Friday, August 05, 2005

I'm So Blue

As an attorney, I have recently found myself in a specialty I never sought. I have become a coverage and liability counsel for neighborhood associations and their insurers involved in litigation. I had zero cases like this two years ago. But then I picked one new client, then another. Now, I have 6 cases connected in various ways to disputes arising out of condo associations or homeowners associations.

While I don't mind the cases, they remind me every day why I bought a house in a neighborhood that didn't have any Association with real power. My fence was my choice. My house color was my choice. My type of grass was chosen by me. I changed my landscaping to suit me (ok, Mrs. KJ). I can put a playhouse in my back yard for my daughter. I can add a small pond and put a boulder in my front yard if I want. I can build a stone flower box around my mailbox or brick it in to deter the "run over mailbox" vandals. I can do about anything that is consistent with zoning laws. I can hang a flag or even erect a flag pole.

My only obligation is to comply with County zoning laws. Otherwise, my house is how I want it and my property is how I make it. And there wasn't a damn thing any of my neighbors could do about any of my choices except complain to me or talk about me behind my back.

In many neighborhoods that is not the case. Many have a homeowners/condo owners Association with real power. It has a Board filled with political and power mad residents who make every regulation immaginable. The rules are enforced be a Mrs. Kravitz (think Bewitched) in every other house more than willing to serve as the covenant police, reporting you for having a hiden satelite dish, the wrong color curtains or a backyard play set forbidden by a covenant.

Now, mind you, I am OK with restrictive covenants if they were created at the time of the subdivision/condo, and the owner took the property with notice of the regulations. Some people like having control over their neighbors so much they are willing to give up their own freedom of choice. I am not one of those persons.

Some neighborhoods don't get regulated by Associations and defined, contractual in nature covenants. Some are run by public boards. One sure way to get stuck in this deal is to have your home or neighborhood declared to be historically significant. Then you are not bound by a limited, defined document like a condo declaration. No, you are bound by political boards with lots of discretion and no accountability.

Which leads me to this story about a man who is, admittedly, doing something silly with his property, and his intrusive neighbors are really annoyed. So they got the local officials to do something about it. But he is still sticking it to them, thus far within the rules.

A giant blue statue of "Sesame Street's" Big Bird character perched above a roof has angered homeowners in a Wisconsin neighborhood, according to a Local 6 News report.

Al Emmons of Greendale, Wis., has been displaying the statue on his home's chimney located at Bluebird Court.

However, neighbors complained that the bird diminished the historic integrity of the community and went to officials to get Emmons to remove the statue. "It's just an unhealthy obsession," Emmons said. "It's such a silly thing to get upset about. That's also what the big to-do is, is that everyone is wondering why would they get so upset about having a blue bird on a guy's chimney that the kids made."

The Village's Historic Preservation Board ordered Emmons to take the blue Big Bird off the chimney or face a $100 a day fine. And, hours before the deadline, the bird was removed from the chimney.

However, the statue is once again perched on top of some scaffolding at roof level, holding an American flag and in plain view for the neighbors to see. Neighbors are considering going back to the city to have the bird permanently removed.

If this were a restrictive covenant issue, I'd have to say the Association was right, if the conduct was restricted. But this is a "Historic Preservation Board" which means some politician decided to make these people's property rights subject to a political board's discretion.

As far as I am concerned, Big Bird and his owner have civil rights. I hope he puts up a purple Mr. Snuffalupagus next.


At 1:21 AM, Blogger maybeso said...

Heh - What a great story! I can get behind a real contrarian like that big bluebird owner. Let the others put up their own strange, weird statues - they are just jealous.

Actually, it is quite ugly, but I can get behind the sentiments of pissing off the powers that be.

p.s. Your writing comes out very hard to read colorwise - I can read the quote boxes quite well ( the blue text), however, your text is rather brownish and blends too much with the background color. I had to highlight that text in order to read it at all.

maybe it is just my browser rendering your page colors incorrectly - I use Safari. If so, nevermind!

