The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain has created a firestorm of criticism. Many folks simply do not believe that it’s right that a person’s property can be taken away and given to a commercial developer.
"I have great concerns about the rulings,’’ said Cynthia Dunham of The Leadership Centre in Gilbert. "I think the present property rights are somewhat sacred. I don’t like this business where you take private property and give it to another private entity.’’
This is an interesting observation from Dunham, whose group is an advocate of homeowners associations (HOAs).
Interesting because, when you get right down to it, HOAs have long used a de facto form of eminent domain.
Eminent domain is the practice of seizing private property for the greater good of the general public. For example, eminent domain could be imposed to clear the path for a new highway or hospital, etc. The HOA version of that practice would be seizing a home that has been neglected in order to preserve the value of surrounding homes. Foreclosing on that home protects the greater good of the community.
"When you become a member of an HOA, you have entered voluntarily into a contract,’’ Dunham said. "That’s vastly different.’’
The result isn’t much different, though. Ask Shelece Yoakum.
Yoakum lives in The Provinces neighborhood in Chandler. Monday night, she’ll face her HOA board and expects the board to inform her it is beginning foreclosure proceedings.
Basically, Yoakum faces foreclosure because she painted her house the wrong shade — a brownish gray.
Dunham says it is unfair to compare the Supreme Court ruling to what’s happening in HOAs. She says it’s a horse of a different color. In Yoakum’s case, it is, rather, a house of a different color and a clear example of how a good idea can be corrupted.
In its genesis, HOAs were formed so that cities would not have the burden of taking care of things like neighborhood pools, parks and open spaces. Now HOAs can dictate what sort of flag you can fly on your flagpole, where you can park your car and what color you can paint your house.
HOA supporters say it’s not as though home buyers don’t have a choice. "If you don’t want to live in an HOA, then you can select a home somewhere else,’’ Dunham said. But even she admits that’s becoming easier said than done.
Budget-strapped cities are demanding that developers form HOAs in their new communities in order to bear the burden of maintaining the neighborhoods, which means folks like Shelece Yoakum have fewer choices.
For all the uproar over things like the Patriot Act or eminent domain, a greater threat to personal freedom may be the neighbor who serves on your HOA board.