Friday, June 30, 2006

Apropos of Aging Neighborhoods

Click to enlarge.

This cartoon is fairly apropos of what should happen to a few homes in our subdivision. Most of our houses were built in the mid to late 70's, and like most neighborhoods of a certain age, a few of the homes and yards have been allowed to deteriorate. In some instances, the fault can be laid to aging of the residents who do not have ready, willing and able family help. I can attest to the fact that motivation is often lacking as we age; the cares of home and yard maintenance seem to fall behind in our list of important things to do. Sometimes, the problem stems from too little money and/or a fixed income that allows only a small variance from the necessary monthly purchases and expenditures. That seems unlikely in our area, but one never knows.

Recently, all of the neighbors received a letter from our "Architectural Committee", a group of those who are very disturbed by what they see as the degrading of our subdivision by a few bad apples inhabiting the basket. They have good points in their arguments, but I believe they are being rather heavy handed about it. The letter was in the form of a questionnaire. Here is a sampling of the contents:

1. Are you aware of and familiar with W_________'s Restrictive Covenants?

2. Fundamentally, do you agree with the premise that poorly maintained properties in W______ have a significantly negative and adverse affect on every residence.......?

3. If the following options were available in respect to curing a poorly maintained property in W_____, how would you rank your preference: (Rank 1 through 5, where 5 is the top preference)

a. require the board to consult with the property owner
b. commence legal action against the property owner
c. volunteer your services to the property owner in an attempt to alleviate the problem
d. no nothing
e. other:_____________

Some real estate agents have reported that it is somewhat more difficult to sell a home here lately, due to the few with landscaping that have been allowed to deteriorate. That sets everyone's teeth on edge, of course, as no one likes to hear that his or her property may be devalued due to someone else's neglect.

I think one must be careful in going to an attorney about it. Bringing legal action is a rather severe way to go about achieving a solution, especially when tempers may run hot and the result may be more problems than existed originally. No house in our area has reached the point of no return, I think, and antagonizing the residents who are lackadaisical already is not the best way to get them to do what is right. Shouldn't the board consider that some may not be able to afford regular maintenance (due to divorce, widowhood, aging and/or fixed incomes, illness, etc.)?

My suggestion is for using restraint, in this and all neighborhood problems. This is one place where it is better to err on the side of conservatism. How would you handle it?


Deb R said...

Ugh, situations like that drive me nuts! I'm not sure how I would handle it exactly but I know my first thought is that before any real action is pursued I think some effort should be made to differentiate between homeowners who are too old, infirm, or broke to do the needed maintenence (and probably already feel bad about how their property looks!) and those who could do it but simply don't care. It would seem to me that the handling of those two situations would need to be quite different!

Here today from Michele's.

Laura said...

My own neighborhood is undergoing a similar issue. All of the homes were built in the early 70's. A few of the residents are the original owners as well. The newer residents have updated the homes and in many cases are doing total remodel and landscaping.

We have have also had a severe drought here in Tampa Bay and many people have had to replace their lawns or have new wells dug and new sprinkler systems put in.

Some of the elderly residents here just don't have the ability to go out and spend the time and energy to comparision shop in order to have a new lawn put in or have their house painted.

One of our neighbors is a widow who is very frail, that would be far too much work for her.

In cases such as this one, I wish the board of directors would consider working WITH the homeowners. Why not band together as a homeowners association to get volunteers to come in and help maintain the yard or paint and fix up the things that need work?

We are so busy looking for faults and blame. Sometimes it's better to go back to the old fashioned "help your neighbor" values.

I feel that a neighborhood where everyone works together for the common good is a neighborhood that will have a higher resale value overall.

kenju said...

You are both so right. I didn't mention that 2-3 of the people on the committee have scads of money to throw into their yards, and have gardeners and yard services galore. Some of the residents simply cannot spend that much on maintenance, even if they want to. The members of the committee don't appear to be considering that issue. It is these people I worry about.

utenzi said...

michele sent me, Judy.

I think the letter is great. However I don't read it literally, rather I suspect it's strongly worded to send an indirect message. A scare message. The strong wording is there to ensure that there's not a need for lawyers. But it's just a theory.

Raggedy said...

