Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Homeowners Associations
April 10, 2023 2:31 AM - Season 10, Episode 7 - Subscribe

In the aftermath of yet another school shooting, children gathered outside the Tenessee courthouse chanting "Fuck Bill Lee!" due to the grossly underwhelming response from Republicans to the shooting, who expelled two House members because they had the temerity to side with the students. And Now: It's Easter, The Most Terrifying Time Of The Year." Main story: Homeowners Associations, much-hated, often-tyrannical groups that 29% of Americans must live with, a figure that's rapidly growing because over 80% of new homes are covered by one. They have been called "the most significant privatization of local government responsibilities in recent times." They sometimes function like small governments, but without any of the strictures that governments have. They can be astoundingly petty, and that's not even getting into how they can be the tools of racists. It's just one more way that people often get screwed over in the United States. On Youtube (25 minutes). The piece is concluded by a short segment depicting what it would be like if HOAs were forced to tell people what they may be in for. For people 35 or younger, who likely will never even be able to own a home, LWT has prepared an alternate story, A History of Chuck E. Cheese, a 28-minute video that can been seen at

F.37: "Scotus Exposus," CLARENCE THOMAS

Take downs of Vince McMahon's new look:
"Clearly an AI-generated response to the prompt 'Snake Tycoon.'"
"The answer to the question, 'What if Salvador Dali chose to live without imagination?'""
"He looks like he's about to challenge someone to a balloon race around the world."
"He looks like Vincent Price having an allergic reaction to being stung by bees."
"He looks like a circus owner from the 1930s who harasses the dancers, mistreats the animals for fun, and is eventually murdered by a lion while the whole town cheers."
"[...]Sega Genesis video game villain."
"French Dracula."

A response to the Tennessee lawmakers threatening to expel the members from one of those members: "We had a child molester on the floor for years, they helped him get reelected and did nothing to expel him." "We've had members pee in each other's chairs." "We've had members [...] prescribe drugs to their cousin-mistress, and nothing happened."

Things that got people sanctioned by homeowners associations: setting up a bench to sit on, installing artifical grass, having Christmas decorations up too early, feeding ducks, having a non-tree-shaped tree, having plum-colored shutters (resulting in fines of $25 a day), not having shutters on a house (in response to the plum-colored shutter fine, also at $25 a day), having a shed (pre-existing) in the backyard that wasn't visible from outside the yard, having trash cans visible to the street, having lawn art, not submitting to a demand to powerwash a house and not sweeping a driveway on demand, and speeding, which one HOA fines at $250 for the first offense, and $1,000 for third and later offenses.

Actual rules imposed by HOAs: "Homes may display a maximum of two exterior decorative objects," "All garage doors must be painted Benjamin Moore Mayonnaise OC-85," and "Front yard landscaping must contain a minimim of one thirty-six inch box tree, one twenty-four inch box tree, ten five-gallon shrubs [and] ten one-gallon shrubs."

The quote in the main post is from Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residental Private Government, by Evan McKenzie.
posted by JHarris (12 comments total)
Someone desperately needs to show John Haul Out The Holly.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:31 AM on April 10, 2023

One of the few stipulations I had when shopping for a home was no HOA. That's pretty easy because there's no new subdivision construction here in Pasadena, but no thank you, no how. I'll take my weird cranky 1920's Craftsman and no HOA.
posted by drewbage1847 at 1:07 PM on April 10, 2023 [5 favorites]

We own one (1) of only four (4) total units in our small condo building. So every unit in the building has at least one person on our HOA board. It's a 100+ year old brick building that's pretty damn solid, but when issues do come up, it's nice to have a few people to split the responsibilities of finding contractors, get quotes, etc and discuss when/how/who we should spend our money on upkeep and problem solving. We are immensely lucky that all six of us like each other, and only having four units in the building makes the meetings almost like a small Zoom meeting with friendly colleagues versus anything close to unpleasant.

