December 9th, 2008 Categories: Real Estate News
Yesterday the Washington Post ran an article on a homeowner who is battling his homeowners association in Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County. The article, titled “Driveway Painting Tests Religious Freedom” caught my eye for two reasons. One, we own an investment property that is part of a homeowners association and two, the homeowner in this story is also a Realtor.
The stand off boils down to this: the homeowner, Ram Balasubramanian, a devout Hindu, painted a permanent Hindu religious symbol on his driveway. The South Villages Homeowners Association says he has made “unapproved modifications” to the driveway.
I don’t have a bone in this fight but as a Realtor – and a property owner – I do know that homeowner associations are put in to place for good reason and, for the most part, they are well intended. Among other things they help maintain property values by enforcing maintenance and presentation standards and they can serve as a neutral body between disgruntled neighbors if necessary.
As a Realtor, I also know that it is important for buyers to understand – and for me to convey - what they are signing up for and what rights they are signing away when they chose to live in such a community.
The Post noted, “Experts in homeowners association law say that although residents give up some right to unfettered speech when they move in and agree to the rules, courts have at times sided with individual rights when associations tried to limit flags or signs. In the past, tempers have flared over holiday lights and Jewish mezuzas, which are attached to doorposts.”
Frank Rathbun, spokesman for the Community Associations Institute said, “Free speech and free expression are incredibly important values, but these are private communities with established rules in place to protect homeowners . . . bottom line, it’s a tough dilemma.” An estimated 50 million people in the United States live in such neighborhoods.
What do you think? Does religious freedom take precedence? Is the homeowners association right? Should Mr. Balasubramanian have known to check the rules?
To read the entire article, click here.