Communities are formed by people, not HOAs

Editor’s note: The new “Our Communities” column, which is printed every other week in the Real Estate section, will feature invited guests to discuss Las Vegas communities and HOA issues.

As battles continue in Carson City, one never-ending topic includes homeowner associations. The media continually reports on associations where misuse of funds has left problems for homeowners.

When housing was booming in Southern Nevada, so were the homeowner’s associations. The HOAs ensured the neighborhood would not depreciate because homeowners agreed to live by specific rules and properties would be maintained to certain standards: Front yards would look respectable. Houses would remain in pristine condition with paint colors that matched the rest of the neighborhood.

It sounded good and, for a few bucks a month, the homeowner was free of worries such as mechanics leaving their vehicles on jacks in front of the house with unsightly grease stains in the driveway.

HOAs gave residents a chance to participate by serving on boards. Gatherings would feature residents chatting cordially over cups of coffee while discussing how much better life was with an association. When neighborhoods began to decay, associations would repair or freshen up everything from block walls to entry gates and common areas.

The problem arose when members lost sight of the reasons for an HOA, such as encouraging residents to mingle and providing friendly reminders to preserve property values. Power freak board members, spurred on by expensive and egotistical attorneys, began attacking neighbors with nasty letters including threats of fines.

With each edict, the attorney included a hefty invoice. A hundred bucks for the recommendation was chump change and by the time charges added up every year, attorneys were making a fortune and HOAs were going broke.

When the economy tanked in 2008, and Las Vegas became the foreclosure capital of the country, dues-paying members of HOAs began moving out of homes that collapsed in value. The money stream dried up and associations had eyesores, such as vacant homes and filthy community swimming pools.

Our house, originally built by US Home, has no association, one of its selling points. When it’s time to clean up the neighborhood, several of us get together and discuss the issue. We find who’s available, set a time and go to work. No homeowner receives a threat of fines, if the property fails to meet so-called community standards. If someone in trouble needs help, we all chip in.

Our neighborhood looks good without dues, monthly meetings or reminders that a garbage can has been left on the curb or a basketball hoop in the street. We tease one another saying that if garbage cans aren’t removed or if yards aren’t mowed, we’ll report the infringement to the attorney. We laugh about our invisible association, knowing we don’t need a real HOA and some slick attorney providing recommendations and the bills that go along with them.

Funny thing is, while our subdivision looks fine, those surrounding us don’t look quite as good, and all are governed by a homeowners association.

Mike Henle is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer and 44-year resident of Southern Nevada. He was the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s real estate editor from 1985-1989. His articles have appeared in the New York Times and other local and national publications. He the author of “Through the Darkness: One Man’s Fight to Overcome Epilepsy.” The book details his life with epilepsy and his recovery from the disorder. To contact him, visit mikehenle.com, which includes his blog.

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