SIDE STREETS: Cartoonist takes a biting look at HOA drama

February 8, 2009
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Homeowners associations towing away cars over unpaid dues. An HOA president engaging in illegal wiretaps of his neighbors.

Homeowners being punished for their grass being one-eighth of an inch too long. Dues going up so the HOA president can build a fountain.

These could be the latest horror stories from Colorado Springs' covenant-controlled neighborhoods. But before you post an anti-HOA rant on the comment section, relax.

These are scenarios created by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mike Peters for his nationally syndicated "Mother Goose and Grimm" newspaper comic strip.

For two weeks, Peters looked at HOAs from the perspective of his canine character, Grimm, and put a satirical spin on life in HOA neighborhoods. (Peters also managed to slip in clever riffs on George W. Bush along the way.)

The strips are a biting commentary on HOAs and the people who run them, and they give voice to questions and complaints raised regularly in neighborhoods across the country.

Reading them was like reading a regular installment of "Side Streets" — only the strips were much funnier.

Maybe you saw them. They ran daily the past two weeks in The Gazette. If not, go to my Side Streets blog and check them out.

In the HOA-themed strips, Grimm is elected president of his HOA and immediately goes about enforcing covenants from his unique canine perspective.

In three panels, Peters manages to show how some HOAs abuse their authority.

In one strip, Grimm uses surveillance equipment to eavesdrop on his neighbors. In another, he raises dues for his pet project - a fountain in the shape of a bidet. In yet another, he mocks HOA officers who fine residents for overgrown grass.

You might assume Peters has had bad experiences with HOAs and is getting even. Not so.

"Actually, my wife was the president of the homeowners association in our old neighborhood in Sarasota," Peters said in a phone interview last week from his Florida home. "And I live under a homeowners association now - although I miss all their meetings."

Peters said he recognizes that HOAs with reasonable covenants and run by reasonable people do a lot of good.

"Ours in Sarasota tried to make sure that homes were built with proper drainage so we didn't have flooding problems, which is a big issue in Florida," Peters said. "Our HOA was wonderful."

So what inspired the HOA-themed strips?

"It struck me that all my friends who belong to homeowners associations always gripe about them," Peters said. "And, often, rightly so. I see the problems."

It bothers him, for example, that many HOAs prevent residents from putting political signs in their yards.

"People who become presidents of homeowners associations can be good dictators or bad dictators," Peters said. "They can do anything they want, as long as they have the votes. And no one really knows if anything they are doing is legal."

Peters said the HOA-themed strips generated a lot of feedback from readers sharing their stories.

"I'm hearing from a lot of people who are saying these strips are dead on," he said. "It's funny — I've had no one saying ‘How dare you.' That tells me something."

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