The game of Monopoly is one of the most popular board games in the world. Its roots were squarely in the Great Depression of 1930. Eighty-two years later, in the middle of another fiscal crisis, this author’s publisher, Judith Briles insisted; no, demanded that a two page chapter be added almost ad hoc at the end my book.  Perhaps she had too many margarita fumes wafting over her as she disembarked from her two-week annual vacation cruise. Or perhaps it was her recent nightmarish confrontation with her own Homeowners Association, but she is absolutely immune to any of my anemic last-ditch efforts at dissuasion.  She wanted me to produce some sort of “Get Out of Jail Free” card that lists some rules of conduct homeowners could carry in their wallets or pocketbooks at all times to help head off any kind  of unexpected meanness from a Homeowners Association.

Certainly, there’s enough historical intrigue around the game of Monopoly to merit some sort of examination of its perfidious past. Most folks don’t know that the British Secret Service once tried to use Monopoly to smuggle certain strategic supplies to prisoners being held by the Nazis. Fake charity groups distributed Monopoly sets that contained hidden maps, real money, compasses and any number of items that could ostensibly be used by imprisoned Limeys to conduct “escape and evasion” missions.

In my business, the Publisher is always right, and the Ink-Stained-Wretch is always wrong, so here is a secret document to be hidden inside all “Get Out of Jail Free” cards distributed to homeowners inside those gated private prisons otherwise known as “planned communities.”

The bottom line is that you, as a homeowner, are always wrong. If your dues are several weeks late, you get no grace period, whatsoever. Pay those dues including interest, late fees, collection fees, attorneys fees, everything.  Don’t argue. Even if your $300 bill has turned into $10,000, find a way to pay it. You could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who’ve been able to get the courts to reduce that fee. Many of those people have spent $40,000 to win the $10,000 case, but no matter, just get it behind you.

If you have an urge to plant flowers in the Springtime, DON’T! Submit an architectural plan containing the exact number of posy seeds, the exact shape of the flower beds, and your future watering plans. Don’t expect the next board to approve any change made by a previous board. Re-submit the same plan each year.

While we’re on the subject, if a single board member has changed, immediately re-submit any requests you’ve made to a previous board. This includes architectural plans, requests to park a relative’s vehicle on the streets during his ten-day visit.

Do not put up Christmas lights of any kind.

Don’t even think of putting a wading pool in your back yard.

Don’t dream of planting a tree in honor of a dead father.

Never, ever think of air conditioners as necessary appliances.

If you have one too many cats, absolutely do not protest when a board member puts a bowl of anti-freeze on your porch. This is one fight you probably think you can win. You can’t.

An outdoor hot tub? Fuggeddaboudit.

If you are assessed a fine because a guest parked his car on the street overnight, do not attempt to argue that it wasn’t your guest.  If the manager or board member determines the car was close enough that it “could” have been your guest, you’re guilty.  In fact, in this society, assume you are always guilty. And you become even more guilty each time to try to prove your innocence.

Never say, “I know my rights!”

Never say, “I’m gonna call my lawyer!”

Never say, “I’ll see you in court!?

Forget the words, “This isn’t fair,” and “Everybody else is doing this.”

Never ask, “Can I work out a payment plan?”

As you fold this paper up and clip it to the “Get Out of Jail Free” card in your wallet, please understand that there have been rebels over the years who have won some widely-scattered fights with Homeowners Associations. Invariably, those victories have come at enormous and unexpected costs. The one thousand dollar fight you expect to wage in court has a nasty way of turning into two hundred thousand dollars. And rebels die young. They really do.

When you moved into an HOA, you thought you were making a move into Utopia, that gleaming City on a Hill, the Republic envisioned by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. But the only thing that makes Utopia work is a blandness, a sameness, an agreement of understanding that no member of society will ever make waves. Communism described itself as Utopia. The Third Reich was Utopia. Utopia works because every man has surrendered his loyalty and his soul to a single Central Authority.

Keep this card close to your heart. I promise, and Judith, my publisher promises, it’ll keep you out of trouble.

This two-page chapter is really superfluous, because enough warnings have been scattered throughout NEIGHBORS at WAR. But Publisher Briles is a difficult taskmaster and one does not easily ignore her advice.  So here, with apologies to Parker Brothers, is your “Get Out of Jail Free” card with its application for a new era.

Ward Lucas
Author of
Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association

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Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

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