Friday, March 30, 2007

The Heights We Go To

Photo credit-Bob Reck

In a story out of North Carolina that will sound familiar to all who have lived in suburban America, a local homeowner's association has forbidden an owner to put up a 6 foot fence (which is prohibited under their covenant).

What's unusual (probably not to most reading this list, but in general) is that the reason the homeowners wanted to put up a higher than allowed fence was to keep their young autistic son from eloping from their yard.

This is one of those common problems that we often have to face. In our family, we decided to put dead bolt locks on all of our outside doors (as well as our mudroom door) in order to keep Buddy Boy from eloping when he was younger. This is against our local building code, and if the city catches us, we'll likely be forced to remove them (our local code says that there must be a latch on the inside that can release the lock). While we appreciate that we put ourselves at slightly increased risk of not being able to get out of the house if there is a fire, for us the overwhelming problem was of having our son run out of the house, which unfortunately sits on a relatively busy street. We compensate for the fire scenario by having keys placed up high near the doors.

In the incident in the article:

...Michele and Rene Guyader hoped to build a 6-foot fence to keep their fast-growing boy from falling into a sewage drain hole at the back of their steeply sloping lot. The homeowners association of their Clayton subdivision turned them down. ...

One would think that your neighbors would execute some common sense and sensibility, but unfortunately this is usually in short supply in these local situations. Some of the biggest tyrants are to be found in positions of power in these local homeowners associations.

The homeowners association was asked by a reporter to respond:

Bailey, the architectural review committee member in the Guyaders' neighborhood, said he was not fully aware of the son's condition until contacted by a reporter. He would consider a 4-foot-tall fence, topped with a see-through lattice.

The Guyaders aren't sure yet that will work. They argue an exception to the covenant is warranted because they didn't know of their son's condition before moving into Cobblestone subdivision about a year ago.

I know Buddy Boy would make short work of a "see through lattice" if he really wanted to get over a fence.

"A man's home is his castle" is the old saying. Nowadays, that holds true only if the government doesn't have a tax lien on the house, you've complied with all local building codes, and the increasingly ominous homeowners covenants, which can dictate all sorts of things which you can and can't do to your house, including what color you can paint it. I've never lived in a place where I had to sign one of these things, and I hope to never have to.

I also hope that there will come a time when common sense prevails, and people can make common sense modifications to their own house when they need to for the safety of one of the occoupants.


Anonymous said...

I know it would be expensive, but I wonder if they could line the lattice part with plexiglas so that there wouldn't be footholds but the snotty neighbors could still see through, mostly.

I don't think I could cope with a place that had "homeowners covenants." I like building codes and so forth, but some of the homeowners groups I've heard of really are awful.

I hope the parents in question get the kind of fence that will work for them and the neighbors get over themselves.

Anonymous said...

I also had to do the deadbolt thing when my son was little. He not only wandered off to explore whenever he felt like it, he also convinced his little sister (who usually was more sensible) to come along with him on a few occasions.

I have to admit he inherited it from me... I was so awful about wandering off, my mother once nailed my bedroom windows shut to stop me from climbing out of them.

On the bright side, this behavior doesn't last forever. By the time our son was in middle school, he had settled down enough so that we could build a new house without all the kidproofing (the old house was pretty well wrecked by then LOL).

Club 166 said...

Yes, Buddy Boy (now 7) has improved much over the last year and a half.

He used to actively bolt from us in public (the park, festivals, Disney World). Disney was the best place. They had their invisible army find him within 10 minutes, while he was wearing a yellow disney poncho like half the other kids in the park.

This winter he left the house once when it snowed, but otherwise his sense of seeking out spontaneous unauthorized adventure has cooled somewhat.

Joeymom said...

Wow, this ENDS? We've had to put double-key deadbolts in, too, and I'm right now trying to find money to fix the fence gate. He just figured out how to undo the gate latch. :P We had a 9-year=old ander off in the next town over; fortunately he was wearing one of those bracelet things that has the GPS, and they found him before he got hurt (or left out to the elements all night). We live in town, so I worry about him being hit in the street! We've been trying to teach him not to set foot on teh tarmac, but we haven't had much success.

Maddy said...

It's all open plan around here - 'don't fence me in.' Then we arrived and put a huge fence around the whole thing. It seemed un-neighbourly, but after a while [ignoring the nakedness!] my neighbours have warmly accepted that a family has to do what a family has to do.
They still wave at us over the fence, but they make sure they're wearing their 'shades' as a precaution.

Club 166 said...

It would seem that this is something that most kids grow out of.

We almost went the route of the GPS bracelet, but it is a bit costly.

McEwen I laughed at the "shades" comment. You're in California, for Pete's sake. Your kids the most "normal" one around!

kristina said...

"Good fences make good neighbors."

(I could not resist a bit of Robert Frost.)

daedalus2u said...

What the people prohibited from putting up a fence should do, is have their lawyer send a letter to the homeowner's association telling them of the attractive nusience that the sewer hold makes, and that because they cannot put up a suitable fence, the homeowner's association needs to rectify the sewer hole, and that if their son is injured as a consequence, they are puttin the homeowner's association on notice that they will be expected to pay compensation for damages.

What we did when our children were younger was to put those little hook and ring things up high where they couldn't reach. I would attach the key with a string, so it can't get lost.

Club 166 said...


That's actually not a bad suggestion. There's nothing like potential liability to make a homeowner's association back down.