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  • What's in a Name?(8/21/2020)

    by: David C. Wilson, Esq.

    GIVEN RECENT protests for social justice and the current political landscape, it should come as no surprise that the use of the word “plantation" in community association names has become a topic of conversation. It is particularly true in North and South Carolina, where the history behind the word stirs up a mixed bag of emotions for different people.

    Many community association boards struggle with the best approach to this delicate topic. Some residents in these communities are strongly for removing “plantation," while other residents are strongly against it.

    Those who are against removing the word say it would be a potentially expensive rebranding that is difficult to accomplish and detrimental to the community's reputation and even home values. To some, the word denotes a certain lifestyle and recognizes the history of the land as tied to prestige and wealth—and that using it as part of a marketing strategy emphasizes these aspects.

    Some communities say there is no real support for making a name change, and that an amendment to the governing documents would require at least a supermajority of all owners or may be an expense that owners aren't willing to support. Finally, there's the argument that removing the word is erasing history rather than educating about it, and that it doesn't address social issues or change individual behavior—constituting empty symbolism.

    However, those in favor of removing the word say that its use could deter potential homebuyers because of its negative connotation and close ties to systems of discrimination, segregation, and slavery. They say removing the word encourages sensitivity to racial issues and is a small (and relatively easy) step in the larger battle against discrimination. In addition, they argue that we would never use words such as “ghetto" or “servitude" to name a neighborhood, so why continue to use “plantation" in the name of community associations?

    Each of these arguments is on the table when communities consider whether to change their names, and they carry different weight in each. We've had more than one community look to change their name but be deterred by the cost because it may require amending several documents after obtaining homeowners' approval.

    Some associations where cost is not a concern have objected to the change because of the community's reputation in the area. To them, changing the name would mean losing the well-earned, favorable reputation built up over time. Other communities have wanted to make the change regardless of these considerations and felt like it was the right thing for their residents.

    A good approach to something like a name change will always involve the homeowners. For example, holding town hall meetings where different residents present the pros and cons of the debate in written formats and in person (or virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic) allows people to comment and share their opinion in a respectful and organized way. Even better would be fostering open discussions and opportunities to work with local groups on the topic of discrimination and inequality with the goal of positive change.

    When all is said and done, there may not be a one-size-fits-all answer; the right decision is the one made by the residents for their individual community. In some communities, that means making the change, but even when the decision is not to do so, the process can bring people together and provide a forum for understanding, education, and progress.

    David C. Wilson is an attorney with Law Firm Carolinas. He is licensed to practice in North Carolina and South Carolina. dwilson@lawfirmcarolinas.com

    » Your Turn: Is your community association considering changing its name?

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