By Gary Biller, NMA President
On a recent trip to Sacramento to walk the halls of the state capitol with Jay Beeber and engage legislative staffers on why an arbitrary lowering of speed limits in the name of Vision Zero is a colossally bad idea, I had the opportunity to have a nice dinner with a local NMA member. A story he recounted sparked disbelief rather than anger because it couldn’t possibly be true. Or could it?
It seems a nearby community mandated that all homeowners leave their garage doors open between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm every day for public viewing or face a $200 fine for each violation. What would be next, popping open your car trunk for inspection during each visit to the gas station, probable cause and search warrants be damned?
Constitutional implications aside, my first thought was that this was a scheme to prevent people from working on their vehicles on their property. Actually Sacramento County has one of those ordinances — more on that in a bit — but the open-garage-door policy was triggered by a report that someone in the community had let others live in his garage.
It turns out that the edict was handed down not by the city but by the neighborhood homeowner’s association (HOA), which as a private entity, can require members to obey its sundry rules. Apparently, that even includes those that ignore Fourth Amendment rights for citizens “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches . . .”
The good news is that a few days after the Auburn Greens HOA of Auburn, California plastered the doors of its residents with notice of the new rule on January 1, 2018, it rescinded the order. Initial reactions from residents probably sped the process along. “Are you kidding me? What geniuses made this rule?” wrote one. “Making residents leave their garage doors open and put their property in almost certain jeopardy is one of the most careless decisions I’ve ever heard of.” Another noted, “Give me a month so I can get my stuff out, and I might as well clear everything out and leave the garage door open permanently because there is no point of having a garage door then.”
Sacramento County, California is not alone, however, in enforcing an ordinance to limit the maintenance and repair work on cars, trucks, and motorcycles that residents can do on their own premises. We get it: No one wants a neighbor to turn his property into a junk yard. The Sacramento Zoning Code limits on-property work to minor vehicle repair including tune-ups, oil and filter changes, and fixing flat tires.
The same code makes it unlawful to use tools not normally found in a residence (a wonderfully vague requirement), work on vehicles not registered to the person residing on the property, and doing said work outside of a fully enclosed garage.
While it may be easy to ridicule such communities for vehement anti-privacy rules — we’re looking at you, Auburn Greens HOA — the lesson to be learned is twofold: 1) Before buying or renting a property under the control of a homeowner’s association, make sure you understand the rules and bylaws of that association, and 2) if you like working on your own vehicles, as many NMA members do, be cognizant of related restrictions in city or county ordinances. And, above all, know your constitutional rights.