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Posted at 1:11 PM ET, 09/15/2010

The yellow mailbox revolution

By Peter Galuszka

Revolution is in the air.

In Delaware, Tea Party activists propelled conservative Christine O'Donnell to victory over Republican establishment favorite Mike Castle. In D.C., aloof Adrian M. Fenty is out as mayor.

And in the Richmond suburb of Brandermill, they are painting their mailboxes yellow.

The Brandermill case cuts to the bone of what makes regular folk batty these days -- unresponsive government. In this case, unresponsive private government.

Despite outcries from members, the Brandermill homeowners' association board has decreed that all the mailboxes in the community must be replaced by matching new models that cost $155 apiece.

Brandermill has been especially sniffy about homeowners rules since it was hailed as a cutting-edge planned suburb back in the 1970s when Sea Pines-style housing from Hilton Head Island in South Carolina was all the development rage. The subdivision has lots of trees, running trails, swimming pools and a homeowners' association, membership mandatory, that sets maintenance standards to keep housing values up.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with homeowners' associations, the mood is more one of fascism than democracy. You do what the board says or you get fined $10 a day. You have no recourse. It's almost impossible to get anywhere in the courts, since association rules are set up by squads of real estate lawyers who give all power to the soviets, er, boards.

Since suing is not a good option, angry Brandermillians are painting their mailboxes yellow in protest. Doing so is a clear violation of community rules, but the people don't care.

I don't live in Brandermill but in a smaller subdivision several miles away. For much of my adult life, I rented in big cities such as Washington, Chicago, New York and Moscow. Suburban associations were new to me. I found out just how awful they can be when I moved into my home some years ago, and the architectural control commission suddenly found lots of things wrong with my house. They also didn't think that the color of the shed I erected matched the house. Four months and $500 in legal fees later, we compromised.

Homeowners' associations are like a private government. Real governments like them because it means they don't have to work as hard. Unfortunately, citizens have a lot more clout with real governments.

To be sure, sometimes associations do their jobs well. But I remember a "Governing" magazine article about them some years ago (I gave it to my board). The worst cases of abuse are in places like Nevada. In one subdivision, the board started writing tickets for residents who put their garbage on the street curb for pickup. Unfortunately, the geniuses who issued the tickets attached them to curbside garbage bags, which were picked up by trash trucks. No one got their tickets, and the residents had to pay extra penalties.

So, one has to admire the Brandermill mailbox painters. Maybe more of us will join their revolution.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion . The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | September 15, 2010; 1:11 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. politics, HotTopic, Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia, development, economy, real estate  
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Comments

I congratulate Peter for his realization that HOAs are unaccountable private governments. Their adhesion "agreement" favors the HOA board -- it's like living with Mayor Daly or Gov Huey Long -- it's rigged!

Learn how HOAs operate outside public government with the blessings and approval of state legislatures who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. Visit http://pvtgov.wordpress.com

Posted by: PVTGOV | September 15, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

At least Mayberry had Sheriff Taylor to protect the citizens from Deputy Fife. Where's our Andy, Brandermill?

Posted by: 93541 | September 15, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

The Constitution of the United States makes no mention of dictatorial powers granted to home owners associations. These fascists are truly un-American. Just because they use lawyers to create reams of rules does not make those rules binding or even legal. The banning of American flags or flags of loved ones in the service of our country is disgusting. Unless something is a safety concern or an obvious eyesore or violates real laws these ASSociations should butt out of homeowners lives and the way they live THEIR lives in THEIR homes.

Posted by: bobbo2 | September 16, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I agree with this article and all the comments that I've read thus far. I have had my own run ins with our HOA and I too believe they are down right un-American. We have town ordinances and zoning laws that have done the job nicely for as long as I can remember. HOA's are the "taste" police. If you don't have good (their) taste, then what you want to do is not allowed. Ridiculous. I own my house, not rent. I didn't pay good money to ask them "pretty please, can I improve my property". Ridiculous. I keep hoping they'll all go bankrupt and we'll all be set free.

Posted by: DivotDiva | September 16, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Simple solution - don't join the homeowner association when you buy the house. Don't pay your dues. Don't acknowledge their existence. Don't sign the covenant that gives them power over your property.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | September 17, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Did you submit your shed for approval before your built it? Sounds like you cost yourself $500.
Brandermill Community Association, Inc. is a not-for-profit non-stock Virginia corporation. It is not private government and describing their Board of Directors as fascist and Soviets is irresponsible given the lack of research you have put into this article.
You describe this as a yellow box revolution but fail to point out (or took the time to find out) that no more than 8 mailboxes have been painted yellow in a community of over 3700 homes and 200 businesses. Your standard for a revolution is pretty low.
Everyone that buys a home or has business in Brandermill should understand the covenant restrictions before they purchase because they have to sign the documents prior to close. If you don't want to live with the restrictions, don't buy a piece of property with covenants.

Posted by: brandermillhoo | September 19, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

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