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History of Homeowners Associations

In the nineteenth century, the United States began to transform from a primarily agricultural society to an industrial culture. A growing number of people took jobs in cities, but most cities were overcrowded, dusty, and noisy. The advent of commuter rail lines allowed people to work in the city and live in the country. A series of "railroad communities" grew up along the rail stations.

The twentieth century made people even more mobile, thanks to the automobile. This led to a series of planned communities around the country. In some, the houses would look essentially the same; in others, several designs would be built.

The developments had no restrictions, but people who lived in these communities generally shared common ideas of how streetscapes should look. Homeowners associations as we know them today did not exist.

Levittown Breaks New Ground

The first modern planned development was Levittown, New York, built on the site of a Long Island potato field, off the coast of New York. Builder, William Levitt constructed a series of inexpensive but attractive homes that veterans could purchase with low-interest loans guaranteed by the federal government under the Servicemen's Readjustment Bill of 1944 (better known as the GI Bill).

Between 1947 and 1951 more than 17,000 houses were built in and around the original Long Island community. Although, Levittown residents were subject to restrictive covenants in their deeds, such as, prohibiting laundry lines in front yards. There were no homeowner associations to enforce the restrictions or enact changes.

As suburban living continued to grow, other developments were built, on a smaller scale than Levittown. The developments were often more self-contained than the large-scale communities and they maintained stricter standards regarding the appearance of the homes (both the structures and the landscaping).

The general idea was that people who were looking for certain amenities, such as restrictions on pets or rules governing landscaping, would be drawn to these communities. Other developments offered different options.

In order to formalize the rules of the development or neighborhood, a homeowners association was created to address all the resident concerns and create by-laws or rules for members of the community. Today, homeowners associations (HOA) and common interest developments (CID) have complex regulations and often lead to disputes with other neighbors, or with the homeowners association.

Before you purchase a house, consult with a local real estate attorney. They can advise you about all the rules, regulations and by-laws of a development or neighborhood you are considering.

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