More than half a century ago, Eleanor Roosevelt said the following:
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works."
Mrs. Roosevelt believed that human rights begin close to home. Of course, someone even more famous than FDR’s wife addressed the issue a couple of thousand years earlier. Jesus of Nazareth counseled the Pharisees to "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
A quick Internet search reveals just how problematic that can be: Stories of lousy neighbors are all over cyberspace, and I'm not just talking about the "Neighbors From Hell" video game. There are loud neighbors, rude neighbors, trash-burning neighbors, and then there are the neighbors who shoot out your security cameras.
One response to the problems neighbors can pose has been the growth of home owners' associations (HOAs) with the power to make rules, to impose fines, and in some states, even to foreclose on home owners who are behind on their dues. Instead of making communities more neighborly, though, these groups sometimes resemble the bureaucracies I deal with every day as a consumer advocate—companies with an oversized regard for their own policies and an underdeveloped sense of service.
So that I can help to inform you about what our rights are when dealing with such groups, I'd like to hear your stories—uplifting or horrific—of complaints you pursued through an HOA. In an upcoming column, I'll share some of your stories and offer advice on curbside diplomacy.
Please write me at the special e-mail box I've set up for the HOA project: firstname.lastname@example.org.