Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Homeowners vs. neighborhoods

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I discovered something curious while working on The little ‘hood that could (Desert Companion, March 2011): the vexed distinction between neighborhood associations and homeowners associations. It wasn’t central to the point of the story – that any neighborhood can benefit from banding together if it’s willing to put in the effort required – yet, erroneous confusion between the two different types of organization may prevent some people from getting in on the action.

The distinction is alluded to in the story, when City of Las Vegas neighborhood planner Yorgo Kagafas says, “I’ve often heard people say, ‘I don’t want my neighbors telling me what color to paint my house,’ but that’s not what neighborhood associations do. They don’t have the power to make rules, only to enforce what the city adopts.”

Who does tell you what color to paint your house? Homeowners associations.

While the two types of group manifest in myriad forms, depending on the circumstances in each case, there are some common, general differences between homeowners and neighborhood associations: Homeowners associations are usually mandatory, dues-gathering groups of residents in a designated area that have the authority to impose and enforce rules related to design and maintenance of that area; neighborhood associations are usually voluntary groups, open to residents in a designated area, that can only enforce (or request enforcement of) public laws governing that area.

So, a homeowners association will collect dues that help pay gardeners who trim your hedges to a mandated height. A neighborhood association will organize a crime watch and call law enforcement to report suspicious activity.

Another way of looking at it would be to say that homeowners associations are profit-oriented, while neighborhood associations are community-oriented. The former focuses on property values in order to protect the owners’ investment. The latter focuses on quality of life; property values are one of its indicators, along with crime rates, owner-occupancy and anything else residents deem important.

People who have a knee-jerk reaction against neighborhood associations should consider this distinction. Although your neighborhood association may take some action you disagree with, such as seeking historical status, it can’t make or enforce any rules that aren’t already on the books. It’s also an open forum, where you are free to express your opinion, providing you’re a resident.

And that’s the democratic process at work, isn’t it?

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