I Want My HOA

ARTIST: Dire Straits

TITLE: Money for Nothing

I want my, I want my MTV

I want my, I want my MTV

Now look at them yo-yo’s, that’s the way you do it

You play the guitar on that MTV

That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it

Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free

Now that ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it



Many people have horror stories about dealing with their local homeowners association (HOA). Hopefully, some of these people will regale us with their stories in the comments to this post.

Most of Irvine is homogeneous: this was intentional. Homeowners associations are formed to maintain facilities in common ownership, and to maintain property values in an area through the enforcement of covenants, conditions & restrictions (CCRs). It has been shown, painfully, that individuals acting without governance will allow their properties to deteriorate, appropriate public spaces, and express their individuality in ways which harms neighborhood values (anybody remember this clip from Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie?). In this post, I want to show what can happen — even in Irvine — when the HOA is weak, or does not exist at all.


The property above is located at the intersection of Fulton and Lewis in Northwood. Perhaps you find it attractive? The color scheme is well executed, but the selections would be outside the norm for an Irvine property. You would never see this in Westpark, for instance.

Lewis 2

I am sorry you can’t get the full impact of the colors in these photos, but I can assure you that this house catches your eye when you drive on this street.

Ecclestone Circle

The real case to be made for HOAs in Irvine comes from this property on Ecclestone Circle. First, look at the size of this thing. Even in a neighborhood of large homes — which The Ranch is — this home stands out as being enormous. When I first saw it, I thought it was multi-family.

Castle 1

Do the words “starter castle” come to mind when you see this place? The property at 5 Eccelstone Circle is for sale. Do you think this house is helping or hurting its resale value?

Castle 2

This is the view from the neighboring street. This place dominates the scene in other neighborhoods.



Homeowners associations have gotten a bad reputation because they are often taken over by individuals of limited competence or those with a Napoleon Complex. These criticisms aside, Homeowners associations provide a value-adding service which, in my opinion, is worth the hassles they create.

43 thoughts on “I Want My HOA

  1. socalhousingbubble

    I’ve heard rumors about some Irvine and Tustin HOAs not allowing “car maintenance,” even in one’s own garage, unless the garage door is closed.

    One of the reasons I’d like a SFR is to have a garage and driveway where I can handle my car work without hassle.

    Does anyone have any more detail about this?

    Does it bother anyone?


  2. awgee

    That is awful. One of life’s smaller pleasures is giving poor auto maintenance advice to one’s neighbor while he/she is in the middle of auto project. If one can get one’s hands in there and (help) really muck things up on your neighbor’s car, so much the better. No wonder folks are complaining about not getting to know their neighbor in Irvine.

  3. NanoWest

    If you live in Irvine and you want to fix your car……..go to Santa Ana. If you fix your car in Irvine, you may get the street dirty.

  4. halfnote19

    I live in a condo complex where the HOA is run by all the old people so they always get there panties in a knot!

    We are not allowed ANY car maintenace, washing of the car, or dirty cars!! Which is a joke! If we can’t wash our car how do they expect us to keep it clean?!

  5. SoCalwatcher

    There is this house in a suburb of Chicago that the owner painted in bright red (I mean BRIGHT) with blue trim. Sticks out like a complete sore thumb. The neighborhood is pretty goofy anyways, but this home takes the cake.

    My G/F lives in a suburb called Morton Grove, IL. The same thing is happening like the mini-castle above. Average, 50 year old 1,500+ sq foot homes are being rebuilt into 4000+ sq ft McMansions. The neighborhood looks weird with these tract homes and then these big homes in the scattered about. The prestigious “Northshore” area of IL is close by, and seems like these idiots who cannot afford their McMansion there builds in this town.

  6. Darin

    awgee: I’ll remember to knock on your door next time I have car trouble. =)

    I know that HOAs come in all flavors though I have zero personal experience with them. Some CCRs – with or without HOA – make sense like no roosters in your backyard. Some, resale CCRs like “You may not sell this house to african-american, chinese, or hispanic” have happened in the last 50 years in Southern California. I’m a white guy originally from LA, but the idea of living in a homogeneous community, ethnic and architecturally, nauseates me. A faux -castle as your home, hmm… I’d rather not see it or have it on my street, but I don’t own the house. I am a member of the community; and, I choose the community based on the people not on the houses. I use the word houses specifically, because I believe CCRs and HOAs are extremely important in condominiums. I guess the real rub is someone’s definition of ‘homogenous’.

