HOAs and AEDs

Are "communities" hurting the community?

HOAs and AEDs
My former HOA

I'm back! After some time off with the family at the beach in Delaware, I'm back to writing again. I sincerely hope your week was safe and satisfactory as well.

I want to kick off my return with a question that popped in my head while driving among rows and rows of standardized beach houses during one of the 3 days of poor weather we encountered last week. Many of these homes were located in gated communities, which often are governed by a homeowners' association (HOA). For those unfamiliar with the power of American HOAs, they're a popular way to build micro-communities and offer amenities, but they come with some sacrifice to overall property freedom.

Full disclosure, I was in an HOA for 10 years. I even served as treasurer for my community. I hated it. I hated the inability to change things on the exterior property, the frequent rule changes or managerial instability we experienced. I'm sure for a great many, trade-offs like managed lawn care or community clubhouses and pools are great. For me, the number-one item on my list when we moved in 2020 was "NO HOA."

So as I drove I started to wonder, are HOA's going to hurt public AED projects?

HOA Overreach

Now, I again want to declare my bias against HOAs before I continue, but it's not exactly unfounded. A Vox article helped spell out some egregious violations in their opening paragraph.

There are few things more delicious than a homeowners association horror story. All over the internet, you can find tales of people getting fined for parking their vehicles in their own driveways or having a potted tomato plant on their back porches or leaving a bottle of Gatorade out for one day. In Tennessee, a man returned from vacation to discover his car was missing; he thought it had been stolen, but in reality, his HOA had towed it because it had a flat tire. A Maryland HOA fined a homeowner $40,000 because the fence she built was 8 inches too long. A Missouri HOA threatened a family with jail time because they’d put up a play set that was — gasp! — purple.[1]

While civic participation (and overall engagement) is great (hence my effort here), there are some noted HOA racial biases as well as an all-volunteer nature that can create disproportional representation.[2] This then prioritizes the "ins" over the outs and, as the Wall Street Journal said it best, "Like any humans given power over others, HOA boards inevitably get drunk on the stuff, so HOA rules and fees proliferate like perfectly fertilized weeds." [3]

With HOAs being able to regulate every facet of a person's property, since it's a "private entity" and not a government, I started to first think of public access AEDs. Let's say I want to place an AED outside my house for my community. Unless the HOA gives approval, I could be facing regular fines, liens, or even foreclosure depending on the laws of my state.

Anti-AED Communities

Through this blog, I've become increasingly adept at finding articles that make me angry. Here's a quote from the president of Royal Management Services in Florida, which managed 28 condos and HOAs in 2017, talking about how he doesn't like an HOA purchasing AEDs for the community.

"We have to keep them maintained, and it's another piece of equipment that can disappear," he says. "So I'm not sure that's a good investment of association resources. And that's aside from the liability side of it. If a 16-year-old boy shocks his 15-year-old girlfriend because they think it's funny and she dies, her family may argue that we didn't do enough to protect her from this type of use. It's not really on the top of my list. If an association asks me, I say, 'If you want one buy one, put it in your house and you become a specialist in how to use it.'"[4]

Yes, despite years of safety improvements and the fact an AED won't shock someone not in arrest, this is a common theme among HOA leaders based on my web searches. It comes down to the chorus of money, money, money. If it's a community that struggles to get all members to pay dues, they might be worried about preventing their building from collapsing and unwilling to invest in something that will save their members.

In another article from California, it goes so far to suggest how to remove AEDs from a community entirely to avoid "liability" and cites AED ownership as a serious risk.[5]

Being Fair and Moving Forward

Now, I've cherry picked the anti-AED HOA argument, but I want to be fair that some HOAs have gone above and beyond to outfit their communities with AEDs in publically accessible places. One even had a map that I found on the web. Many more have been led by strong, safety-minded advocates who may harp on you about trash cans being curbed too early, but really do want you to survive an emergency in the community.

I say all this because it's clear HOAs are one of the most prolific aspects of homeownership in some parts of the USA, so moving forward it's important to have a robust template that touts the benefits of an AED and supports community members who want to drive this initiative. The first few results when Googling "HOA AED" can't be a bunch of naysaying lawyers who do not understand how the machine works. Advocacy at the various state levels can help carve out niches for publically accessible AEDs that can avoid inaction over a fear of maintenance liability.

Finally, Civic Engagement is great, and if you are in a community and pro-AED, I encourage you (if your board is fairly represented) to join and try to make the community a better place. Just be aware of the potential inside all of us to abuse power we are given.

Stay safe and see you back on Wednesday!

  1. https://www.vox.com/money/23688366/hoa-condo-board-john-oliver-real-estate-coop ↩︎

  2. https://kinder.rice.edu/urbanedge/hoas-are-spreading-what-cost-cities ↩︎

  3. https://www.wsj.com/articles/joining-an-hoa-there-will-be-hell-to-pay-11618491620 ↩︎

  4. https://www.hoaleader.com/public/Pros-Cons-Adding-Defibrillator-on-Your-HOA-Grounds.cfm ↩︎

  5. https://echo-ca.org/hoas-and-defibrillators-pros-and-cons/ ↩︎