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I have deep concerns about what I believe to be the overuse of covenants, particularly in our cities. Covenants are legally binding agreements that impose duties and restrictions upon a property regardless of the owner. These are typically used in connection with homeowners associations.
In the rural areas, where municipal services do not exist, homeowners associations often cover road maintenance, garbage collection, wells and septic systems. The associations elect a board, which manages the day-to-day operations of the subdivision.
Homeowners associations and covenants make sense in this context, as there is a great deal of communal property to manage.
There are many cases, however, where covenants stray far from the goal of managing communal property. Many homeowners associations use covenants to restrict what color a home may be painted, what construction materials can be used and whether or not cars may be parked on the street.
These “aesthetic” concerns begin to worry me. I understand why a homeowners association would include such rules, as they may well protect home values.
But how far is too far? As subdivisions spread in the early part of the 20th century, several subdivisions attempted to use covenants to keep African-Americans from moving to the area. The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated this practice in 1948, by which time much damage had already been done.
While racial discrimination is not overtly allowed, discrimination often occurs on economic grounds.
Covenants are virtually unlimited in scope, and can cover any number of areas.
The idea that “a man’s home is his castle” is not really the case when covenants are involved. I happen to believe that many covenants are unnecessarily broad, and range into areas of free speech and freedom of religion.
This is particularly concerning in our cities. As I explained earlier, homeowners associations are often necessary in rural areas to manage communal resources. I see no such need in cities, where basic services are provided by the municipality.
In cities, covenants serve no real purpose but to discriminate against certain ideas or behaviors. Cities already have ordinances on the books, making restrictive covenants unnecessary.
Another important issue is that of enforcement. When municipalities pass ordinances, a taxpayer-supported law enforcement officer and a taxpayer-supported attorney enforce the provisions of the law. Public dollars, public services.
But what about private covenants? There is no private police – thank goodness. This could be on the horizon, however, as some fancy gated communities in the U.S. do utilize private security.
So how do you feel about being pulled over by a private law enforcement officer? I don’t want my civil rights infringed upon ever, but when it happens, it had better be a real cop.
And what about situations where publicly funded law enforcement officers are asked to respond to perceived violations of private covenants? Do you want your sheriff’s deputies responding to a complaint that a garbage can has not been put away properly?
We are beginning to get more and more calls of this nature. Personally, I do not want to see public dollars used to police private issues.
I simply do not like the privatization of all these public functions. Counties are already pretty far down this road – out of necessity, I’m afraid. But cities? Stop this nonsense! End covenants within your city limits.