6 Crazy Laws and HOA Rules

Rules are everywhere and most for good reason, but not always. I hunted down 7 of the craziest HOA rules or local laws I could find. Both governments and homeowners associations, or condo associations if you are a condo-dweller, can impose powerful—and sometimes incredibly strange—restrictions and requirements. Some can be quite costly, as Pennsylvania residents recently found out with the potential new requirement for sprinkler systems in single-family homes.

Here are 7 crazy examples of laws and HOA rules:

1. A man from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., lost his home because he planted too many roses on his four-acre site. The board fined him and watched monthly as the fines mounted.
When they slapped a lien on his home, he went to court and lost because he'd transgressed the board's architectural design rules. He was stuck with the board's $70,000 legal fees and lost his home to the bank.

2. A couple from Lawrenceville, Ga., found they had a $3,500 lien on their house when they tried to sell it. The homeowners association had been fining them every day they left pink flamingos on their lawn but didn't tell them. The association got the money, but the couple have filed suit to get it back.

3. Near snowy Donner Pass, Calif., a development has rules that you can't drive over the snow or clear it from around your house to preserve the rural appearance and to provide zones for snowmobiles.

A woman resident with a back injury wasn't able to walk the half mile to her house, so she drove over the snow. The association fined her up to $500 a day. She faces more than $50,000 in fines and has been fighting her HOA in court for three years. The case is unresolved.

4. A family that cares for five foster children in Port Richey, Fla., was threatened with eviction from their residential development. The association considered having foster kids a business because the state paid $2,028 a month to care for the children.

The 56-cents-an-hour 'business' owners are still fighting the case.

5. A Florida community forbids hurricane shutters unless there’s a hurricane going on. Even though this state probably sees more hurricanes than any other part of the country, they’re not allowed to leave up hurricane shutters because it’s an “eyesore.” They must install them right before the storm (because, you know, you have plenty of time to do that while Mother Nature is hurtling at your doorstep), and take them down afterward.

6. You Must Be Cool. Being an artist, living in the coolest, hippest (and most expensive) neighborhood in NYC sounds awesome, right? Well, in a particular building, the tenants must be considered “on-the-verge artists” and have their craft approved by the board.

Also you can’t wear high heels in the house because of the noise.

Bending the rules

If you fight the law, you may lose. But there are ways to work with the restrictions of a HOA and still get what you want. The first line of defense is to make sure you understand the HOA or condo association rules before you purchase the property.

If, after you move in, you’d like your home’s appearance to differ from that of your neighbors, you’ll need to submit a “variance” form of request. This request can be accepted or rejected at the board’s will, so it’s good to alert them early in your planning process. One tip to gain HOA support? Understand the challenges and perspective of HOAs, follow the rules to a tee, and offer to help them gain community support for their initiatives. Maybe even run for office. If you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.

What’s the strangest local government or HOA rule you’ve ever heard of?