"MUZZLE THY NEIGHBOR" POLICIES
August 25, 2004
Free speech rights are becoming a thing of the past in many neighborhoods, thanks to the rigid restrictions of homeowners' associations, says USA Today.
Approximately 50 million people live in a neighborhood -- that is, a gated community, retirement community or co-op -- that is governed by a homeowners' association. Associations provide benefits to residents in the form of community swimming pools, parks or rules designed to keep neighborhoods looking clean and property values high.
However, some residents argue that homeowners' restrictions go too far:
- An Omaha resident and World War II veteran hung an American flag from his apartment balcony, which ran afoul of his homeowners' association rules prohibiting the exterior hanging of any items.
- Some cities such as Las Vegas and Hilton Head, S.C., even require that new multi-unit housing be governed by homeowners' associations, which amounts to government endorsement of stifling free expression.
In 1994, the Supreme Court struck down an anti-sign ordinance in a ruling against the town of LaDue, Mo., that prevented a woman from putting up war protest posters on her property. However, community associations argue that neighbors have no right to complain when they voluntarily sign a contract agreeing to abide by homeowners' association rules.
But with the prevalence of homeowners' association communities, it means signing one's rights away just to buy a decent place to live. After all, it is estimated that 4 out of 5 homes are governed by an association.
Source: Tony Mauro, "An Unwelcome Mat for Free Speech," USA Today, August 18, 2004.
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