Thursday, June 28, 2007

Officer Methuselah

Earlier this month, Governor Gibbons vetoed legislation that would have affected home owner’s associations. Many of us watching this issue were both relieved and frustrated – HOA’s are an unregulated layer of bureaucracy imposed upon us, and if you have problems with your HOA, well, good luck to you.

Part of the proposed legislation would have given HOA’s the power to raise dues without going before the home owners for a vote. Giving HOA’s any more unchecked power is like handing a lit firecracker to a toddler – explosively dangerous.

While the bills were pending, HOA presidents made a big PR push to declare that most residents living under an HOA are happy. Really? Where are these residents? Everyone I know who lives in an HOA regulated community has had problems with their association. Everyone. From senseless parking regulations to the destruction of community landscaping, HOA’s seem to have a corner on the market for lunacy. The really aggravating part about having problems with your association is that you have no recourse. But wait, you say, don’t we have a state ombudsman to help us with HOA’s? In my experience, this person – yes, a single person – must have had his customer service training from the IRS. Talking to these people is about as helpful as jabbing yourself in the eye with a sharp stick, and almost as painful. You’ll get more help by standing in front of your house and screaming.

Perhaps if HOA’s put as much effort into being responsive as they do in being obtuse, we wouldn’t be paying tax dollars for this façade of a state agency. I once waited six months (yes, months) to get clarification from my HOA about one of their nastygrams. What question was so incredibly difficult that it took six months to answer? The notice we got said, “Grass needs edging,” but our grass was edged. We wrote back. We sent pictures. We called. We pleaded with the management company to please find out what the heck we were doing wrong. We just kept getting notices, each of them more threatening that the last. Finally, the clueless girl at the management company had an answer for us: it was the grass edge next to the decorative rock. (Naturally, it’s next to impossible to speak to a board member or, God forbid, the person who issued the nastygram in the first place.) We asked, “You mean the rock edge that the BUILDER put in without any border? The rock edge that it’s not actually possible to edge because there is no edge? The same rock edge that is uneven and untrimmed at every single house in our community?” Yes, that was it. Instead of simply putting a notice in the newsletter, or actually acknowledging the reality that this oversight on the builder’s part had created an unedgeable area (oh, the horrors!), our association chose to spend who knows how much money and time to send nastygrams to hundreds of homes, doubtless to many just like us who had absolutely no idea why they were getting a notice. My HOA’s latest cause du jour is oil spots in driveways. Hard to imagine, I know, but driveways – where cars are parked – often get oil stains. And oil stains don’t come out of concrete. But don’t bother an HOA with facts!

I could go on with examples of the incompetence, unresponsiveness, and general unregulated idiocy exhibited by HOA’s, but the bottom line is this: Common sense can’t be legislated. That is the critical factor missing from most HOA’s, and no amount of new laws will fix that. Until we find a way to mandate critical thinking skills, HOA’s will continue to operate as an unrestricted branch of government that affects even the tiniest details of our daily life.

Our neighborhood has a community swimming pool, which we use frequently. Last year, a pack of kids vandalized the pool area on a regular basis, destroying pool furniture, breaking glass all over the pool deck, and soaping the Jacuzzi. When my HOA tightened pool rules and issued wrist bands to identify residents, I was glad to see them doing something to stop the problems. They also assured us that the security patrol would actually respond to calls about these kids – good news since until then our rent-a-cops had adopted an “I can’t be bothered with that” attitude whenever anyone called to report these delinquents at work. (Let me just digress and say that we live in a relatively crime-free neighborhood, so I can’t imagine that our security patrol was out busting up a major crime syndicate when people called to report that these teenagers were at it again.)

One evening, about a month ago, my husband and I took our son down to the pool for an after-dinner swim. David and I settled into the Jacuzzi while our nine-year-old splashed in the pool. Then Officer Methuselah showed up.

I can only guess that the official security patrol recommended an increased presence in the pool area, or perhaps Officer Methuselah is just a civic-minded person. I do know that he's a member of the HOA board. We were quietly enjoying the evening when Methuselah and his 80-year-old sidekick hobbled into the pool area. They both glared disapprovingly at us, asked to see our wristbands, asked where we lived, and then Methuselah pointed at my husband’s plastic mug and told him, “You can’t have that here, sir.”

“It’s plastic,” said David.

“Sir, you can’t have alcohol here,” said Officer Methuselah. Okay, I admit it, my 40-ish husband did, in fact, have beer in his mug. We’re just lawless desperados. “If the security guard sees you, you’ll be in trouble,” Methuselah warned. He put one hand on the walkie-talkie he had strapped to his belt – I’m guessing he was getting ready to call in backup.

This was too much for my truck driver hubby. “What’s he going to do, arrest me?” I was surprised he managed to respond without cursing, but despite his evil beer-swilling ways, he does his best to be courteous.

Officer Methuselah was briefly flustered. “He can issue you a citation, sir,” he stiffly answered.

David took a deep breath before responding, “Okay. Thanks for letting me know.”

Now, you must understand that we were not the only ones in the Jacuzzi. Sitting across from us were three 20-ish men, heavily tattooed and pierced, with a veritable forest of empty beer bottles and cans spread out behind them. As Methuselah finished warning David, silence descended as we all waited for him to unload on this group of alcohol guzzling criminals. What scathing words of reprimand did he give these men? Absolutely not one word. Nada. Zippo. Zilch. After chastising David, he promptly turned and left the area. Apparently, he felt he had done his duty. He had bravely stepped up to stop those roving bands of crazed alcoholic middle-aged parents and their splash-happy third graders.

As soon as Methuselah departed, my husband turned to the young men. “You notice he picked the oldest guy to talk to?” We all burst out laughing.

“You seem like regular, normal folks,” said one of the men. “What was that all about?”

Mindful of the fact that Methuselah and his buddy were just outside the gate, I said, “I just want you to know that I only have water in my plastic cup.”

“I just want you to know that we don’t,” they said, and we all cracked up again.

If you know of any laws that will stop Officer Methuselah and all those just like him, please let our legislators know. I’m sure this won’t be the last time the HOA issue arises. As for me, you’ll have to excuse me – a bunch of the neighborhood moms have banded together so we can terrorize the pool area by letting our children run instead of walk, encouraging them to do belly flops, and not making them wait thirty minutes after eating before they swim. Hey, I’ve got an outlaw image to uphold, you know.
Photo courtesy of Lance Kidwell at

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