Letter Re: Consider The Downside of HOAs and CC&Rs Before Making a Land Purchase

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Rawles;
I live in so-called “rural” western Oregon. Last month I sold my home that was in a Homeowner’s Association (HOA) and moved to a slightly bigger place (3.5 acres, versus 2 )[that is] a few miles farther out into the country, outside of any HOA. Living there [inside the HOA] was worse than living inside city limits. I was forced to move [because] they had some CC&Rs that made it very diffiicult–if not downright impossible–to prepare for a disaster. Under the [“covenants, conditions, and restrictions”] CC&Rs, my storage space for all my survival goodies was limited because there was a covenant that limited me to just one garden shed measuring no larger than 15′ x 15′ that “matched the architectural style of the house.” I couldn’t put up any other storage structure. There were also [restrictive] covenants on RV storage, boats and boat trailers, box [utility] trailers, [house] paint schemes (approved colors only!), antennas, pools, ponds, flags, [political] campaign signs, and on and on. They are so anal about their precious covenants that it gets downright laughable. Committees for this and committees for that. All meetings [run] by [Robert’s} Rules of Order. The worst of it all was that even though the HOA development was all outside city limits and we all had lot [size]s of at least one acre, we were limited to two cats, two dogs, and one horse. Period. No other animals. No substitutions and no exceptions–unless somebody was a “grandfathered” resident that had owned a house there before 1985. I tried fighting the system, politely, for a couple of years. But I finally gave up and moved.

So my advice is : Don’t ever buy property inside a HOA, and certainly never inside city limits! Sincerely, – H.D..in Oregon

JWR Replies: I agree, wholeheartedly! Most survivalists don’t feel very comfortable inside city limits, or inside a HOA development. Let me reiterate some of my key points from one of my first SurvivalBlog posts:

You will gain several advantages if you live outside of city limits: You will avoid city taxes. You will most likely be on well or spring water instead of city water. In many cities because of zoning laws it is illegal to drill your own water well–since the utility companies want to maintain their monopoly. Operating a home business generally requires a city business license and a visit from the fire marshal. And of course, it is illegal to discharge a firearm inside city limits in most jurisdictions.

It is essential to look ahead to eventual growth. If your new “country” place is on fairly level ground and just a mile outside city limits, odds are that it will be inside city limits in a few years! Do some prognostication on the ‘line of march” of the advancing phalanxes of “Ticky Tacky Houses”, and plan accordingly.

Avoid states or counties with restrictive zoning laws. Zoning laws and homeowner’s association (HOA) restrictions may restrict the style of home that you build, the number and type of outbuildings, limits on “for profit” agriculture and the size of garden plots, livestock raising, timber harvesting, operation of a home-based businesses, pond and road construction, and hunting or target shooting on your own land.

Those Dreaded CC&Rs
Unless you buy in a pro-gun covenant community, beware of buying a house or land with CC&Rs. As you mentioned, these are contractual agreements that restrict the use of the land. CC&Rs are typically mandated in “planned communities” where the developer or the HOA makes it conditional on owning a home that specific appearance standards be maintained. They can be fairly benign, such as delimiting the colors houses can be painted. But in some cases, like yours, CC&Rs can be outrageously totalitarian. Some do not allow a car that is more than five years old to be parked in view of the street, or do not allow visiting relatives to park an RV in your driveway or on the street in front of your house.

A “private gated community” might outwardly seem like a safe place to buy a house, but there are some serious potential drawbacks. A planned community with typical restrictions can present an uphill battle for preparedness provisions. At the very least, it makes preparedness much more expensive. In spite of all the disadvantages, some readers may be able to afford both preparedness and luxury, and may wish for the professional networking and social environment that attracts others to luxury gated communities. A private, gated community has obvious superficial advantages in security, in that outsiders are conspicuous. Residents tend to be more aware of those who are out of place. Such communities, at their best may function like small towns and enjoy some of their advantages. (But good luck finding a welding shop or plumber in Pinecrest Estates!) Some gated communities can be more social and insular, so that neighbors tend to be better acquainted than in ordinary neighborhoods. At the very least, members will begin with an “us” mentality as any crisis approaches. (In previous posts, I’ve referred to this as the “We/They Paradigm.”) See Mr. & Mrs. Bravo’s profile at the Retreat Owners Profiles web page for more on the pros and cons od living inside a “private, gated community.”

