To Gate or Not to Gate?
Who Owns Your Street?

by Joseph Toone

When first shopping for real estate in San Miguel I was thrilled to learn about the virtual absence of Property Owners’ Associations (POAs). For nearly all condominium or office building owners, POAs are simply part of life in the US. I was happy to learn that here in San Miguel I’d no longer being paying thousands of dollars each year to ensure a third party vendor made a good profit for lining up the occasional snow plow. How great not to spend any more time in meetings with my neighbors discussing the merits of taupe versus bone for the backing of drapes that faced the street.

The US has a twisted history with POAs. As late as the 1940s, POA’s regulations superseded state or federal law, allowing such things as ownership being available only to caucasians. This supersedence only ended, first in California, with a legal case brought by Oscar-winning actress Hattie McDaniel, famous for playing Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Her intended Los Angeles neighborhood’s POA didn’t allow persons of color to own property there. It didn't, until Mammy moved into the big house.

San Miguel’s relationship with POA’s is similarly complex, and often race-oriented. To have a POA the developer agrees to set aside a certain amount of land, formerly used for orchards, to now be used as parks. In return, every property’s deed is listed as a condominium (even if a stand-alone home) and forced to pay into a POA, normally run by the developer. It’s a nice future income stream for the developer once the properties have sold.

Of course, few developers want to give away potentially income-producing property for a park. So sometimes they, or the neighbors themselves, try to shoehorn in a POA at a later date, with varied success. El Paradiso, Los Labraodres, Villas Antigua and my own tiny neighborhood have all had difficulties trying to form POAs after the fact. This can be done legally if the developer will set aside the park land and 90% of the home owners pay to have their deeds re-written. From the tone of folks at City Hall I assume this never happens.

Ours was the first family, the first house sold, in our tiny cluster of spec homes. I enjoyed having school kids pass by on their way to school or play soccer in the fields. A few years later I had a handful of neighbors who did derive a similar enjoyment, so they placed a gate on the only car entrance/exit, although the surrounding fields gave open access to anyone who wanted to walk in. Here on the border of Centro, my neighbors, who had bought houses with garages, wanted a paid guard to make sure no one parked in front of their house, even during the 10 months of year they weren’t here. Plus they wanted me, to help pay for it. Obviously I bowed out of that opportunity.

But this was exactly the opportunity for which one of the cousins of the developer’s was waiting. He like the idea so much that he fired the neighbors’ guard, replaced him with his own guard and wanted all residents to pay monthly for his guard’s services. What exactly the services were escaped me. We were technically a “gated” community, but that was it; there was just a gate, without any fence continuing from the gate. Not being fenced, access was free and easy. Plus I understood that as this cousin also built spec houses and blocked the gate blocked to municipal employees checking for permits and to employees of the Ecology Department, who would fine him for the trees he cut down. Previously I had kept my nose out of it, that’s was his business, but it was now also mine.

Legally, of course, you can’t block anyone’s access to their home, or the access of anyone coming to visit them. But, realistically, you can make access very difficult, especially to those with a dark skin tone. Countless times my darker students, delivery folks or pals were denied access. The gate-keeper even forced a 93 year old grandmother, because of her skin tone, to walk 15 minutes, instead of allowing her to continue in her taxi.

Now my neighbors might argue the gate-keeper provides security, but the recent rash of home invasions has dispelled that myth. Folks tend to ignore that if someone is noting when you come and go, if they know when your house is empty, then that right there is your biggest security breech. Then, if your job is opening and closing a gate, you’ve some time on your hands to gossip. I’m amazed how often the lady at the neighboring tienda tells me gossip about my neighbors, and myself, including our comings and goings.

The bottom line is that if your property isn’t part of a POA as explained in your deed, yet you have folks asking for monthly money, then it’s strictly a volunteer effort on your part. If you feel the services, if there are any, are worth the cost, then pay up. If not, don’t. But whether you contribute or not, slapping up a gate does not necessarily provide security, and rather might constitute a security risk. In today’s rough and tumble world of international relations, a group of foreigners (including Mexicans from outside of San Miguel,) who feel entitled to deny parking on public streets, or access to dark-skinned people, generates whole new opportunities for discourse, at least.

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Joseph Toone is Amazon's bestselling author of the San Miguel de Allende Secrets series of books and TripAdvisor's best rated historical walking tour guide. For more information contact toone.joseph@yahoo.com or visit History and Culture Walking Tours or JosephTooneTours.com, also on FaceBook.

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