I thought it was a unique Chinese way to assemble a homeowners association, especially since disputes between Chinese homeowners and developers have increased exponentially in Chinese cities. I’ve now discovered homeowners associations in America have great supervising power over any individual household.
I realized this after my Virginia home received a notice that was more or less a subpoena to a hearing regarding my family’s supposedly misplacing a trash barrel at the wrong time and at the wrong spot. The notice was enclosed with an eight by five snapshot of the evidence—a trash barrel marked with our house number standing at the corner of a sidewalk, where the curb is painted yellow to alert no parking. At the corner of the picture showed the time—3:52pm, April 26, 2012. The notice declared that each household should place their trash barrel directly in front of their houses either after dark or early the next morning when the trash is picked up.
In China, I would ignore such a notice but my husband told me that if we didn’t attend the hearing we could be fined or face legal action. That sounded threatening. At the hearing, my husband and I faced three members of the homeowners board across a table. I immediately recognized the woman who once gave me verbal warning about the trash. She must be the one who took the evidence photo. Why would the homeowners association make such a sneaky move to snap a photo rather than simply knock on our door to clear any misunderstanding?
It is a big deal to attend a hearing in China. But Americans seem to be born to be litigious. Unofficial statistics show the United States has one lawyer for every 270 Americans, the most in the world. Whereas in the U.K., for instance, each lawyer is for 400 Britons. (The ranking for Chinese lawyers is too far behind to be visible on the list.)
My husband told the board that for fifteen years he had been leaving the trash in front of the house as directed with no trouble. The board barked back that our trash barrel was too close to a “NO PARKING” sign. My husband countered that the trash barrel was never on the yellow “NO PARKING” line and that the sign doesn’t say “NO TRASH.”
So what happened? The board saved its face by fining us $50 and then saved our face saying that if we were good for six months, we would not have to pay the fine. We still put our trash barrel directly in front of our house but further away from the sign and yellow line. What I learned from this hearing is even though I may be a silent lamb in China, I have to be feisty in America. For my own sake, I must use a tit-for-tat strategy. I may not be as noisy as an American but I can be eloquent for my own rights.