Key to Condo Living? Conform and Be Happy

Wilfred Couzin lives in Laguna Niguel.

Ah, the joys of living in a community where the worries of home ownership are limited to the payments thereof. Where your home is a castle protected by the Knights of the Association. An extended family.

Sometimes overextended. The carefree aspect, the feeling that you no longer need worry about roof leaks, wall repairs, landscaping--these are somewhat balanced by the necessity of reporting to a higher authority for permission to do things you have always done, no questions asked.

The condominium arrangement may be the answer to the question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" You now have a father figure (the board president) and lots of helpful (and watchful) siblings (the committee chairmen). You may not need dad's permission to drive the car, but you might have to obtain agreement on where to park it.

Rules and regulations abound; most of them are necessary, of course, for proper relationships in community living. One must, and should, defer to the will of the majority when one's actions might infringe on the life quality of others. But some of the rules seem to be produced in a constant stream, like popcorn from a popper--a show of power from those who have it and wield it with zest. These are the negatives of condo life.

Especially if you live, as I do, in a community with a view; people here, on a clear day, look out on the blue Pacific. Which makes for more problems than those faced by folks who live in more mundane areas. In a sea-view community, everyone is intent on seeing the sea. Some residents, equating view with those magic words property values , are constantly vigilant against any infringement of their line of sight to the ocean. Let a blade of grass grow too high, and the landscape committee gets 12 calls a day. Should a tree push its branch skyward a few inches past the allowable height, letters of complaint pour in, with copies to every member of the board, including past officers.

Hew to the rules, and woe to those who transgress. Is that tree, or bush, planted a few inches into the "common area?" Out with it! No, you cannot put a nameplate on the door; it would conflict with the conformity of the street.

Conformity is the key word in condominium life. You can be assured that no one's home will look any better than yours. No one's will look one bit different. When I arrive on my street (I count five before turning onto the drive that I think will take me home), I push my garage door opener. If a door rises, that's my house. (There will be lots of screaming if someone else has a door-opener on the same frequency as mine.)

I hope someone in our community will propose the following resolution:

1) In order to meet the requirements of uniformity in our community, and to eliminate the unsightly effects of variations, be it hereby resolved that the board of directors, in open session, limit the residents of the area to those of a standard height, weight and hair color. At some future date, a committee will decide on a common name for all people in the area, so that mailbox name plates can be properly matching in appearance. All vehicles, of course, will be of the same manufacture, model and color, since the sight of unmatched autos detracts from the beauty of our area.

2) To protect our view of the sea, there shall be no kite flying, regardless of the height of the kite. Cars with high antennas and the wearing of hats shall be prohibited. A special ad hoc committee will investigate the possibility of installing retractable foliage, with control buttons to be installed in each home. Owners will be required to train dogs not to wag their tails in the air.

These suggestions are, of course, intended to conform to our Rules and Regulations, which are outlined in a book as large as the family Bible. Like the Bible, the rules are subject to interpretation, according to the bias of the reader. Any action taken by board or committee can be justified by a judicious reading of some page or paragraph.

But fear not, folks; we are well protected. Every condominium board of directors has a Mr. Veto to watch out for the interests of the masses. Superman against the entrenched leadership. If a proposal is accepted by the authorities, Mr. Veto looks for flaws--sometimes he will even vehemently oppose a mode of action he himself has proposed.

The committee chairmen include some interesting types, too. Like the ones who, in their zest to "make this the best place in the area," will spend funds so fast that they risk Chapter 11. Someone's gate needs a new doorknob? This is a great time to replace all the knobs in the area. Hey, why not put on new doors, too? If a yellow traffic line is being painted on the street, it's a major task to keep these guys from specifying gold leaf.

Luckily for our bank account, these types are balanced by their opposite type--the protectors of the purse. They dispense the association money as if it were the last drop of water on a 1,000-mile desert hike. The doorknob is faulty? Just leave the door open. Front gates coming apart? Gee whiz, a board nailed across the front will make it good as new.

Differences of opinion are usually argued out vehemently, then conciliated by that other necessary individual, the Open Mind. Able to see all sides of all questions, he manages to keep opposing sides below the level of explosion.

Tranquility is one of the primary aims of our association. To achieve this noble end, the board always has the final say. Unfortunately, it usually decides in favor of the side which is most vehement.

Especially if the dreaded 'S' word is heard. The phrase, "I'll sue," reduces the bravest, most outspoken members of the board to cuddly balls of fluff--however ridiculous the claim or flimsy the case. Suddenly that collection of regulations is no longer relevant, and the threatening claimant can accomplish almost anything.

The vast majority of the population of a condominium community, of course, does not go to such extremes in dealing with "management." They do not threaten lawsuits or bring objections to one board meeting after another. They do things the condominium way; they just ignore the regulation. No parking on the east side of the street? Who says so? Management? Well, let management park where it wants; we'll park where we prefer. It's independent people like these who built our country. I think they have all ended up in our condominium complex.

Yes, life in Condoland is frustrating, troublesome, argumentative. But there is a positive side--a bonding of people with a common purpose. Even those among us who present the most intrusive ideas are, in most cases, acting in what they believe are the best interests of all the residents (well, all except that guy down the street). And because of this common interest--common ownership of a big part of what makes up our property value-- there is the opportunity, almost the necessity, for "getting together." Meaning that we meet people we would never have met, make friends we would never have had.

Never have I met so large a group of people ready to help in a time of need.

I love it here.

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