Hi. This is my first time posting a question on permies. Love the site, my newer-to-gardening husband found it and reads it daily, and I'm catching the fever (and not the covid one).
Here's the backstory... We live on a parcel within an HOA in northeastern Pennsylvania, USA. We pay no fees, nor do we use the HOA owned lake (as we have a private lake in our backyard that's not a part of the HOA). Owners of property that touch the lake do pay monthly/yearly fees, I'm guessing for lake maintenance. I don't even know if there's a pavilion, dock, or any common area; the lake could be entirely surrounded by private properties. We've never bothered to go to the HOA lake. We own the parcel furthest from the HOA associated lake, and we share a few thousand foot border with a parcel that is not part of the HOA area. Ours is one of the larger parcels (about 16 acres); lots bordering the small lake are a few acres at most. Our neighbors who we share the other border with, also in the HOA, have a large lot, about 20 acres, and the two nextdoor neighbors also in HOA going down the street have lots of over ten acres each. None of our lots (all the neighbors whose lots I just described) border the lake. Our neighbor across the valley (not in HOA) has a farm with cows. The neighboring parcel to ours is where the zoning changes from residential (my lot) to agricultural (neighbor). I know zoning is township and HOA is private, just mentioning to give a feel for the area-- it's basically a few houses surrounded by acres of trees, some farms, scattered lakes, a small junkyard, small airport, a college observatory. Public electricity but all private waterwells, private septic, no public natural gas.
When we bought our house & land about 2 years ago, we were told by the people we were buying the house from that the HOA really doesn't care what we do "up here," the rules just apply to the properties touching the lake. We (hubs and I) understand that although the previous owners may think the HOA doesn't care about us, the truth is that we are part of the HOA and legally we are bound by those CC&Rs which have restrictions against having poultry and livestock. I realize that we bought the place, we signed off on the CC&Rs but we are ready to branch out from gardening to having critters, but I don't want to build coops and runs and procure a dozen hens, then have a HOA rep visit for the first time ever and tell me I'm in violation and I have to get rid of my girls.
So (drumroll please) here are my questions...
1. Since we or the neighbors on my street don't pay into the HOA, would we have a better chance of splitting off from the HOA? I know it would involve hiring an attorney, but I wondered if anyone has dealt with a similar situation. (Most definitive and most preferred action: legally split and be done with the HOA, but costly, AND we may not win)
2. Is there any kind of "abandonment" argument (along the lines of a prescriptive easement, only reversed?) to be made that since we don't have any benefits from the lake, and that other neighbors (again, all of which are neighbors who don't border the lake) have violated CC&Rs for years with no admonition (although the rules probably have a severance clause, that if one rule is overruled, the others still stand kinda thing) that the rules don't apply to us anymore? (Would be less pushy than trying to break completely from HOA, but still would involve legal assistance)
3. Since our neighbors (non-lake touching ones) all seem to be on the same page as far as ignoring the CC&Rs, do I risk doing what I want to do without regard to the HOA rules and just wait until someone brings my violations to the knowledge of the HOA board, or do I get the apprehension out of the way and try to meet up with an HOA board member first? (Risky if I bring attention to this "forgotten" end of the HOA)
To any who have read this mini-novel, thank you for reading! And thanks in advance for any advice or opinions. I think our best bet is to talk with an attorney, but I'm hoping someone has successfully dealt with a similar situation and can give me practical advice...
Just as an aside, when we purchased the home, we had been looking for land for over 5 years, and this was the only land that met our huge list of criteria, so we made a choice to purchase knowing we might have to deal with challenging the HOA, so please don't say "you shouldn't have purchased a property with an HOA." We felt moving from our 1/2 acre lot in a big development to a rural plot out in the sticks was worth the risk of having to challenge the HOA.
It appears as if up to 25% of the USA community may live with Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R).
In Australia they are very limited.
It seems once set up they can be changed, but it can be expensive and drawn out.
I guess if there is a wide acceptance for change it may be easier. But since they are in place to "manage" the development and neighbourhood,
there may be a natural resistance to change.
Changing the CC&R's
A lot of the issues about the CC and R's relate to maintenance of roads, trash removal, appearance of properties.
It seems it is important to read the CC and R's and not have somebody tell you about them.
You may find that they will allow small numbers of poultry and livestock, but not have a commercial business set up.
You may also find you have a separate right to produce food for your self outside the CC and Rs.
I suggest a study of them for a start may help.
Maybe the use of screening etc could result in you having some of the things you speak of.
See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil.
This is of course, just my opinion. If you get along well with your neighbors, I would go ahead and just get the chickens. Maybe talk to your immediate neighbors and get their thoughts. I don't know how your area is laid out, but honestly, with 16 acres, if you don't have roosters, how would anyone but your immediate neighbors ever know? If you are at all sheltered, even your neighbors probably wouldn't know. Chickens are about the quietest animals you can have. If you get caught with the chickens and the HOA is willing to go to the time and expense to make you get rid of them, a dozen chickens cost a lot less than 1 hour of lawyer's fees. The coop could always be converted to a garden shed or something in the worst case scenario, but I'm struggling to picture anyone caring, given the information you put in your post. You could easily have a dozen chickens on an acre and never have anyone find out.
Anne- unfortunately, all of the property we own is within the HOA; we are on the outermost perimeter, almost like if the HOA property were a giant letter Q, and we were the trailing end of the tail. I could post a parcel map, but I don't think it would really help much. Our street is maintained (gravelled, plowed) by the township, although the deed says I own up to the center line of the street. The neighbor to the one side of me who is not in the HOA is also directly off of the same road. I never considered that aspect of the HOA-- thank you for that line of thinking!
John- great point about re-reading the CC&Rs. I haven't reviewed them for two years, so fresh eyes might give me a new perspective. We could (and would) house the chickens so that their coop and runs wouldn't be visible from the street, or even our front yard. This may be the avenue we take and see how it goes, since we do have homesteader friends not too far away that could rehome our girls if such a need would arise. Thanks also for the other links. It seems that HOAs are about as heterogeneous as a group can be, so one person's experience may not apply to others, but it's still informative to see the range of what others have done in order to challenge the rules.
Trace- excellent point about the cost of a dozen chickens versus an hour of attorney's assistance...never thought of it from that angle of comparison. Considering we could shield them from anyone except someone brazen enough to walk past the house and garages into the "way" back yard, this approach is growing on me.
I'm so thankful for this wonderful, rich source of practical information. Thank you all very much for sharing your precious time and expertise! I truly appreciate it! God bless you all in your endeavors!
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