Four Inches On Sign Lead Homeowners Association To Spend $400,000 In Land Use Litigation

February 10th, 2013

This is indeed a Homeowners Association “run amok.”

The feud that consumed Fairfax County’s Olde Belhaven would span four years and cost the community as much as $400,000, and it was ignited by one of the smallest of sparks: an Obama for President sign.

The modest placard Sam and Maria Farran planted in their yard during the 2008 election put them on a collision course with the neighborhood homeowners association. It was four inches taller than the association’s covenants allowed.

“Need I say more! This would lead to chaos,” a neighbor fretted in an e-mail about the precedent that would be set if the sign wasn’t removed. “Our property values would be put at risk.”

Such HOA disputes are as suburban as cul-de-sacs and two-car garages, but few metastasize into legal battles that spend years in the courts, break legal ground and bankrupt the HOA.

Most damaging of all, though, was a move probably unprecedented in area neighborhood feuds: The common area that is the literal and metaphoric heart of Olde Belhaven was put up for sale last year to settle its debts. It appeared that “the square,” as some called the neighborhood, would no longer have a square.

“It destroyed our community,” Maria Farran said.

I am utterly incapable of understanding why this happens. I recently told a fellow Professor, “I went to George Mason. I don’t care about aesthetics.” And it’s true. Such minutiae seem so trivial and unimportant to me. I can’t fathom why homeowners association pass–and ENFORCE–such draconian laws. Why would anyone spend years and so much money litigating this!


The battle lines in Olde Belhaven were starkly drawn. On one side, the Farrans said they were standing up to an HOA run amok. On the other, HOA supporters saw a couple that inflicted financial ruin on the association — and their neighbors — to make a point.

Both sunk costs.  I’m not a homeowner, and I can’t imagine ever living in such a place.

The notion of “maintaining property values” has led to some absolutely terrible zoning cases that I teach.

How about not making your HOA laws so batshit crazy that people won’t want to live there. This story was in the Washington Post. I’m sure people will think twice about moving there.