Arizona ‘Hams’ get Dialed in Against Homeowner Rules

Arizona Daily Star
by: Howard Fischer – Capitol Media Services
March 15th, 2009

Radio ‘hams’ get dialed in against homeowner rules

PHOENIX — Randy Malick knew when he moved into his subdivision seven years ago that the homeowner rules did not allow amateur radio towers.

But he decided to buy a house anyway in the Rancho Vistoso subdivision in Oro Valley, north of Tucson.

Now Malick, who has had a “ham” license since 1991, is at the forefront of a move to persuade state lawmakers to force homeowner associations to allow these towers, regardless of whether his neighbors want them or not.

Malick and his fellow operators won the first round this past week when the House Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety voted 5-3 to force HOAs to provide for “reasonable heights and dimensions” for such towers. And the operators acknowledged that “reasonable” means something taller than the surrounding buildings.

The vote came over the objections of Ryan Anderson, who lobbies for the Community Associations Institute, which represents many HOAs.

“If you’re trying to tell me as a member of an HOA that a 40-foot tower next to my community will not affect my property values, I’m sorry, I don’t subscribe to that belief,” he said.

The battle over HB 2514 is the latest dust-up in the perennial debate of individual rights versus contractual rights.

HOAs, largely formed by developers, assess residents for common-area improvements and impose restrictions on those living there. Some are quite simple, like whether they can have poultry; others get into issues of the color of homes, landscaping and what can be parked in the driveway.

In prior years, lawmakers have overruled various restrictions on what they said are public-policy considerations. So homeowners now can install solar devices on roofs and erect flagpoles in their yards.

Paradise Valley resident Michael LeBoeuf said he sees little difference between flagpoles and outdoor basketball hoops and the 41-foot ham-radio antenna he wants to have. But he said his HOA refused to let him erect the antenna even though he has rigged it so it would be raised only when he needs it.

“We live in a world of human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, immigrants’ rights, various rights,” he told lawmakers. “But when a ham living in an HOA community wants to put up an antenna and enjoy the hobby and provide the community service that he has earned (by getting a license), his or her rights get quickly trampled on and are dismissed.”

But Rep. Sam Crump, R-Anthem, said it’s not that simple.

He said people choose to live in HOAs because they get specific benefits, with the rights and responsibilities of residents spelled out in contracts that are agreed to by anyone who buys a home in that subdivision.

And Crump said supporters of measures to restrict what rules HOAs can enforce on the basis of individual rights are ignoring the constitutional rights of individuals to associate with one another. He said every time the Legislature overrules those rules it chips away at that right.

“If life is so miserable in an HOA … then people can choose not to live there,” Crump said.

That’s not so easy, said Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista.

“It is harder and harder to find a newer home or a region that is not (in an) HOA,” he said.

Malick said that was the reason he decided to buy in Rancho Vistoso after moving from the Midwest. He was willing to live with the restriction.

But he said the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, “changed the world,” showing the nation’s vulnerability and the need for a network of amateur radio operators to get messages back and forth in case of emergencies.

The bill now goes to the full House.