The Case of the Ex­pen­sive Mail­box

When does a home­own­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion rule go too far?

Reader's Digest - - You Be The Judge - BY VICKI GLEMBOCKI

When Keith Strong’s mail­box started to look shabby, he re­placed it with one he bought at a hard­ware store for $35 and in­stalled him­self. He knew ex­actly which one to get. The mail­box was a new ver­sion of the “cedar, slat­ted” model that his home­own­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion (HOA) had ap­proved 13 years ear­lier for his tony neigh­bor­hood of Wood­more, lo­cated in a Mary­land sub­urb out­side of Wash­ing­ton, DC.

But not two months af­ter he’d in­stalled the new mail­box, he and his neigh­bors re­ceived a no­tice from the HOA. On Au­gust 26, 2009, the HOA board had voted that those wooden mailboxes were no longer ac­cept­able. In­stead, the as­so­ci­a­tion now re­quired each home­owner to buy a new mail­box that was “rust­proof, cast-alu­minum” and mono­grammed with a w for Wood­more. The HOA also man­dated that res­i­dents in­stall the box on a match­ing alu­minum post pur­chased from the same man­u­fac­turer. The cost: about $500. Home­own­ers had two years to com­plete the up­grade. Those who did not would be fined $100

ev­ery 30 days un­til they com­plied.

Strong and some of his neigh­bors were an­gry. It wasn’t just about the cost. As a re­tired so­lar physi­cist who lived in a $1.5 mil­lion home, he could cover the bill. He took is­sue with the process. Strong and other res­i­dents com­plained that the HOA had vi­o­lated its own rules when the board passed the new mail­box spec­i­fi­ca­tions, first be­cause it did not alert mem­bers at least 30 days be­fore vot­ing on the new reg­u­la­tion, and sec­ond be­cause the by­laws didn’t give the board the author­ity to re­voke ap­proval for the first mail­box.

Strong de­cided to take a stand.

“It wasn’t just about a mail­box,” he told the Wash­ing­ton Post. “The is­sue re­ally here is prop­erty rights.” He re­fused to buy the new mail­box, and in July 2013 he was of­fi­cially cited by the board for non­com­pli­ance. In Novem­ber 2014, he and his wife replied by fil­ing a civil com­plaint in the Cir­cuit Court for Prince Ge­orge’s County, ask­ing for an or­der to stop the HOA from re­quir­ing home­own­ers to buy and in­stall the new mailboxes.

In re­sponse, the HOA pointed to the same by­laws, claim­ing that it had the power to adopt guide­lines “to ob­tain har­mo­nious ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign” and to “se­cure the erec­tion and main­te­nance of high type and qual­ity im­prove­ments.”

Did the HOA have the author­ity to re­quire home­own­ers to buy $500 mailboxes? You be the judge.

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