Urban Homesteading and Homeowners Associations


Photo: Wikimedia.

Homeowners associations are notoriously intolerant when it comes to many of the activities discussed on this blog. HOA covenants and deed restrictions tend to forbid things like keeping chickens and front yard vegetable gardens. You can even get in trouble for a laundry line.

I’m curious to hear from readers who live in an HOAs. Did you get into urban homesteading before or after moving to an HOA? Have you ever gotten in trouble? What did you do about it? Do the benefits of living in an HOA outweigh the restrictions?

And there are less restrictive HOAs. I once met a couple who live in an HOA in Orange County, CA that allows chickens.


Flagpole antenna. Source: The Doctor is In

Some HOA residents take a stealth approach such as the amateur radio operators who hide their antennas in flag poles. Have you figured out a way to hide your activities?

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  1. I live in an hoa neighborhood and have not tried many homesteading efforts I would like to as a result. My husband and I developed our interest in these things once we already lived there. But I would love to hear others’ ideas! I have a huge garden out of town using someone else’s land but would like to keep some chickens…but they are not allowed by my hoa. Thanks for posting! I love your blog!

  2. I lived for 5 years in an HOA and could not wait to get out. EVERYTHING was controlled and a friend there got in trouble for hanging her sheets after 1 p.m. on a clothes line on her back patio. I can think of no reason to belong to an HOA unless you hate to garden, like conformity, and want to socialize with the people in the community every time you use the pool or gym or rec room. (If they have one). I personally prefer to join a gym or work in my yard (putting in whatever plants I want!) rather then putting up with people telling me what I can and cannot do. Chickens? Heavens no! Paint your house a color other then what is ‘approved’? You are in trouble. And what about the ‘allowed’ trees you can put in your yard? Oops…didn’t get those weeds pulled? Sorry, you will get fined if you don’t take care if them. Want to raise your back wall to have some privacy? You better send in the plans and have them OKed first. Oh and some places are ‘gated communities’ to make you ‘feel safe’. I feel like I am visiting inmates when they take down my license number at the gate and tell me where I can park. Of course I suppose there are nice HOA out there but, sorry, they are not for me!

  3. Two chickens would be pets. Right? I don’t live in HOA, but I have told people I would counter any problems or accusations by pointing out my two hens leave less poo in my yard than dogs that roam ILLEGALLY and poop in my yard. My hens never sing eggsongs after dark and at random times during the night like dogs do, breaking our noise ordinance along with the loud music from cars parked in the yard. Smell? I sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the nest and pen, even in my yard on selected grass where poo is. Flies? Diatomaceous earth stops them. Really, I just counter arguments with reason.

    We have leash laws and noise ordinances. Dogs around here break them, but my hens don’t. They actually have only left the yard three times in four years. They know where not to go.

    Shortly after I got my hens, there was talk of a Historic District HOA. I will probably have to take out my clothesline. Won’t happen.

    I am sure Erik will give you the sites that help people fight laws forbidding hens.

    • Clotheslines, a few chickens and fruit trees, and a kitchen garden would be historically accurate in many older neighborhoods.

    • Sydney,
      I wholeheartedly agree. But, a woman moved into the little rent house behind my neighbor. She is outside the Historic District. However, she timidly mentioned that she hoped her clothes line did not get her in trouble, offend anyone. She had three lines strung in a triangle from fences and trees. She said she noticed no one had clotheslines. Well, she had not seen mine! The neighbors are nice in the District, but some are control freaks. Hey, they don’t like my rotting down house, but they don’t bother me. Some were horrified I had chickens.

  4. I don’t live in an HOA. My husband knew what those were before we moved and we knew that if we lived there, the neighbors would kick us out 🙂 I did see one friend in an HOA plant a garden along their back wooden fence. It was set up as a square foot garden running along the length of the fence. It looked great and I am sure the back fence helped keep the critters out.

    The restrictions of some HOA’s do surprise me. I live near an area that has a community garden – that is a great thing. What is ironic is that all (there might be some apartments but I don’t know of any) of the municipality is made up of single family homes with large yards. The HOA’s in the municipality don’t allow fences which means people can’t grown gardens because of the wildlife.

  5. I live in a condo with an HOA, but that hasn’t stopped me from gardening! We only have a balcony, but we grow a decent amount of food. The only rules about plants on the balcony state that we can’t have dead plants, so I just need to be on top of the season changes. I even have a small worm bin, which while not specifically outlawed might be an issue if some of the pickier residents knew about it. But I keep it inside a larger fake terra cotta planter, behind the solid part of our balcony rail, so no one can see it unless they are invited into our home and out onto the balcony.

    My parents own a rental property that I lived in during college, and that has a fairly strict HOA. My roommates and I didn’t do much gardening then, though if we had we would have had to restrict our veggies to the backyard as front yards were tightly controlled. Chickens would have been out of the question in that neighborhood! It was a nice home to live in during college, but as I’ve gotten more passionate about urban homesteading, I don’t think I could go back to that type of HOA!

  6. If you want to hide things, suburbia is probably the best place to do it. Hide in plane sight, appear to conform, as long as your front yard is mowed and trimmed, you’re free to do whatever you wish inside and in the back.

