Beware of Jealous Neighbors
By William May
Published: 09/01/03 Topics: Comments: 0
If you own a vacation home and primary residence you are no longer one of the privileged few. Second home ownership is growing by leaps and bounds in most geographic regions. Home values are rising much faster than inflation. Owners and Guests are anxious to escape the city, kick back and relax in the country. But not everyone likes the idea of you having a getaway home. And the opposition may not always come from the opponents you would expect.
I was chagrined to receive the following email from a Vacation Home Owner who had just read about the beautiful new Priest Lake Idaho vacation home in our last newsletter.
"As an environmentalist, I wonder why someone needs to build a house of this proportion in middle of the forest. Frankly, I'm totally turned off by what I read. Where is the owner/builder environmental consciousness? How many trees were cut down to build this home? Eventually there will be no forest left, only a sea of vacation homes." - Melinda
It seems Melinda lives in California but owns a rental house in the San Juan Islands of Washington State (Up in our neck of the woods). I took a moment to look at her rental home website and was surprised to find that what she preaches conflicts with what she practices.
For example, she must use a Washington State Ferry to access her island. Everyone knows that large fast boats routinely kill porpoises and dolphins but apparently she is an environmentalist who doesn't care about that. Her site shows a beautiful green lawn - but she doesn't seem concerned that by being so close to the waterfront, she subjects the pristine San Juan Island waters to fertilizer run off and fish poisoning. In fact, her house is located within the setbacks now required for waterfront homes in our state - but, as you might imagine, she probably isn't going to relocate the house, is she. She also boasts a Barbecue but in her home state of California they've threatened to outlaw charcoal barbecues because the fumes cause too much pollution. She says she's an environmentalist but what she really is is selfish.
Are Melissa's thoughts hypocritical? Yes, but they are really nothing new. Selfishness is as old as human kind. Her message is an age old one. She is saying, "Yes I want something (in this case a vacation rental) want I don't want you to have one. She wants to close the door after herself to prohibit others from coming in who might, in some undefined way, diminish what she receives from her place.
Melissa is entitled to selfish and even hypocritical. But other owners, on the other hand, should recognize this kind of thinking as a wake up call. Even owners of homes in remote and desirable resort locations must be on the look out for those who would steal their rights if they were allowed to proceed unopposed. So who are those people?
You don't need to run scared from self-righteous neighbors. But it’s a good policy to understand that keeping them happy is as important as keep your family and your guests happy. The notion that, "A man's home is his castle" has been seriously eroded over the past decades. And the biggest contributors to that problem have been what we might call "nosey neighbors." Luckily, there are several effective strategies you can use to prepare for possible confrontations:
- You must BECOME FRIENDS with your neighbors. This is harder than it might seem in some vacation communities because owners are not continually present. Residents come and go on different schedules so go out of your way to meet and greet everyone. Offer to keep an eye on their place when they're gone. Invite them to call you immediately if there is anything they want to report about yours. Make sure they have your emergency phone number. Respond quickly.
- Treat neighbors with EXTREME RESPECT. If they have minor concerns try to cater to them. Solve small issues in hopes they will allow you consideration on larger matters. They will find it harder to treat your rudely if you always treat them kindly.
- Requires guests to BEHAVE. Nothing makes a neighbor angrier than a guest who acts like he owns the place. Use a strong contract with tenants, screen them carefully, post notices and provide a "Guest Manual" making sure they now all the rules, and then immediately evict Guests who break rules. In many jurisdictions no warning is required. Be harsh on guests because you can be indifferent to neighbors.
Following these simple rules will do much to forestall potential conflicts with neighbors whether they involve rentals, property lines or any other matter. If they don't then you may reach a point where you have to decide how important it is for you to prevail in the dispute. When it comes to rentals, of course, you are talking about the potential loss of significant income. I have seen a number of owners voluntarily stop renting when a neighbor had the slights of complaint (often unwarranted). If retreating fits your temperament and your pocketbook than you may want to do the same.
On the other hand, if you feel compelled to retain your property rights as well as your income then you may have to resort to dealing with politics or even litigation to do so.
HOME OWNER ASSOCIATIONS: By politics I mean it is essential to attend Home Owner Association Member meetings. Personally I've never longed to be in politics but I try to attend the Board meetings of all groups I am involved with. This includes Home Owner Boards and even organization such as my son's school board. Unfortunately this is the only way to truly comprehend what actions are being taken and who really runs any organization. For example, in one association it's the President's husband, a non-practicing attorney whose entire career consists of running some broken down hamburger stands that he inherited. You can probably imagine the pent up frustration uses to impose his views on others. He seldom gets his misguided way but he has made life miserable for a number of organizations besides the homeowners. Most associations are organized under specific homeowner or not-for-profit association statutes that usually mandate all members (owners) can request and be invited to Board meetings. Usually your role will be limited to observation but officials will sometimes include observers in conversations as a matter of courtesy.
LOCAL POLITICS. You should also consider keeping your eye on local and state actions that might curtail your rentals. We'll talk more about homeowner associations and local governments in another newsletter. But suffice it to say, at this time, that rentals are sometimes and issue and you need to be involved BEFORE that happens. So the only way to be careful is to stay in involved and up to date.
LITIGATION: At best going to court is a time consuming and expensive proposition. Its a good idea to locate and have a qualified Real Estate attorney to check home owner association covenants and rules, local statutes, and court precedence to determine if you are within your rights to rent your home. This should be done before you buy the home. If you didn't think to do that don't feel alone. Probably because vacation homes are frequently in remote or isolated communities many buyers presume that regulation will be less than in a big city. You might expect folks in remote areas often have a more open-minded and property rights oriented view of things.
But remember there are plenty of Melinda's everywhere. They are selfish, misguided and anxious to give others problems. You can run and hide or you can be prepared to deal with these troublemakers when they slink out of the shadows. Start by heeding the neighbor rules suggested here. In future newsletter I'll provide more thoughts on Associations, politics and litigation.
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As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at Director@Vrai.orgDirector@Vrai.org.
HOME OF THE WEEK:
This week, how about checking out my Vacation Rental of the week. Its Villa CastellaMonte - a big and beautiful home in the Dominican Republic that rents for the tidy sum of $11,000 per week. More if you want the personal staff. Read all about it at (Villa-CastellaMonte.com)Villa-CastellaMonte.com. If you want your place added to the list of weekly contenders just drop me an email.
Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0027 – 09/01/03
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