Argh! This just screams chicken shit to me. If I understand it correctly this committee is trying to involve people in their problem. They don’t have the guts enough to face the person(s) they are disturbed by face to face. Man to Man. They want to take their little letter around and say see it isn’t just me the whole neighborhood feels this way. In a community type setting this screams WRONG to me. Spineless, weak, back stabbing, letter writing survey people annoy me. If each person helped out their direct neighbor when the saw a need I don’t think a letter thing would ever happen. Even the word committee takes away humanity. Reach out, lend a hand, offer assistance, find out where the need is and help. Don’t write some high minded letter about what you think is right or wrong. Even some of the terms in that letter are highly subjective. Poorly maintained according to whom? If I buy a house and I don’t want to landscape, quite frankly that is my business. They are looking at home appearance from the outside with no regard to what is within. As you stated in your post there are many reasons for maintenance type issues not being in tip top shape. It is highly probable even the home owner themselves wishes they had the ability and money to do more. The value of the “poorly maintained” property owner is the one who will suffer the most in the end when their sale value is decreased. Grrrrrrrrrrr!!! Sorry for the rant.

Have a wonderful day!
(=':'=) meow hugs
(")_ (")Š from da Raggedy one

Raggedy said...

BTW I loved the cartoon.

Shephard said...

We lived in a planned community built by Disney, and BOY were they strict!! We once got a "warning" because our white fence was dirty... when just three houses down, a house had the ricketiest dirty fence ever... they never got a notice. Wth??

When we bought our present house, I asked for the loudest colored *striped* termite tent they had. It was like a circus tent. We loved it! I was so proud. ;)


Karen said...

Yikes. Neighborhood problems are always tricky, although you usually hear about heavy-handed subdivisions. Good luck with this.

Hi Judy! Just stopping by via Michele's!

rashbre said...

My house in the USA is like this.

We have a lawn patrol and get sent lawn violations every so often and at the moment I'm dealing with a re-paint directive. Now actually the place is in pretty good condition and I'm a little shocked at the vehemence of the violation notices.

To a Brit this all seems rather severe!


Beverly said...

That is one of the reasons my husband would never live in a subdivision with rules...not that we have a trashy place or anything. He always parked his work truck in our driveway. He couldn't have done that in a subdivision.

My grass is almost nonexistent, because I wll not pay for city water to water it, and I don't have a well...I too live near Tampa where rain had been very scarce for a long time. I did put in some new plants, and I'm watering them.

Our neighbors keep their lawns mowed, but no one is trying to outdo the other...

OldHorsetailSnake said...

My thinking is the same as your (unstated) thinking: Get some volunteers to go help out. Why not?

Pickalish said...

I'm with Beverly...I'd probably never live where there were covenants, or a home owners assoc.

It's just not my gig. In this case, I'd say some sort of neighborhood task force may be needed. Maybe that could alleviate the stress that legal action would cause. ?

Wordnerd said...

Yes, I'm all about the restraint. After all, this isn't something you can just up and leave. You have to live there, and you have to live with these people!

Inanna said...

Kenju, I have to say I'm appalled somedays at how many, many people would rather point fingers and hire lawyers instead of simply going to someone, speaking frankly, and OFFERING TO HELP. Yes, offering a helping hand to individuals who might have physical or monetary problems to achieve a nice home. Perhaps you should write in and suggest forming a "Garden Club," like the one my Mom belongs to that beautifies their community.

I vote whoever that questionaire, Chief Gardener.

Inanna said...

I meant... whoever wrote that questionnaire... yeah, I was just all fired up. Not hard to do these days.

margalit said...

We live in an area with much older houses, and some of them are pretty run down. Two recently recieved funds from the city to help them renovate. You can apply to te city if you can't afford to fix up your property, and I think that's the most important thing. You can push people to repair their homes when they don't have the funds to do it. My feeling is, your community needs to apply for community grants to help people fix and paint.

Here via Michele

Common Sense Beauty said...

Exactly..perhaps there are money problems, or illness that are causing the issues with these homes. Personally, I hate HOA's although I live in an area with one (try to find a neighborhood in Denver without one)...but just slamming the hammer down on someone without knowing what's going on is wrong, IMO.

Common Sense Beauty said...

Whoops... here via Michele

Chancy said...

I would suggest that the president of the neighborhood association simply start out by writing everyone a letter pointing out the neighborhood standards and asking everyone to comply.

Do not single out anyone at this point. Then if there are some, and there will be,who chose to ignore the letter, call a neighborhood meeting( stating the problem) and get suggestions and input.

Then contact the worst offenders by mail and ask for a reply by a certain date as to how they are going to comply.

If all this has no effect, then consult an attorney who specializes in neighborhood associations and get his advice on any action to force compliance.