  7. I suppose that’s one of the nice things about smaller towns. We live in a small area with about 140k people, and despite living in one of the more affluent developments, our HOA is pretty chill. Chickens, gardening, even up two two goats per acre are allowed (all lots are at least one acre).

    The one thing that is the same everywhere though, are those kind of neighbors that everyone has; always finding a way to look after everyone else.

  8. We live in an HOA and the rules are reasonable and keep the area rid of things like junk cars, cars on blocks being repaired for weeks at a time, garbage cans hodge-podged in the driveway. There are probable as many rules from our municipality as the HOA has. Things like chickens are not allowed, certain types of trees cannot be planted as it is a safety issue with hurricanes and yard must be mowed over a certain length, again a safety issue for snakes, fruit rats, etc.
    Now, in our HOA the front yards are to be kept neat and while food gardens are not prevented few people want them. We, on the other hand, like to grow food anywhere – we have 2 large pots on either side of our front door with a Acerola Cherry Tree in each, 2 Barbados cherry plants in a front island bed, 3 window boxes hanging on a street facing fence planted with beets for greens, green onions, tat soi and arugula. Because of the poor, nematode infested soil we have almost all of the food planting we do is in pot & Earth Boxes on our lanai or around the outside of the pool. We do have katuk & Cranberry Hibiscus at one corner of our home as foundation plantings and they screen a well used for watering and 2 rain barrels.
    I use drying racks on the lanai which is legal. It is also legal to have a clothesline on the side of the house behind a fence. For me it’s better to have our very large rain barrel, the AC unit and the propane generator behind the fence to keep from prying eyes.

  9. I like the conformity and cookie cutter appearance of living in a community governed by an HOA. In So Cal where the price of a median house can be in the mid 400’s, I don’t want to live next door to a house with pink stucco and purple trim and a yard full of inoperable junk vehicles that would rival a scene out of Smokey and the Bandit. Thus far, I have received no HOA complaints from edibles that are interspersed among more traditional plantings in my front yard. As for the back, totally edible.

  10. It’s a balance. I have lived in my home for almost 20 years, all of which it has been part of a mandatory HOA. I was a board member of our HOA for nearly 10 years. HOAs are very important for many reasons, and if your HOA is imposing rules against urban homesteading, speak up! As a board member I encouraged our HOA to NOT impose rules that did not specifically impact neighbors’ safety, security, or property values. We focused on things like neglected yards, immobile vehicles, and houses in need of repair, while overlooking neighbors (including ME!) who kept well-maintained chicken coops. People who think HOAs are “all evil” or “good-for-nothing” really should look into making their enemy their friend. I’d much rather go to sleep at night knowing I did my part to make our HOA work better, than go to sleep at night complaining about it!

  11. I used to live in an area with an HOA, but not a very picky one, and with a real focus on community. As long we cut the grass, raked leaves, shoveled snow and didn’t leave a bunch of junk laying around, it was fine. They really only paid attention to front yards-there were a lot of privacy fences around back yards! Otherwise, they didn’t step in unless there was a real mess, like the older lady with 14 dogs. The yards there are small, and there was no way to keep the smell and flies under control. Still, they started by helping her clean up, and then helped get many of the dogs adopted by families in the community. She kept 4 dogs, one big and three small. It was a real example of what a community can do when people matter more than image. One thing to consider is to diligently attend HOA meetings, encourage like-minded neighbors to do the same, and try to get elected to the HOA board.

  12. Wow. What an eruption of class prejudice. Makes me really love my neighborhood in a real town. Sure, we have some junky houses, and while I don’t love the ancient RV that’s been parked on the street for most of the 10 years I’ve lived here, I like the neighbor who owns that RV, and who grew up on this block. I’d rather live in a mixed neighborhood where there’s some gentrification, but all the older neighbors haven’t been run out, than to live in some HOA where everyone’s obsessed with policing their neighbors.

    • Exactly!!! One man’s immobile RV is another guy’s black dude or Puerto Rican family, when you start playing the “let’s stereotype” game, it’s hard to stop.

  13. A neighborhood with an HOA was a dealbreaker for us both times we have bought a house. We just refuse to play. Our first house was a total small-lot suburban house typical to the U.S. We had a garden, including some tomatoes out front, and several chickens. The neighbors loved it. It was a real community-builder, actually. I have very strong, negative feelings about HOA’s. People buy into the idea thinking they are “preserving property values” but they don’t realize all the downsides associated with them: fewer opportunities for interaction with neighbors, monotonous and unproductive landscapes, and the inability to take part in basic home production activities such as gardening, chickens, and the like.

  14. I refused to move into a neighborhood with an HOA. Too many horror stories from friends – they were forced to choose between only 2 types of fence (which were the most expensive) or they received nasty emails about not deadheading their flowers. Our neighborhood is very nice, and our town has many ordinances to make sure properties are maintained so I don’t see a reason to have an HOA poking its nose into my yard. My neighbors are nice, but I shudder to think what they would do if they had the power to force me to conform to their mulch-mow-and-blow aesthetic.

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