    On a different note:
    1) What’s a ‘typical’ improvement assessment process like and how long does it typically take from idea to the bill?

    2) What are some of the conflict resolution recourses? Do any of them try mediation or do they just jump to arbitration and litigation? Does anyone have stories of legal wranglings between HOA and residents?

    With high carrying costs, I’d imagine it would be hard to pay some of the assessments that come. I wonder if people might look to legal maneuvering in order to not pay the bill or get a delay.

  7. quietann

    I left Irvine almost 11 years ago when I finished a PhD at UC Irvine. Even back then, the “castle” was in the news. Apparently the owners were a Russian refugee family — skilled professionals and here legally — and Dad had always wanted a castle. He got permits to remodel the house into a castle, and started work, but years had passed and the work was never finished. Dad and the city disagreed over whether his permits had indicated that this would be a *castle*. The city had declared the castle unliveable because it was lacking most of a roof at the time, and had other problems, but Dad was refusing to move out. There were questions of whether the city was harrassing him. It was a huge mess and I don’t know if the family was able to keep ownership of the castle or not.

    I drove by the castle once, and no, it does not fit in the neighborhood, but it is a really interesting house and I certainly wouldn’t mind living there!

    I am very happy to not have to deal with a HOA. While I was in Irvine, someone I know got dinged by their HOA for painting their door the wrong shade of white! Another person got dinged for putting in a front door that had small windows at the top rather than being solid. And someone else was told that they could not have a child’s swingset/jungle gym in the backyard, not because they were not allowed to have one at all, but because the gym set did not match the decor of the houses. The walls between the houses were solid, but one neighbor was tall enough to see over and see the top of the gym set, and he complained. These were all people living in SFHs. Ugh.

  8. No_Such_Reality

    The walls between the houses were solid, but one neighbor was tall enough to see over and see the top of the gym set, and he complained. These were all people living in SFHs. Ugh

    HOAs are about your neighbors. If you get along, you’re golden. They won’t complain. But once a feather is ruffled, you can get nitpicked to death pretty quickly which can go from nastygrams in the mail to a bill for having the HOA do it.

  9. Jeffrey

    I grew up in a community in a suburb of Phoenix. Our neighborhood had an HOA, but it was never unreasonable – but there was one lady who had nothing but time on her hand (old widow). She would walk around the neighborhood and write down everything she saw wrong, then send it to the HOA. She once reported our house because there were a couple of blades of grass on the sidewalk after my dad had mowed our lawn.

    I was 8, my older brother was 11, and i remember very specifically my dad being extremely annoyed that he was getting a notice for literally a few blades of grass. That night my brother and i took the grass clippings and emptied it on her sidewalk in front of her house, then sent a crudely written letter to the HOA office.

    Hilarious when you are 8 and 11, but now i would kill any kids who did that to my house.

    Good times!

  10. CalGal

    We just moved here from the suburbs of Boston and sold a home that did NOT have an HOA. We built the house in 1993 in a beautiful (Norman Rockwell) neighborhood. A few years later, a neighbor moves in and “trashes” up the neighborhood. They would leave cars parked in their yard on blocks for the weeds to grow around it, rusty tools everywhere, Christmas lights still on the house in July, etc. I would cringe everytime I drove past the house. And there was NOTHING we could do about it. When we put our house on the market, people wouldn’t even drive past that house to view our house (nor would I if I were in their shoes). We finally sold our house, but for about $100k less than if that neighbor’s house wasn’t there. So, basically, that neighbor stole $100k from my pocket – and I had absolutely no control over it. When we buy a house, we will be buying a house with an HOA. I understand some HOA’s can be over-the-top, but I believe most are there to help keep the value of your home to what it should be. I am looking foward to writing that check each month.

  11. Westpark Aventura resident

    My former HOA rules in Ladera Ranch said that the garage door was to be open for ingress and egress only, plus I think they said something like a “reasonable time” for loading and unloading. Never enforced … I swear my neighbor worked in his garage on his car or whatever from 6 AM – 11 PM most days. Not fun when his garage is just below your master bedroom.

