The unclean hands of the HOA

I have spoken of the unclean hands of the HOA in “HOA Common Sense No.4, Consent to be governed” and in “No.8, Draconian punishment and intimidation.”  Unclean hands is a legal doctrine that denies a plaintiff’s (HOA) complaint if the plaintiff has done anything wrongful or unfair relating to the issue at hand. If a defendant (homeowner) can show the plaintiff had “unclean hands,” the plaintiff’s complaint will be dismissed or the plaintiff will be denied judgment.

In his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v US  (1928)[1] Justice Brandeis wrote (my emphasis),

The governing principle has long been settled. It is that a court will not redress a wrong when he who invokes its aid has unclean hands. The maxim of unclean hands comes from courts of equity. But the principle prevails also in courts of law. Its common application is in civil actions between private parties. Where the government is the actor, the reasons for applying it are even more persuasive.

The court’s aid is denied only when he who seeks it has violated the law in connection with the very transaction as to which he seeks legal redress. Then aid is denied despite the defendant’s wrong. It is denied in order to maintain respect for law; in order to promote confidence in the administration of justice; in order to preserve the judicial process from contamination.

This doctrine also applies to the government at all levels.  As Brandeis continued in his dissent,

In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.

And it also applies to HOA private governments, because it’s an equitable protection.  We all know that HOA boards have, in all too many instances, grossly dirty unclean hands.  We see the anarchy with 50 different state laws and the 324,000, more or less, independent CC&Rs “constitutions.”

 

Note

[1] Olmstead v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438 (1928).  This case involved federal wiretapping, which back in 1928, the SC found no violation of the Constitution.

HOA laws that fail to protect the people from harm

I have written many times about the loss in the protections of individual rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities that continues in our country.  I wrote about the presumption that all laws passed by the legislature are constitutional, because, apparently, the sovereign can do no wrong.  After all, the legislature is the voice of the people, isn’t it?

BUT, this false analogy to the king can do no wrong ignores the fact that the king was not bound by any constitution or charter, and was free to do as he pleased.  But, we have, or are supposed to have, a constitution with restrictions on government.  We also have the doctrine of judicial review of legislation, subjecting the laws to pass judicial scrutiny.

Of the three levels now part of the doctrine of judicial scrutiny, the peoples’ rights fall into one of three categories. The least protective is a legitimate, rational government interest (basically anything the government says is important to the people goes); the strictest is a compelling and necessary interest, reserved for explicit fundamental rights violations.

I have always been bothered about many HOA laws purported to be in the best interest of the people, yet deprive or deny a category of people, those living in HOAs, of their constitutional rights (free speech in many forms, due process protections) and the equal protection of the laws. In Arizona, for example, the horrendous SB 1482 omnibus (read ‘ominous’) bill did just that: granted special rights to HOA managers and left homeowners with unequal legal representation; rejected a private agreement to prevent crimes to allow real estate agents to be able to rent homes in HOAs, a long time frowned upon right.

In the recent Arizona appellate opinion in Vong v. Aune (non-HOA case that explains judicial scrutiny), the court held that, “Courts have found a legitimate purpose lacking where a regulation fails to protect the public from harm.” ¶ 18.  Did I miss something?  Did the Rules Committee that has the duty to check for constitutionality miss something?

Of course the game is still in favor of the government where the burden is put on the homeowner challenger.  He must show that the alleged good for the community is overwhelmingly overridden by the damage to the HOA homeowner public class, and is contrary to public policy. It raises the question of one class of people losing constitutional protections so that others may . . . . may what?

Sadly, public policy as shaped by court and legislative decisions seems to be on the side of the HOA.

Justice Stevens’ constitutional amendments can end private HOA de facto governments as we know them

Allow me to say at the very start that the end of HOA government legal scheme will not end the real estate “package” that constitutes planned communities — the private amenities, landscaping rules and regulations (laws), or private community taxes (assessments).

Over the past four decades, rules crafted by a slim majority of the members of the Supreme Court have had a profound and unfortunate impact on our basic law. Far from striding toward a more perfect union, we have actually slid backwards.[i]

As an extension of the above quote, consider the influence that the modern Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda,[ii] CAI, has had on our social and political institutions.  (See the national lobbying group’s legislative involvement to protect HOAs across the country in 2013.)

My HOA rephrased quote:

Over the past four decades, legislative and judicial support, cooperation, and coercion for HOA private governments, not subject to the Constitution, have had a profound and unfortunate impact on our democratic system of government.   Far from striding toward a more perfect union, we have actually slid backwards.

