The yellow mailbox revolution
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.
| 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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