Not in My Front Yard! Aesthetic Conflicts in HOAs

Condos and HOA communities can be a great alternative to single-family home ownership, enabling unit owners to enjoy privacy and the comforts of their own personal space while sparing them the burden of sole responsibility for exterior maintenance and upkeep. That said, there will always be a certain amount of tension between residents’ desire to make their unit their own while adhering to the rules of the community in which they live—most of which are in place to ensure peaceful coexistence and robust property values for everyone.

To some people, a lawn or backyard might sound pretty uncontroversial but a prime site of conflict is outside space. Balconies, lawns, terraces, and backyards—these are spaces that are technically part of individual units but which abut or otherwise extend into common areas, and can thus be seen by neighbors. Gardens, pools, and decorations may be private property, but they all reflect the appearance of the entire community as well. Unit owners, property managers, and their attorneys need to navigate rules and stipulations that affect these areas with special care because of that inherent conflict of interest.

Flamingos of Doom

We’ve all seen the lengths to which some people will go to personalize their outside spaces. “In condominiums, you might see owners trying to make the most out of their balcony or terrace areas. They'll personalize them as much as possible with their own decor, furniture, fixtures, etc.,” says Roberto Blanch, a shareholder attorney at the law firm of Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel, P.A. in Coral Gables. “Homeowners associations tend to be more analogous to stand-alone homes where you do have front yards, and side yards, and back yards, but the issue remains the same. You can see people installing everything from pink flamingos on the lawn to the basketball post. You name it, and people have done it.”

Especially in a place like Florida, many people buy homes with the idea in mind that their home is their castle, their safe haven. Obviously, a condo unit can act as just that, but at the same time, a condo unit is not that same as a traditional single-family home, and sometimes, buyers don’t fully appreciate the difference. There can be strict guidelines for how the community as a whole operates, and how things look on the outside can be a source of the most restrictive rules.

“It depends on how structured the community is,” says Cindy A. Hill, an attorney at the Hill Law Firm, P.A. in Osprey. “Some communities want to look like Disney World, with everything neat and trimmed and looking beautiful. In that case, you're not going to have much flexibility. As a matter of fact, I've dealt with associations where they even limit what color of rocks or what kind of mulch you can use.”

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