice of Violation dated July 22, 2008. We apologize for the delay in responding. Our physical mail does not get checked anywhere near as frequently as the electronic version. The Notice received is regarding a vegetable garden. We are assuming that it is referring to Article IX, Section14 of the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CCR), since there is no mention of the specific rule violated in the Notice.
The presence of a vegetable garden was not intended to violate the CCR. In fact, we were unaware of any restrictions of this kind. When we purchased the house from the builder, we were never provided with a copy of the CCR. When we subsequently contacted the builder to get a copy, we were instructed to contact Sentry Management. However, this proved fruitless as they simply insisted that we should have been provided a copy and that it would cost us $25 to receive an additional copy. Fortunately, a kind member of the board agreed to provide us with a photocopy. This has allowed us to see exactly what we were violating.
We would like to take this opportunity to argue for the continued existence of our vegetables. According to the violation notice, the rules were “… created to protect and maintain the architectural character, curb appeal and overall value of your community.” The presence of fruits and vegetables growing in our side yard (we have a corner lot) does not detrimentally affect any of these. Obviously there is no impact to the architectural character of the community. As far as curb appeal goes, properly maintained vegetables have no more negative impact than comparable landscaping. In fact, there is a term for this, edible landscaping. Edible landscaping is simply replacing plants that are strictly ornamental with plants that produce food. Document ENH971, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/EP146) provides detailed information on the concept. To quote from the Introduction to this document:
Edible landscaping, simply put, replaces plants that are strictly ornamental with plants that produce food. Edible landscaping will allow you to create a multi-functional landscape that provides returns (fruits, vegetables, etc.) on your investment of water, fertilizer, and time. An edible landscape can be just as attractive as a traditional one; in fact, the colorful fruits and foliage of many edibles are quite beautiful. Here are some additional benefits:
* Improved Taste and Nutrition of Food: Nutrient content and flavor in most plants is highest immediately after harvest. The edible landscape provides fresh foods which can be eaten minutes, rather than days or weeks, after harvest. In addition, many exceptional and flavorful varieties not found at food markets are available to growers of edible landscapes.
* Increased Food Security: An edible landscape reduces your dependence on foreign food sources which have unknown production systems.
* Reduced Food Costs: Certain edibles are highly productive and are more economical to grow at home than to purchase.
* Convenience: Having fruits and vegetables right outside your home may help you add fresher, healthier foods to your diet and makes meal preparation easier.
* Fun and Exercise: Growing your own crops can be rewarding and fun; the exercise you get in the process can help you stay fit.
* Sustainability: Consuming locally grown produce can be an important part of reducing energy inputs and protecting our environment.
As you can see, there are a number of benefits, both for the individual and the community at large.
The economic crisis in our country is well known, as is the fact that food prices are rising at an alarming rate around the world. Also well known is the climate crisis that we all are facing. Home-grown fruits and vegetables provide a much needed cushion against these rising costs. Every little bit that can be produced at home also reduces the amount that must be spent on food that, in some cases, is shipped halfway around the world. There is a growing re-introduction into the concept of home gardening that is happening across the country. More and more communities are realizing the benefits to both individuals and communities by allowing the home garden to be re-incorporated into society.
At one point in our nation’s history, not that long ago, the homes without gardens were in the minority. The home garden was an essential part of family life, socially and economically. During World War II, more than 40% of this country’s food was produced in “victory gardens”. In England, more than 80% of the food came from these gardens. It has only been during the relatively recent expansion of suburbia and the commercialization of the agriculture industry that homes stopped having gardens. Many communities are realizing the importance of locally produced food and the role of the home garden in this.
Perhaps ironically, our neighborhood was built on former celery farms, hence the name “Celery Key”. Agriculture has always been a part of Sanford’s history. We’re not suggesting that our yards should be plowed under to grow crops, but home gardens are certainly not alien to this area. Since we have young children, many neighborhood children have played in our yard. They have all expressed an interest and fascination with the garden. We were stunned to discover that some didn’t even know that tomatoes grew on plants! It has been a delight to participate in the education of our community’s youth and hopefully to instill in them a respect and appreciation for the act of growing food.
From an environmental perspective, our own state government has made efforts to help individuals do their best to participate in alternative energy programs and other methods of reducing our environmental footprint and conserve our precious resources. Florida State Statutes Section 163.04 Energy devices based on renewable resources, specifically, prevents prohibitions on solar energy collectors on roofs and clotheslines for drying clothes, among other things. Home gardening is certainly a viable way to preserve resources and utilize renewable energy. In part, the statute reads:
(2) No deed restrictions, covenants, or similar binding agreements running with the land shall prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources from being installed on buildings erected on the lots or parcels covered by the deed restrictions, covenants, or binding agreements.
It would certainly be stretching the meaning of this to include growing vegetables, but the spirit of the statute is clear, that the State supports all efforts of conservation and reducing our environmental impact. Home growing of vegetables certainly falls into this category. Many cities around the country are actively promoting the idea of home gardening.
Returning back to the statement that the rules were “… created to protect and maintain the architectural character, curb appeal and overall value of your community.”, there is nothing documented that maintains that home gardens will reduce the “overall value of [our] community”. There are quite clearly many other issues that the housing market is facing that have a much greater impact on our communty’s value than our vegetables. The number of foreclosures are skyrocketing. It seems that every other house in the neighborhood is empty and for sale. Many of these empty homes and lots are beginning to deteriorate.
We appeal to your common sense to realize that the current restrictions of gardens are onerous and that our garden, in particular, should not have to be removed.
If, however, the board is not swayed by these arguments and insists on enforcing the rule as it stands, we request some information so that we may bring our lot into compliance. Article IX, Section 14. Vegetable Gardens. reads: “No vegetable gardens shall be permitted except in fully screened areas in the backyard only, so as not to be visible from the street or objectionable to an adjacent property.” Being that we have a corner lot, the definition of “backyard” is somewhat ambiguous. We would need to know what portion of our property constitutes a “backyard”. In addition, the rule speaks of “fully screened areas”. Other sections of the CCR refer to screening with bushes or shrubs. We assume that this would be the case in this section as well. The specifics of the “screening” would need to be provided to us: what type of bushes are acceptable, what height they should be, where would be an appropriate place for planting so as to be in compliance with this rule. In addition, we would request that additional time beyond the August 1, 2008 deadline be provided, in order for us to bring our lot into compliance.
It is our sincerest wish to be good neighbors and members of the Celery Key community. When we purchased this house, we made the commitment to be here for a very long time. We hope that our appeals make logical sense to you, the members of the board, and we thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
I’ll let you know how they respond.
A recent letter from the friendly neighborhood homeowners association:
On behalf of your association’s Board of Directors, we are writing to advise you that your property may be in violation of the governing deed restrictions of the association which may be corrected as follows:
Upon receipt of this letter, you will need to remove your vegetable garden. This is a violation of Association Documents.
Oh, yeah, you read it right. Remove my vegetable garden. Over my dead body.
In this day of pressing climate concerns, rising fuel and food prices and global eco-consciousness, with every other house in the neighborhood being foreclosed on or for rent, they’re seriously going to try to get me to take out a vegetable garden? We’re not talking about a tacky statue of a gnome (sorry gnome-lovers) or a pink flamingo on a stick. These are well maintained living plants providing food for my family. See here for some pics.
They’re going to have a hell of a fight on their hands. I’m generally very non-confrontational. After my last house, I’ve deliberately avoided participating in the HOA. Now they’re going to discover why you don’t want to bring stupidity to my doorstep. Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.