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People who live in subdivisions are familiar with something called a “Homeowners’ Covenant.” It’s basically a list of rules for what you can and can’t do with your own house and land. Home buyers are supposed to read the covenant before purchasing a home, but like all those other pages of mortgage legalese, it’s often overlooked. Sometimes that leads to an unwelcome surprise.

Our subdivision, for example, has a rule against parking boats in the driveway: if you want a boat, you have to find a way to squeeze it into the tiny space on the side of the house (often impossible), or else pay to park it elsewhere.

One of our newest neighbors apparently didn’t know the rule, or assumed it was not enforced. When asked by the homeowner’s association to move his boat, he wasn’t happy. In response, he read the covenant carefully and set out to find all others who violated the rules in one way or another. Our house wound up on his list because our portable basketball goal was closer to the cul-de-sac than regulations allow. It’s the sort of innocuous violation that no one had previously complained about, in part because it wasn’t unsightly and other kids in the neighborhood enjoyed playing on it.

But, a rule is a rule, so we got a call, and I had to drain the water from the base, push it up the hill, and steady the goal with sandbags. Now, when Jan and Samuel want to shoot hoops after dinner, I’ll have to move my car, roll the goal down the hill, and go through the whole setup routine again. That means it won’t get used as often, and our community will be less communal — all for the sake of a rule.

I understand that some rules are necessary, and that homeowners’ covenants are designed to protect as well as to restrict. I’m reminded, however, of how the rabbis studied the Hebrew Bible and turned a big handful of laws into hundreds of ever-stricter regulations.

It can be a tricky business but at some point, people have to become more important than rules. I believe love trumps legalism.

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