Good luck...

Thumper said...

Sweat equity...if a neighbor cannot keep their yard up, then other neighbors should offer to help them. Most people will at least try, if they know someone is there to help. Sometimes it's just too overwhelming and hard to know where to start.

Here via Michele's tonight!

Chancy said...

OH and of course find out if possible which owners are old, ill or infirm or financially unable to comply and band together to help them out.

Just thinking out loud again, if word gets out that owners are being FORCED to comply by the home owners association, that in itself may be a bigger turnoff to prospective buyers than a few houses that are not being kept up.

PI said...

The last thing you want is trouble with the neighbours. Live and let live as far as possible.

kenju said...

News Item: in our morning paper, there is a story about neighborhoods helping out the older people by landscaping and painting for them. Perhaps the guy who wrote the letter will see that and form another committee? I doubt it, but it will be interesting to see.

Terri said...

This is such a touchy subject in neighborhoods....we've had some horror stories here in Florida in relation to this.
It's such a fine line of wanting to preserve the neighborhood and infringing on somebody's rights.
Since I've never experienced this...I'm really not sure how I'd handle it. Guess it would depend on the age, etc. of the neighbor.

srp said...

In Mississippi we had a neighborhood garage sale twice a year. Some proceeds went to the community group to upkeep the entryway to the community, put up new road signs and help a few elderly neighbors with their yards.

It is much easier for cowards to sue and get lawyers involved than to come up with helpful ideas or give a bit of their hoarded money. (Mini rant)

I think the people in Arizona have it right. They live in a desert. So, instead of a yard, they have rocks. A few have the rocks painted green but most just have rocks for the yard. On weekends, instead of mowing lawns, they rake the rocks.

Carmi said...

I'm going to take the fifth on this: I live in a development where a very small minority of owners are allowed to rent out their homes to tenants. The vast majority are, in fact, owner-occupied. It is a very tidy, well-kept and close-knit neighborhood as a result.

I watched a minivan back up across the street last night and slam into the side of a house. I ran to the scene, and was confronted by a 9-year-old boy trying to get the van back into gear. I grabbed the keys out of the ignotion and ordered him out of the van.

He claimed he was trying to put the van back. I conclude he was joyriding.

The board has now initiated eviction proceedings against the family, as this is the latest in a long line of unneighborly behaviors. The police will be contacting me this week for my statement. We'll be reviewing our rental policies at our next meeting.

So I'm sorry to confirm that I won't be erring on the side of conservatism this time out. Normally, wussy things like landscaping quality and such don't concern me. But punkass kids ruining the neighborhood? That's a whole other ball of wax.

Sorry, Judy, for rambling there.

metten said...

Okay. I've got to weigh in on this one. I was a code enforcement officer for 5 years and a homeowner's association manager for 3 before that, so I have faced this particular situation about 10,000 times. First and foremost, when one closes on a property that is located in an area with a homeowner's association, they are given a copy of the bylaws and covenants...they had every opportunity to not live that renders the whole, "chicken shit, hiding behind some rule thing" as well as the, "why doesn't somebody just tell them the rules thing" mute. Also, all of you folks who say that you'd never live in an association that had such probably already do. Check your local Ordinances. Most likely you'll find the International Property Maintenance Code.
How about the "why don't you go and help them instead of going and getting a lawyer people"? How many times should we help them? I know that when I first got into it I cleaned up a yard or two, only to find them wrecked within a month.
Code Enforcement Officer is a stupid job - I only did it because I needed to, ya know, feed my family. I've been called a Commie and a Nazi in the same sentence (I tried to explain to the person yelling at me the fundamental difference between the two and the fact that they probably wouldn't like each other, but they weren't listening), I have had guns and knives pulled on me. My family has been threatened. I have been forced to defend myself. About a dozen of us get killed every year. I was a yard cop, but I was also the guy that shut down the meth house full of kids.

It's because of the people that have no personal pride that the laws exist. Unfortunately, the law is blind and can't tell an old woman who just can't take care of her property anymore (and yes, I have been the voice that told more than one person that no one was going to help them and that it was time to go to the home)from the 23 year-old alcoholic. Invoke the Fourth Amendment, call me names, switch it up and use the fourteenth Amendment...The only thing that really applies is what my father told me long ago - Do whatever the hell you want, just don't mess it up for anyone else. Malcolm Gladwell, a handful of judges and about 200 thank you letters agree with me.