Homeowners Associations

Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re a fact of life for many of us. I think most of you probably have a love/hate relationship with yours; I know I do with mine.

My HOA does some good things – well, at least one. For my monthly dues, the HOA takes care of both the common areas in the neighborhood and the front yards of all the houses. When I moved in, 18 years ago, I was (and still am) perfectly happy to have someone else take care of my front yard without any effort on my part. Granted, the “yards” are all xeriscapes, with desert-adapted plants, but even those have to be trimmed and maintained. The irrigation bill is also part of the monthly HOA fee, and I’m fine with that.

But they can be pretty pissy, too, and last fall I bumped up against one of their taboos.


Back in 2010, when Toni and I were creating an actual landscaped back yard out of the dry, dusty nothing that I had lived with since 1998, one of our projects was to include a rainwater harvesting system so we could reduce our need for city (paid) water. The house has a flat roof with four scuppers along one side. You can see them here. The water simply flowed through the holes in the wall, fell to the ground, and then flowed out to the street.

081410 025

I was a good boy and submitted an “Architectural Change Request” (ACR) form to the HOA, asking to replace those with collectors that would empty into downspouts which, in turn, would drain into barrels. The request was approved. The next photo, taken from about the same place in May, 2014, shows the final arrangement of the new collectors and downspouts. The nearest tank is 500 gallons; the two closer to the front of the house are 50 gallons each (connected, for a total of 100 gallons from that scupper); and there is a 50-gallon barrel under each of the downspouts beyond the block wall. The small barrels were part of the original 2010 project; the 500-gallon tank came later.


And there it was – 700 gallons of water available for irrigation.
Everybody was fine with it for five years. FIVE. YEARS.

Last October, I got a call from the HOA’s manager, who wondered if I would let the Architectural Committee come take a look at my system. The Committee was finally getting around to writing guidelines for water-collection systems and they had heard about mine and wanted to use it as a sample. I said sure, no problems.

The next thing I heard from the manager was that she found the ACR for the downspouts but couldn’t find one for the barrels. (I had never submitted one.) So I took pictures and got my neighbors to sign the request and crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s and sent it in.

It was rejected. The barrels in the front yard were visible from the street and therefore not allowed. This is what they had looked like FOR FIVE YEARS.


This is not the street view. There is a big tree and a large shrub between the barrels and the street. Nevertheless, the HOA wanted them gone.

Not one to take things lying down, I took a walk around the neighborhood to see whether anyone else had any kind of collection system. I found some homes with standard gutters (we have both flat roofs and pitched roofs in the neighborhood); I found one with a basic barrel sitting under where the water would flow out of an existing scupper; I found several homes where the plants had grown up so much in the past two decades that nothing could be seen from the street; and I found a lot of homes where it wouldn’t be practical (or even possible) to locate a collection barrel behind a privacy wall. I documented all this and sent it to the Architectural Committee, suggesting that instead of a complete ban on barrels outside the privacy walls, perhaps they could implement a size limitation – like, oh, 50 gallons – or require some kind of screen (like a wall or shrubbery).

The appeal was denied. I learned later that the Architectural Committee had split their vote, so it went to the HOA’s Board.

I had actually anticipated this outcome, so I had already bought some of the pieces I’d need to run downspouts from the front two scuppers at an angle to get their outlet behind the privacy wall.

Then I discovered that my solution wouldn’t work. The downspout elbows come in 30-, 45- and 75-degree bends, but even using the 75-degree elbows, the downspout from the front scupper would run into the wall. So I took lots of pictures of my efforts, and showed how it wasn’t going to work, and re-appealed their denial. This picture summarizes the problem: If you extend the straight line (it’s actually a tape measure) to the left of the lower white elbow, it’ll run into the wall. Since that line represents the bottom of the downspout tube, there’s no way the downspout can be routed from the front scupper to the back yard. And even if I *could* get it over the wall, by the time it turned down and away from the wall to be over the barrel’s opening, the barrel wouldn’t fit under it.

1 overview

At this point the HOA finally said I could keep the barrels in front of the wall (YAY!) if I put a wall around them. -sigh- Well, I had to find out what they meant by “wall” – could I just put a curved wall of dry-laid decorative blocks around the front barrel? Nope. I had to build a wall that matched the existing block wall and completely surrounded the barrels, with a gate in it so that utility readers could get to the gas and electric meters (which, IMO, are at least as ugly as the barrels!).

I priced that wall and the two quotes I got ranged from about $850 to near $1130. I decided that, if I had to spend that much money to protect 50 gallons of rainwater capacity, I’d go another route and spend the money on bigger tanks that fit behind the wall completely. I bought a 200-gallon tank that will sit directly behind the existing block wall, will not be visible from the street, and will collect water from the left-hand downspout, and brought the right-hand one, which produced the smallest amount of water anyway, down to ground level to drain into the street.

This photo shows the current status. I got the street-visible parts done right away, because I was given 90 days from one of the denials to remove the barrels and I didn’t want to get in *real* trouble with the HOA.


I still have to rebuild the left-hand downspout to supply the 200-gallon tank, and I’m going to get a 400-gallon tank to replace the two 50-gallon barrels you saw earlier. My total capacity will grow from 700 gallons to about 1100, even after losing the 50 gallons from the front downspout.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to plumb the tanks into my irrigation system so the rainwater will be automatically used when it’s available.

Sometimes I just hate HOAs.

2 Comments on “Homeowners Associations

    • Hee hee hee! … Actually, although I’m still in Tucson, I don’t know who sits on the committees. ::starts to worry::

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