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27


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 27, May 1, 1997

A Fine New Place to Meddle

By Vin Suprynowicz
vin@lvrj.com

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Election to the board of a private homeowners association seems to bring out the worst in some folks. Given the chance, they'll threaten to rain down the fury of the heavens on anyone who dares to hang an unauthorized American flag, or redecorate in a color not "pre-approved."
         Ironically, the law can actually encourage these petty potentates, by stipulating they can permanently lose their right to enforce a deed restriction if they fail to promptly cite even the most minor violation. And a certain measure of hypocrisy should probably be acknowledged here, as well. The very homeowner who protests it's "unreasonable" to limit her choice of roofing tiles, would likely be the first to shriek for the association to ban her neighbor from establishing a part-time auto-repair business in his driveway.
         So much for "private property rights."
         But, sensing widespread dissatisfaction with the excesses of these petty tyrants, state Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, has proposed a bill which would require Nevada homeowners associations to be "run more like government operations."
         Under Senate Bill 314, association boards would be required to hold public meetings with fixed agendas. The attorney general's office would be given authority to review complaints. And board member would be given just six months to complete "a course" on board responsibilities and the rights of association members. The question that arises is where in the state Constitution the Nevada Legislature (or any other legislature) might find authority to regulate such private associations.
         As long as Article 4 of the Nevada Constitution clearly states that the powers of the Nevada Legislature are limited by the federal Constitution, it may not be out of place to note that the earlier document clearly protects "the right of the people peaceably to assemble," a right generally held to include the right to join or refrain from joining any private group we please.
         Yes, even this privacy right has limits -- a group that met each week to plan random murders, after the model of the cult of Thuggee, might well expect some government intervention.
         And some of the unsavory restrictions on "deeds and covenants" that used to restrict how a homeowner could dispose of his property -- like the ones that forbade homes being re-sold to various ethnic minorities -- have long since been struck down. Good riddance.
         But if the Legislature is going to mandate how and when the homeowners associations shall meet, how they shall conduct their business, and even that their private officers must "take courses" ... what's next?
         Surely there are some members of the local Elks Lodge who wish the fraternity conducted its business differently. How soon can we expect their bylaws and procedures to be rewritten by Mr. Schneider and his busybodies?
         Some of our churches and temples aren't run in a very "democratic" way, when you come right down to it. Why, hasn't there been "widespread dissatisfaction" with their lack of flexibility on such issues as divorce, abortion, and sex outside of marriage? So why not require public meetings of all their councils, with their doctrines and gospels freely amendable by a simple majority vote -- with the new, more popular changes to be enforced by the state attorney general?
         Folks contemplating the purchase of a home have a right to buy in an "association" development, or not. If Mr. Schneider believes home-buyers are being lured into such "associations" without being fully informed of the restrictions to which they thus voluntarily agree, he may indeed find a minor role there for government -- requiring that each potential home buyer be fully informed.
         There is also the question of how homeowners' associations manage to enforce any order which insults a homeowner's privacy rights. Are county clerks and local courts cooperating in the enforcement of liens against homeowners who fail to mow their lawns?
         The Legislature does have some authority over these government agencies; Sen. Schneider might want to review the extent to which they facilitate such silliness.
         But beyond that, it really doesn't matter whether Mr. Schneider is unhappy with how the private homeowners' associations comport themselves. Because they're private.
         Allow that line to be erased, and we'll soon find the busybodies knocking on our doors with court orders to "check" whether we're associating in our homes with the "wrong" sorts of people.
         After all, it's now national policy to "put the children first." Many children "express widespread dissatisfaction" with their parents. And there's no longer any limit to where government can stick its nose ... is there?


Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.


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