  12. halfnote19

    Beyond an HOA some cities have regulations in place to prohibit things; Such as cars on the front lawn or unkept lawns.

  13. CalGal

    We and many other neighbors spoke with the appropriate town officials, and they said property owners were allowed to have registered cars on their property. I believe they were allowed to have one unregistered car on their property. It was very frustrating because those neighbors knew what they could and could not do to stay within the law.

  14. ockurt

    I agree…especially in the condo tracts like mine where all your neighbors tend to be closer together. I think the people that don’t fit in are ones that probably would be trouble anywhere they lived. All HOA’s are different, it just depends on the people running it…some are anal, while others aren’t.

    It is pretty homogeneous, but I like how all the outside maintenance is taken care of!

  15. ockurt

    My parents live down the street from me in Westpark Promenade. Every once in a while, and HOA board member will walk around the neighborhood and check everything out. No lie, my parent’s house is one of the nicest on the block; very well-maintained.

    So, they are doing some work on the house and the contractor that’s doing the work has a small trailer that has his tools in it. He parked it for a couple of days in the driveway while he completed the work. Well, I guess this HOA bozo sees this (doesn’t help that the house is one of the first you encounter on a corner lot) and writes my parents a letter. Meanwhile, this bozo doesn’t walk all the way around the street to see what my dad claims are unkempt homes hidden from view.

    I don’t know what the point of this story is, but if there’s a negative to HOAs that might be it. Inconsistent enforcement of rules.

  16. JimAtLaw

    My aunt had an HOA that drove her to distraction. They tried to insist, even though it *wasn’t* in the CC&Rs, that she park her car in the garage and that she was not allowed to use her garage for storage. And that was just the beginning – she ended up in litigation with them, and was very relieved to be out of the neighborhood when she sold the place.

    Her story is common – busybodies who make trouble for others over nothing because they have a Napoleon complex, or just nothing else to do. I also remember reading cases in law school about HOAs changing the CC&Rs to do things like prohibiting pets, or motorcycles, or selectively enforcing things against people the HOA board members didn’t like, and if you were already living there, you were basically screwed. (Even if you win, it’s only at a cost of huge attorney’s fees, and feeling angry every single day when you get home.)

    The only way you’d get me into a house with an HOA is to buy it for me…

  17. corea

    I always laugh when I read the newsletter from our HOA about reminding pet owners to dilute their dog’s urine with fresh water — good luck enforcing that one.

    The anti-grease monkey rule is fairly common — Irvine ain’t the Pep Boys parking lot.

  18. halfnote19

    My HOA use to have it in the CC&Rs that pets were not allowed, it got changed because it was considered illegal to restrict pets. They now just strongly discourage pets, ALL pets… cats or dogs.

  19. buster

    We live in an Irvine Condo w/ $365 per month dues. That might be high BUT– They pick up the trash, mow the lawn, put on new roofs, fixed the carports, completely resurfaced the parking lots. They pay the fire and liability insurance, pay for the pool and spa, the outside lighting, painted, put in new fences, paid the earthquake insurance. They fixed the sprinklers, tow the abandoned cars and keep the flowers and bushes new and neat. They make the hillbilly neighbors get the old fridge off the porch, clean up the dog crap, fix the wobbly steps and replace the outside light bulbs. It’s the best of ownership because somebody else does all the work! $365 is high — but it’s well worth it!

  20. whoooooa

    We live in Northpark. The community is nice BUT the HOA is another matter! The maintenance company representative is rude, arrogant and condescending! It takes multiple requests to get issues attended to UNLESS it is in the best interest of the maintenance company to address them. The board of directors consists of members that have their own special interests in mind. Want to park your humongous motor home in Northpark? That’s OK, since the board president ran for the position specifically so that he could park his monster on his street! None of the board members have a clue as to how terribly mismanaged the property management company is, they are too busy ensuring their special interests are addressed! This board and maintenance company is a joke!

  21. I Like Trees

    One of my biggest pet peeves about our HOA is that trees can’t be taller than the roof. There’s a tree nazi who goes around and lets people know when their trees have grown too tall. Eventually people get tired of having to trim them every year so they just cut them down.