Other than that, I liked your blog. The photos stand out great!

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Pile On® said...

It must be your browser.

KJ, counsel to the neighborhood nazis. I would think that might suck.

At 7:54 AM, Blogger KJ said...

In an effort to avoid confusion Pile, let me add that I am not the guy attorney suing to collect fines. Collection attorneys do that. Not me.

I am involved in suits over interpreting declarations, disputes between neighboring associations over alleged misuse of funds, breaches of Board members fiduciary duties -- things like that. And denying coverage to the Board members when one assaults the other and gets sued.

maybeso, I think it is your server. The only difficult to read text is my pink "Gay*" on Gay* Thursday.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Cassandra said...

You know, I always liked to say 'breach of fiduciary duty' when I was teaching - it sounds so toffee-nosed.

That, and obligor/obligee/lessor/lessee, which I used to transmogrify into hobbldugor/hobbldugee* I loved contract law for some reason, though it must be dry as toast in real life and I didn't have to do the UCC (thank God) - just common-law K stuff. I loved drawing the little diagrams on the board - some of the ones I developed were quite amusing.

*obscure Greaseman joke

At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Dr. Harden Stuhl said...

I go out of my way to avoid associations whenever I have bought a house. They usually consist of retired old farts with nothing better to do than measure the lengths of blade encompassing your front lawn. I actually got a complaint once because my grass was too long. Now while I can certainly understand my neighbors being unhappy. Still, [Sh*t] “Grass happens”. I had been out of town for three weeks and between gardeners. I never had a history of exorbitant lawn growth anyway. Believe me I am very anal.The situation took care of itself with a little yard work. Meanwhile, [back at the ranch] the people on my street are still waiting for the guy down the street to remove the crud cars that had been sitting in his side lot. After many complaints from his neighbor the city is resolving it not the association. [It is really was an eyesore -leaks-, kids playing in it, bb gun holes all over the place.] I find that associations usually pick the easy fights. That is why they are worthless. There are enough city codes and regulations to renovate eyesores - why give power to the totally inept.

At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



Helping the feudal overlords and their obtuse gardening regulations ?

Shame, shame, shame.......and you being a librarian? :)

At 12:45 PM, Blogger KJ said...

Once again, anonymous, I only defend the associations when they get sued. I don't help them enforce anything. But these lawsuits usually arise out of a political squable within the association, and that is funny to watch.

But, I always said I protect the Man.

At 6:00 PM, Blogger tee bee said...

Echh. Homeowner's associations. Reminds me why Pa said, "When you can see the smoke from another cabin, it's time to move." I think it was because he hated it when he got sued by the neighbors for not painting his cabin the appointed shade of sky blue or putty.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger a former european said...

In Arizona, HOAs got so rabid and oppressive, that a guy flipped out a few years ago and shot up the HOA board at a meeting and then shot himself. Turns out the board had been harassing him for quite awhile with lawsuit after lawsuit, and were trying to seize his home.

This caused a huge backlash against HOAs and new laws limiting their powers were passed by the legislature. My few dealings with them confirm the Nazi Busibodies theme.

At 8:23 PM, Blogger KJ said...

Yeah, I understand that sentiment afe. But I would encourage people to sue their association, not shoot them up. I don't make much from dead clients.

At 11:13 PM, Blogger Pooke said...

Wow- Dr. Stuhl! So nice to "see" you!

A recent move-in tried to form a "neighborhood association" in mine (which is historically independent). As she was going door-to-door, she made the mistake of approaching us after a family picnic. My my brother in law greeted her on the front porch and responded "Are you trick or treating? Can I go with you?"

I don't know if he realized with that one line he saved the entire neighborhood.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger cjgain said...

Our condo association rules say we have to pay a $125 fee and have prior approval before installing a satelite dish. Also that it must be smaller than 20". Don't these rules violate the FCC regulations?


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