Mr. Bravo reminded me that there are some advantages to HOA developments. (Although not enough to tip the scales, in my opinion.) He noted the following advantages: Homeowners in typical gated communities often fit the helpless model of urbanites. However, a community in one of the small-government, low-tax, gun-friendly states is more likely to attract conservatives who share the principles held by survivalists. The retired California executive might not seem like the ideal preparedness neighbor, until you learn that he picked Utah because he is a shooting enthusiast, and is already well ahead of you in preparedness provisions. Even the “ranchette” or “dualie pickup” mindset can be a good start, as owners probably have at least some preparedness inclinations, perhaps without even yet realizing it. If you can, imagine the guys at a neighborhood barbecue boasting about who has the largest propane tank or the best-equipped shop. You get the idea.

Gated communities in suitable Western states may have a significant number of part-time residents. These occasional residents may already be thinking of their mountain home as a crisis retreat, and some may be especially receptive to programs that enhance the security of their “retreat” when away, and which keep it secure prior to their arrival in a crisis. Some such homes can be expected to remain unclaimed by their owners, and may at least be a last resort to shelter others in need. (With prior consent, naturally.) The collective mindset and character of an existing community should be evaluated before purchasing, to assess whether there is hope for the community to function in a crisis. Meet people, learn about the community “culture,” and decide for yourself. If you are considering a purchase in a new development, ask yourself if you are prepared to be a leader, to educate others, and to set an example without standing out as an oddball. As times change, association rules can be changed, and this takes a leader. Ideally, one influential individual will eventually convince some neighbors of the importance of preparedness. They too have already selected a good geographic region. To avoid marking yourself as the “neighborhood survivalist” (leading not only to social embarrassment, but also to the hordes at your door in a true crisis) start slowly.

Most who pay the premium for a gated community are already quite security conscious. Initiate seminars in security and crisis communication. Foster the “neighborhood watch” mindset. It can later morph into a neighborhood watch on steroids, if necessary, to meet changing conditions. Your neighbors will probably have invested thousands in security systems, and perhaps much more in “safe rooms” or “panic rooms”. Many may be interested in further enhancing their security. A seminar on earthquake/flood/fire preparedness may be welcome, and the discussions should help identify those receptive to much more diligent preparedness. Others may be interested in an expert guest speaker on firearms selection and tactics for home security. Listen to the questions and discussions to identify those with the best potential. Create a “security” subcommittee packed with the right people, and begin to make palatable recommendations to the community board. (This avoids the “lone crackpot” appearance.) Keep in mind that the best prepared and wisest neighbors will not be quick to talk about their provisions, so take the time to get to know your neighbors, just as if you were in a small rural town.

Some communities may have restrictions that are not onerous to preparations, but which require creativity. Private wells may be prohibited, but rainwater recovery is a viable alternative. Where visible propane tanks are prohibited, buried tanks may be acceptable–and desirable for other reasons. Solar systems may be purchased but left uninstalled until a crisis is imminent. This is not ideal, as anyone who has set up such a system knows. Consider getting a self-contained trailer-mounted system that sits in a spare garage bay. A proviso: If you roll it out in your driveway for use during a crisis be sure to put it up on blocks and remove the wheels to make the trailer more difficult to steal. Outbuildings may not be allowed, but large basement spaces provide a good alternative, although at a significant cost.

While gated communities adjacent to big cities in problematic areas like Chicago and Atlanta will never be viable, there are attractive communities in the Intermountain West that are well removed from these risks. For those who insist on the amenities of a planned community, and who can afford them without compromising on preparedness essentials, these bedroom communities may be found within an hour’s drive of cities like Bend, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Salt Lake City, Utah, and others throughout the West. For the rest of us who face real-world financial constraints, we are much better off finding a home where we are not asked to pay extra for preparedness constraints that are difficult or expensive to overcome. The greatest mistake is to overspend on a home, perpetually deferring prepared provisions.

Is living in a gated community right for you? Give it some serious thought, and do your research. Experience has shown that a typical homeowners association tends to be organized and operated by a busybody retiree with a Hitler complex and nothing better to do than make everyone else’s lives miserable. But of course YMMV.

Covenant Communities
The flip side to commercially-developed “gated communities” is the prospect of finding (or forming) a Covenant Community with like-minded survivalists. In the late 1990s, the Mormon survivalist leader and highly decorated war hero Bo Gritz formed one such community. It is called Almost Heaven, near Kamiah, Idaho. It has had mixed results, since a good portion of those buying land there were concerned about the Y2K date rollover computer crisis. When Y2K thankfully turned out to be a non-event, many of those landowners moved on, leaving a much different group of people owning land there.