I actually prefer our situation to having to be 100% responsible for every decision about owning a home and yards, garage, etc. All four units recently split the cost of a kickass electric snowblower. All four units were involved in getting some necessary siding work done. All four units are now in the process of figuring out (and eventually paying for) some needed tuck pointing. My wife and I own a duplex with a deck, a balcony, a covered garage space, a front-, back- and side-yard... so it's like having a private house with a small team that gets together to make big decisions. Sure, we all share the yards, and have some adjacent walls and floors/ceilings. But who cares?

I know some HOAs are nightmares, but I just wanted to point out that some situations like this are actually really helpful, pleasant and can lessen the stress of home ownership.
posted by SoberHighland at 3:08 PM on April 10, 2023 [6 favorites]

Really strange coincidence today.

I watched Oliver last night. Today a woman came by with a petition to form an HOA for our street.

She thought if the neighborhood had a more uniform "look" it would increase our property values.

I wasn't as rude as I wanted to be, I just suggested that matching landscaping and paint wouldn't make up for living one hundred feet from the Long Island Railroad.
posted by Marky at 4:58 PM on April 10, 2023 [11 favorites]

This episode of Radiolab's The Vanishing of Harry Pace (which I had in a part in making) includes the story of two Black activists' successful campaign to overturn a white HOA's racially restrictive covenant in 1930s Chicago. The legal battle they sparked went all the way to the US Supreme Court and contributed hugely to desegregating the city's housing.
posted by Paul Slade at 8:50 AM on April 11, 2023 [1 favorite]

I know some HOAs are nightmares, but I just wanted to point out that some situations like this are actually really helpful, pleasant and can lessen the stress of home ownership.

It sounds like what you have a more akin to a condo association and you all have an interest in maintaining a common building which houses your respective properties. The HOAs featured in the piece can often involve many hundreds or thousands of detached, single family homes. They're more akin to small, completely privatized towns with zero transparency or regulations.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:47 AM on April 11, 2023 [5 favorites]

I knew a lot of what was covered, but the private management companies were new to me. I find the idea that there's paid employees driving around looking for infractions to be particularly galling. At least when your terrible neighbor is filing complaints about you, someone actually in the neighborhood actually objected!

And yeah, condos are in a totally different situation, although there is some overlap conceptually.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:35 AM on April 12, 2023 [2 favorites]

I've never lived in a HOA, and I don't think I even know anyone who does (few friends own homes), and likewise I was most surprised by the private management companies and the level of enforcement - as well as some of the rules. I had certainly heard of rules around paint colors, but a precise mandated number of shrubs? Or fining someone for taking the trash out "too early"? I guess I'm not surprised that some studies have found homes under HOA's actually increase in value much slower than non-HOA homes. I can imagine many people would be attracted to a basic number of rules, but who would want all of these rules? Most people just want to live in a neighborhood where people care about/maintain their homes, right?

This Reddit thread is a list of people sharing horror stories, my favorite maybe being all the people fined for "taking down trees" without a permit after a tree on their property fell down due a storm. Although the person whose HOA demanded everyone mow their lawn on the exact same day, in the same pattern, at the precisely same height is a close competitor.
posted by coffeecat at 8:05 AM on April 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

Gotta admit the speeding fines sound OK to me. If evenly enforced.
posted by clew at 5:30 PM on April 25, 2023

Ehh, when your roads are as broad and as straight as the ones shown during that part of the segment, people are going to drive a certain speed. Signage and fines won't actually do very much to change that. The fines and cameras will be very effective, however, at introducing opportunities for abuse and surveillance, as well as profiteering.

If they were serious about road speed, they'd narrow the roads or create small roundabouts by installing planters in the centers of the intersections. That sort of thing is how you actually slow traffic, but it doesn't make anyone any money or provide anyone a chance to go on a power trip.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:03 AM on April 26, 2023 [1 favorite]

A lot of people would rather play at being cops than actually achieve their stated goals.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:05 AM on April 26, 2023

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