  22. Irvine_native

    Here is an example of a community currently in Irvine having severe HOA problems. They kept the fees artificially low and never had any money to do needed fixes. Now the homes are in horrible shape and everyone is going to get hit with a $30,000+ special assessment. Check out the meeting minutes for the nasty details:

    Rancho san Juaquin


  23. CalGal

    This is a prime example that one needs to read the HOA meeting notes for the past year before purchasing a property. You also need to know how much funds are in their reserve. This assessment is a lot for most people to handle. Does anyone know if this needs to be paid off by the current homeowner, or can it be passed off to the new buyer if payments are made in installments. I would assume it needs to be paid off by the seller, but I was wondering how that worked.

  24. joe

    Better to have the HOA in Socal than not. If you do not have a HOA and rules on house colors, your neighborhood will eventually resemble the color scheme of Tijuana.

  25. joe

    The special assesment is disclosed and part of the sale price. It should be paid off thru escrow. If you sell the house without disclosure, you better set aside the money to payoff the lawsuit because the new owner will win.

  26. Irvine_native

    Same here in woodbridge. The rules say that you can’t leave your garage open, yet many residents on my street completely disregard that and no one cares, including me. In the latest woodbridge newsletter, they reminded everyone that this is against rules so I guess that someone out there still cares.

    I think this rule is slowly being pushed aside here. This is one rule that is largely unenforceable.

  27. CalGal

    Irvine_Native: Does your HOA threaten people with potential fees or just a nastygram warning? Just curious how that works.

  28. No_Such_Reality

    Our old HOA had one tiny line about garages not being used as living spaces. (Step 0.)

    From that they were able to insist that your vehicles where parked in the garage. (Step 1.) This occurred about 5 years after moving and do to board incompetence getting gouged on everything they did, needed to continue raising HOA fees.

    With that they contacted out to a other management firm in Long Beach to “manage parking”. (Step 2.) Note. Our community also had rules about commercial and business vehicles being parked in the complex.

    All vehicles had to be “registered” with the parking company. $75/each per year. (Step 3.)

    Since garages are required for vehicles, you had to prove you had more than two vehicles to get more than two parking passes. If you had less than two passes and you parked one in the community spots, you violated the CCRs and the the parking company fined you. (Step 4.)

    Repeat offenders were threatened with having their car booted or towed. (Step 5.)

    It was one of the final straws that finally it easier to just cash out and walk away.

  29. EvaLSeraphim

    Ugh. I *hate* HOAs. First, they serve to transfer what used to be government functions to a private entity and the homeowner has to pay for things their taxes used to cover (story of the present day, more and more). Second, they are too easily used as a cudgel to nit pick people to death or otherwise drive people out of the neighborhood. Third, if I buy an SFR, I shouldn’t have to pay $300 to a committee to review the plans for my *backyard* landscaping or get permission to put a screen on my front door.

    No need for IR to worry about purple exterior paint on a SFR if a city has “approved” paint colors and a passel of code enforcement officers (see, e.g., Cerritos, City of).

    Many of the “features” IR appreciates could be accomplished by well enforced City zoning codes. It wasn’t a weak HOA that failed to stop The Castle, rather, the City Planning Commission and/or City Council should not have granted the variance that allowed it to occur.

    No, if homogeneous is what you like, city government can accomplish the same goals without the property management middleman (or woman, in the case Merit).

  30. Trooper

    Thanks for the link Sue,

    All of this fingerpointing is hilarious ! I just wish they were working harder at identifying and prosecuting the fraudulent buyers…. In my experience, if you start with a little fish and squeeze it, you’ll eventually land a whale. And when arrests are made, they need to be well publicized to make folks think twice before risking 5 yrs in the Federal Penitentiary. Greed will always be there, but freedom is priceless.

  31. Trooper

    I’ve had good and bad experiences with HOA’s. I find it’s always the older folks on the Board who overreach their position. No one over 65 should be allowed on the enforcement arm of an HOA. 😉

  32. fumbling

    I used to be so proud that I lived in neighborhood without HOAs until the neighbor from hell moved in across the street, left their garage door open all day, put a portable basketball hoop on the sidewalk and played in the street from morning to night with a-hole teens that made cars go around them. The city did nothing, the cops did nothing. So we decided to move to a nicer neighborhood with an HOA and actually have these neighbors to thank for making us buy a nicer home in a better neighborhood in 2002 before the big real estate runup. But they really ticked off the whole neighborhood. Just before we moved, we noticed they suddenly quieted down and moved the hoop off the street, probably some neighbors put some fear into them for being such a-holes. We made sure the new neighborhood had HOAs that prohibited hoops on public property. So far the HOA has been pretty good, they allow a wide variety of paint colors and we haven’t received any “fix this” letters. Personally, basketball noise is really annoying, like a constant drumming sound. Does that bother anyone else?

