Notes From My Knapsack 4-6-17
You Can't Tell Me What To Do
For my sins, I'm a homeowner's association (HOA) trustee. Long story, but I've been one quite a while now.
Call it self-interest, if you like.
We're those three people (elected for three year terms, a new trustee in theory every year, if you had enough people willing to do the work) who are responsible for public areas, getting them mowed and trimmed and the lights that are under our responsibility lit, collecting annual dues, and checking in with residents of this particular neighborhood about . . . the covenants.
Each property in this little development has a set of covenants attached to it, legally, at the county recorder's office, but the existence of any limits or restrictions beyond simple zoning guidelines in the village is not always disclosed by the sellers, the realtors, the title companies. Ours are really fairly loose, with guidelines built in for mailbox style, color schemes and materials for exteriors, and no basketball hoops permanently attached to the house. Actually, if you read the covenants (something too few people actually do) it says they can't face the street. So technically, you could put one on your house on the back of it, but . . . anyhow.
Trash totes can't stay out for more than a day, and have to be screened if not in your garage, and you're expected to have landscaping, though there's not much about what kind or how well maintained.
So we live in an odd zone between village ordinances, like the requirement to clear sidewalks of snow within 24 hours if it's two inches or more, or the fence height restrictions in front and back yards, which gets interesting if you live on a corner. Suffice it to say that there's often debate over when the two inch trigger is pulled (and who decides) and our covenants in this particular development call for a higher "minimum" fence height than the village. So you can pay for your permit down at Village offices, and start in fence building, and learn that you can't legally do that, at least in this association. Abe Lincoln would split a rail trying to figure some of this stuff out.
And when it comes to zoning and building, I'll just fully disclose that I'm currently chair of our village Board of Zoning and Building Appeals, also and mercifully known as the BZBA. For that service of the last decade, I have no excuses. It's just being a glutton for punishment.
But what I've learned, to my chagrin, in both positions of mild responsibility and little authority, is that it is all too often true, and a real limitation on the good I can do, that next-door neighbors often have never spoken to each other. At all. I don't mean keep your back door open and let them come and go, I'm talking about just having met before, and said two words ever. Like "Please?" or "Thanks."
Folks often come to HOA trustees or the BZBA with a request to do something that impacts their neighbor, or for us to do something about their neighbor. My invariable question is "have you spoken to them about this?" And I'll be honest. If your answer is "uh, no, we've not spoken at all" my interest in helping you force the issue just about vanishes.
As spring is popping out all over, windows are opened, and porches at least could be occupied again, I have a request for everyone. Could you just say hi to your neighbor? It could make a remarkable amount of difference for our community.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's old enough to know better, but he keeps on volunteering – someone stop him. Tell him about your neighbor at email@example.com.