Keeping Stevens’ discussion of his “anti-commandeering” amendment simple (see Proposed US Constitution amendments will help HOA reforms), the issue is whether or not the Feds can compel – commandeer – state officials to enforce federal laws.  Article 2 of the Constitution says “the laws of the United States . . . shall be the Supreme Law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby.”   So we come to the attorney word games that it does not say that other state officials shall also be bound.  The 10th Amendment says what’s not said belongs to the state.  Well, what did the Framers intend?

Logically, if the judges are obligated to enforce federal laws and an official violates the federal law that orders him to act in such a way, the official can be sued.  What’s the point?  And, as the judges like to say, after a clear reading of the law, the first part of the clause stands by itself: “the laws of the United States . . . shall be the Supreme Law of the land.” But, dealing with realities and the whims of the Justices in several decisions, Stevens feels inserting “and other public officials” after “judges” will make it quite explicit.

What this amendment can mean is that the Feds, as many are asking, can order state officials to enforce federal laws and the Constitution.  State legislatures and attorney generals would be answerable to the Feds instead of giving lame excuses of, ask the legislature to give me the power.  It’s a mockery of law and justice when individual states can ignore the Constitution that binds this country.  It’s a mockery of law when state legislatures approve HOA laws that unquestionably violate the laws of the land.

References

[i] Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, front flap, Justice (ret.) John Paul Stevens (Little, Brown and Company, 2014).

[ii] “The Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda” was the NAZI agency headed by Josef Goebbels.

 

Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 7:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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Proposed US Constitution amendments will help HOA reforms

I have cautioned my followers about the ‘games’ that lawyers play with the precise wording and grammar used in bills and, eventually, the resultant laws.  They love to parse the sentences and apply interpretations that have a plausible relationship to a valid legal issue.  When they seek a ‘loophole’ in the law the plausible becomes unreasonable, yet the courts will go through the exercise and entertain a challenge to the law.

What is needed is a tightening up of the laws and bills as a result of an analysis of how their wording can be used to get around the intent of the bill.  With respect to HOAs this is an unlikely task when state legislatures favor the HOA legal scheme currently adopted as public policy. But there is hope stemming from the very top, from retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens who has proposed Six Amendments[i] to the US Constitution.  Below are 2 of the 6 proposed amendments that are particularly important to HOA reform legislation.

 

The “Anti-Commandeering Rule” (Amend the Supremacy Clause of Article VI) — This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges and other public officials in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

Sovereign Immunity – Neither the Tenth Amendment, the Eleventh Amendment, nor any other provision of this Constitution, shall be construed to provide any state, state agency, or state officer with an immunity from liability for violating any act of Congress, or any provision of this Constitution. [New amendment].

In the “Anti-Commandeering Rule” Justice Stevens found it necessary to add “and other public officials” to explicitly bind government officials to obey the Constitution and laws of the land.  I am sure that the Founding Fathers did not think such an explicit statement would or should be necessary.  But, it’s obvious that our elected officials have forgotten their duties and obligations to the Union in favor of their political party dogma and their concern for their legacies. Just review recent state supreme court HOA decisions and the numerous pro-HOA state laws to understand the need for this constitutional amendment.

In the “Sovereign Immunity” amendment Justice Stevens found it necessary to hold elected officials on the federal and state levels to their obligation not to violate the Constitution.  The common example can be found in every state’s support of de facto HOA private governments unanswerable to, and circumventing, the US Constitution.   Again, one would not think that this would be necessary to state.

Both of the proposed amendments to the Constitution are the result of how lawyers examine the precise wording of the laws and Constitution, and raise “and, if, or buts” to get around the intent of the laws. Or, even to question the intent of the drafters of the bills.  With respect to HOA legal scheme, must we add such specifics to state constitutions and HOA/condo acts?

Bob Frank, a Nevada Commissioner, raised this very question; “Should HOA/Condo Associations Implement US Constitutional Protections For Residents In CC&Rs?  in the HOA Common Sense LinkedIn group (must be a LinkedIn member).  It’s a must read!

 

Reference

[i] Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, Justice (ret.) John Paul Stevens (Little, Brown and Company, April 22, 2014). (Available on April 22th).

Getting the Feds involved in HOA reforms

As apparent from the Illinois Supreme Court opinion[i] favoring HOAs, the Feds need to get involved. However, the Feds, like state attorney generals, have no specific authority to get involved – HOA/condo states are state laws, except for those federal laws like the American Disabilities Act and Fair Housing.

A broader approach is necessary in order to wake up the Feds, and that can come about by an appellate or US Supreme Court case decision on 1) violations of a homeowner’s constitutional rights, or 2) a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause brought under federal law § 42 U.S.C. 1983, Civil action for deprivation of rights. This approach would be similar to the whistle blower law suits of Erin Brockovich or Jeffrey Wigand (tobacco nicotine is addictive).

Read the paper at constitutional rights . . . .

 

[i] See IL Supreme Court holds HOAs “are a creature of statute,” and not contractual.

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