  33. Justin

    Yeah i know what you mean about the basketball noise, especially when we have a park less than a 2 minute walk away, it’s almost as bad as running in the streets when you have nature trails available at the same park.

  34. SoCalwatcher

    I agree about basketball noise. One home I live in built a school behind my house. The construction noise was enough for 8 months, but the basket ball court was facing the rear of my house. During the day, it was no big deal but at 1am and the noise bouncing off the brick building with people making noise got old fast. I hate being the jerk who calls the cops, but I couldn’t sleep with the noise and I am sure my other neighbors that backed up to the school agreed.

  35. NickStone

    Irvine Renter:

    I agree with you that Irvine has gone through a GREAT deal of effort to preserve property values through HOA CCR’s. My question to you is:

    Do you think it actually worked? Is Irvine performing at maintaining it’s property values better than other areas that do not have HOA’s and severe CCR’s? Did the experiment work?

    My thoughts: I would say that the entire theme of this blog is that the CCR’s are not working. In fact, it is the very aggressiveness of the people that choose to live in Irvine that may be the root of its undoing…. since speculation is pretty rampant in Irvine. (even though one does not need to be a resident of Irvine to speculate there… but I would bet a lot of money that most of the flipping being done in Irvine is by other Irvininians)

    I would actually say that South County is actually going to fall harder than other regions… since it is those very HOA monthly dues, coupled with Mello Roos in some areas of South County, mixed with a bit of overly ambitious speculation that is going to break the back of South County. Those extra percentage points (ad valorem) are going to make it more likely that a foreclosure will occur.

    I think it will all boil down how many vacant houses will exist after the tsunami of foreclosures has run its course. Since foreclosures = nonpayment of HOA dues = no money for common areas = blight = lower prices = etc.

    Here is a bit of trivia for you: Name the one city in the United States that has no zoning at all (R1, R2, R3…., C1, C2, C3)??????

    Answer: Houston Texas. This means that someone could actually build a gas station in the middle of a residential neighborhood. However, you would never know it to look at it. There are no misplaced junk yards…. in fact, this city is quite nice.

    Food for thought on this pleasant Friday afternoon.

  36. halfnote19

    Not always true… look at Newport Beach/Corona Del Mar. Many of those areas do not have HOAs and look at how beautiful that area is.

  37. Bkshopr

    It is really unfortunate that today’s HOA s having to deal with so many petty little thing among the disgruntle neighbors.

    The purpose of the initial HOA at the turn of this century was to lend architectural aesthetic guidance and focusing on the best solution in building a home that harmonize and coexist in a neighborhood with compatible building materials, colors, scale and optimize the house orientation to view, privacy, and beauty. Competent architects and planners were the core of this committee and not retired widow who could volunteer time to be the Nazi.

    The most affluent communities in Southern CA today are the resulted from a good HOA. Palos Verdes, Rancho Santa Fe, Montecito, Santa Barbara, Bell Air, Rolling Hills and San Marino. The HOA of these communities did not over step their boundary presiding over the petty matters related to how the way people should live. Instead its focus has been on purely aesthetic issues regarding architecture and landscape.

    Others in this blog also mentioned other area does not have a HOA but the neighborhood looks great. I believe homeowners in affluent communities consult with professional such as architects, landscape architects and interior designers to properly stage their property. They hire gardeners and manicure the curb appeal for their homes.

    There is this one neighborhood Floral Park in Santa Ana that has great curb appeal because homeowners care and hired the right people to do the work. It looks like a little San Marino in OC. The owner of South Coast Plaza Henry Segerstrom still has his home there. The HOA does a great job and the Fee are donated and not a mandatory. Interesting enough the population in this neighborhood is 95% Anglo Saxon!

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