It seems that I should have pushed my earlier gardening/programming analogy further. After all, we all know what happens when we rip out code with plans to rewrite it: rewriting always turns out to be harder than we thought, and it usually would have been better to improve matters in place.

In this particular instance, the HOA had earlier sent out a letter saying that they were responsible for repairing the arbors in the back of the complex; if owners had plants on their arbors, they could leave them in place, but the HOA wouldn’t do any repairs, owners would have to sign a document absolving them of any future responsibility as well, and owners would have to make subsequent buyers sign a document acknowledging this. We liked the plants, but we liked the idea of having the HOA be responsible for the arbors even more (if we’re going to pay HOA dues, we want to get our share of the benefits), and we certainly weren’t thrilled with the idea of having to get buyers to sign a waiver were we to sell the house. (Not that we have any plans to sell the house, but still.) So, as requested, we tore out the plants so they could inspect the arbor to get bids for inspections.

So fine, we removed the plants, so the HOA could inspect the arbor. The next step, however, was a rather unpleasant surprise: after soliciting bids and talking to a lawyer, the HOA decided that they weren’t responsible for the arbor repair at all!

I imagine that many people, at least ones with expensive arbor repair costs, were nonplussed by this news – it’s always nice to get other people to help pay for your repairs, if you can swing it – but the HOA does seem to have done a good job getting legal advice on this matter. But, in our particular case, this really sucks: if they hadn’t sent out the original, incorrect letter, there’s no way we would have removed the jasmine. (As far as I know, we’re the only people who removed plants in response to the letter; I guess we’re suckers, or something.)

So, the net result of (our believing) their earlier, incorrect letter:

  • 20 years of growth of jasmine plants, gone.
  • Somebody has to pay $6000 to rebuild the arbor.

If we hadn’t gotten rid of the jasmine, there’s no way we’d be rebuilding the arbor now – it wasn’t in particularly good shape, but it also wasn’t about to fall down or anything. As is, though, the HOA requires all non-plant-covered arbors to be repaired, and even if they weren’t, we’re pretty sure the wood is going to go to pot pretty fast after the winter rains without the jasmine covering it.

So we complained. They were very sorry; after a bit, they offered a couple hundred dollars of gardening to replace the jasmine. Which is all well and good (though I wouldn’t say that new plants exactly replace 20 years of growth), but there’s still this $6000 repair cost that has to be taken care of! They’ve upped the offer slightly since then, but not to one which is anywhere near what we consider fair.

And the interactions have been very strange indeed. We’re not dogmatic about the exact amount of a settlement – $300 is insulting, and on the flip side we’re not asking them to pay for all $6000 of repair costs, but there’s a pretty wide range of possible values in between. So we’ve tried sending e-mails explaining our position, suggesting some reasonable outcomes, and reiterating that we’re open to explanations of their point of view, and that perhaps mediation might be appropriate. But we don’t get explanations: we just get bare offers that completely avoid addressing what we see as the points at hand.

After their last offer, I even sent them an e-mail basically explaining to them how they could convince us (start by explaining their position!); no response. I don’t understand why they would avoid any sort of explanation – even having them say “repairs are your responsibility, tough luck if you followed our first instructions” would be a start, because at least I would know where they were coming from. But that hasn’t happened.

In a recent discussion (if you can call it that), one of the board members said that they’d like to avoid mediation, to save time and expense. Which was just bizarre to hear: I’ve already spent a good deal more time on this than mediation would have taken, and I suspect that the board members have spent even more time than I have. And Mountain View provides free mediation services, so expense isn’t an issue. So what’s wrong with getting together with a third party and talking things over? The head of the board is normally a very nice and approachable person, too, so I can’t figure out what’s going on here.

Maybe we’re just crazy. But if they really felt that we were, why wouldn’t they just say so?

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