Keep Your Rules Off My House

I’m terrible with rules. Especially picky little ones. Especially ones with no purpose.

This neighborhood association logo is bright and cheery, but a few such associations are just evil.

Which is why I am so grateful I don’t live in a place with a neighborhood association board with regulations that make the fine folks in Catch 22 seem like easy going freedom lovers. Or a town where the zoning officials have a meltdown if so much as one blade of grass is out of place on my lawn.

I thought of this today as I read a report out of Sacremento that a plumber is in trouble with county zoning officials because he parks his business truck in his own driveway. The truck doubles as the family’s transportation.

It’s unclear what harm the truck is doing, but whatever.

These stories about ridiculous restrictions on homeowners come up from time to time, and I shake my head in wonder. Is it that big a deal that somebody flies an American flag in their window? Or plants too many roses?

Apparently, it is. Don’t people have anything better to do that complain about roses? Talk about a nanny state.

Here’s a couple awful examples from years past:

Some associations are heartless. Television station WESH in Orlando reported in 2008 that a man’s wife and kid were killed when a crashing plane slammed into the family’s house.

When the surviving husband tried to rebuild, the neighborhood association threaten to sue him because the shingles on the new house weren’t exactly the right color and the house didn’t look exactly like the one he was replacing.

The man didn’t want the house to look exactly like the old one because it was too painful; it would remind him too much of his wife and kid.

I’m sure the resale value of surrounding homes would plummet to nothing if the shingles weren’t the exact shade of beige as everything else.  “Honey, I refuse to live in a neighborhood where all the beige is not exactly the same. How in the world could people live in a neighborhood with mismatched beige? It’s barbaric!”

Also in 1998, also in Florida, a 66 year old guy  was jailed because his lawn turned brown and he couldn’t afford to re-sod it. He did ignore some court orders to do the work, but he said he just couldn’t afford it.

So we’re jailing people for poor lawn care?

Here in Vermont, there’s an ongoing discussion in Burlington about homeowners who want to replace leaky windows in old homes with ones that look exactly like they’re made out of wood, but are made of modern materials.

OK, I admit the paint job on this Burlington, Vermont house is a bit much, but I'm still glad I don't have zoning people and neighborhood nitpickers telling me what color something stupid like my mailbox should be.

The windows aren’t 100 percent historically accurate, so you can’t have them, says the city. Which means people waste heating fuel, money and warm the planet, not their houses.

Don’t get me wrong. I think some rules should exist. Homeowners in historic neighborhoods ought to keep their houses at least looking, well, historic.

I also wouldn’t want a combination goat farm, nuclear storage dump, limburger cheese factory, shooting range, explosives testing ground and heavy metal concert venue across the street from my house in St. Albans, Vermont.

So the fact that the St. Albans Town Zoning rules don’t allow that combination in my neighborhood is probably a good thing.

Neighborhoods look better if there’s variety to them. Unlike neighborhood association fears, a certain level of variety enhances neighborhoods. A few quirks around the streets are a good thing.

In Burlington, the city has been blessedly silent as one major property owner in town has painted several of his apartment houses all kinds of bright funky colors. The once drab neighborhoods seem to come to life with these new paint jobs.

So let’s limit the rules. My gawd, imagine having to look over my shoulder every time I plant a lilac bush or knock down a dead tree, or put shades up in the windows and worry that the Design Police will put me in front of a firing squad.

I wonder if I’ll be tortured and killed for putting up a trellice for a rose bush this spring?  Thankfully, it won’t happen here in St. Albans. And there’d better be no proposals to establish a neighborhood association on my street.

So folks, watch out for those neighborhood associations. They might not like the color of your car, and then you’d really be in trouble.


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