The failure of the HOA to protect against obsolescence

Tyler P. Berding, CAI and the Foundation for Community Association Research (CAI affiliate) member, has come to realize that HOAs will become obsolete for a variety of reasons and property values will plunge. His “exit strategy,” as stated in his article, is unclear.  He writes (my emphasis),

The challenge is . . . formulating an appropriate exit strategy that will protect the individual’s investment when the inevitable occurs. At present, no appropriate strategy for preserving individual interests in the face of an obsolete community exists. It should be a legislative priority to find one.

The individual owner is trapped in this cycle. He cannot ‘opt out’ of the system. His only choice is to vote for increased assessments or not, or to sell. If he sells, his successor will be given the same choices. If the community fails, the owner’s interest will be lost. There is no present means by which an owner can salvage his separate interest in a failed community.

To better understand HOA obsolescence, think of your car. You bought it and it depreciates or becomes obsolescent over time.  Most people cannot buy a new car until the sell their old one, or trade it in; but, there are no “home dealers” to make home selling a relatively quick and easy process like car buying. As your home grows old, like the HOA’s common areas, repairs and maintenance demands continuously pop up.  Your property value drops – forget about the HOA’s common areas – your home value drops.  The obsolescence of the common areas does not help your home value. In a non-HOA subdivision, the county pays for the neighborhood maintenance.

Berding does not address what I call your home’s architectural obsolescence; that is, the layout, floor plan, or design of your home, which may no longer be fashionable as people’s tastes change. What the HOA can try to do, which would be a value of HOA living, is to mandate special assessments for repairs and maintenance.  It can do it simply by amending the CC&Rs since there is no protection in the HOA constitution against ex post facto amendments as in the US Constitution.  But, then again, was this part of “the deal” when you bought your home?

What if a homeowner has the cash to remodel his home to make it ‘fashionable’?  Would he get ACC approval? Fat chance!  Would the HOA revise its character of the community and allow homeowners to remodel and create more fashionable homes?  I mean, doesn’t that help maintain property values?  Fat chance!

But wait Berding, what about government intervention to preserve the HOA as quoted above?   What do you think that legislative priority will be, as the state faces a multitude of HOA communities becoming blighted areas?  My guess is that a law will be made mandating the payment of special assessments into reserve accounts to prevent HOAs from becoming obsolete.  Don’t think so?  Have you heard of Obama Care?

In this lengthy article Berding rambles and introduces aspects but fails to tie them all together, like, “It [the HOA] is more than a quasi-governmental agency” and “It is a multidimensional mix of principles” (referring to special or sui generis laws).   Is Berding saying below that the homeowners alone are responsible for the financial condition of the HOA, and individual rights get in the way (my emphasis)?  You know, you’re on your own. Judge for yourself.

In America, individual self-determination usually prevails, and that basic truth illuminates the fundamental flaw in the common interest development concept. In CID living, the success of the group is wholly dependent on the voluntary contribution of capital by each owner.

A community association in trouble cannot simply close the doors and walk away. The ‘village’ [note the reference to public governance terminology] has to pay the utilities, remove the garbage, and maintain the buildings if the owners are to have shelter. This cannot be effectively done without a consensus of the owners, because without owner approval, the association cannot raise sufficient funds to operate.

And in the absence of a consensus?  We know about consensus and member involvement in HOA matters, don’t we?  It seems obvious that the state must intervene, right?

Berding does make the important point that is essential for a healthy community – it’s up to the members to “do right.”   However, the mass merchandising of the HOA concept has worked against members pitching in to maintain property values, because that’s the HOA’s job, that’s why they bought into an HOA – them, not us.  Faulty indeed, but if the financial aspects of a close corporation where financing must come from the limited membership were disclosed, including the joint and severable liability of the members, who would buy an HOA home?  The home would lose all its traditional humanizing, family aspects and become just another dehumanizing material asset.

There’s much more to Berding’s article, which unfortunately gets bogged down in too much irrelevant detail.

 

See, Tyler P. Berding,  “The Uncertain Future of Common Interest Developments,” August 10, 2014.

Can the HOA legal scheme survive constitutional due process?

Bob Frank, a Commissioner on the Nevada Commission for Common Interest Communities and Condominium Hotels, asked in the LinkedIn group, Condo Association (and HOA) Network, Should States Pass “Due Process Regulations” Along The lines of The Following Draft?

My comment follows:

Bob, an excellent in depth presentation of HOA due process procedures. Allow me to provide the authority for your proposal. Judge Henry Friendly in his well-regarded article, “Some Kind of Hearing,”[1] generated a list that remains highly influential, as to both content and relative priority (my emphasis):

  • An unbiased tribunal;
  • Notice and grounds for the proposed action;
  • An opportunity to show why the proposed action should not be taken;
  • The right to call witnesses;
  • The right to know opposing evidence;
  • The right to have the decision based only on the evidence presented;
  • The opportunity to be represented by counsel;
  • A record of the proceeding;
  • A statement of reasons;
  • Public attendance; and
  • Availability of judicial review.

 

As you will note, the first listed item above requires “an unbiased tribunal.” What would you add to your proposal to further protect the integrity of your HOA due process procedures? Obviously some sort of code of conduct for those sitting on the “hearing tribunal” is in order. Following are the four Canons taken from the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct[2].

CANON 1

A judge shall uphold and promote the, independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

CANON 2

A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.

CANON 3

A judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.

CANON 4

A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.

I would think that third-parties with some legal background would be the way to go, but this would run into the dogmatic “the HOA members shall judge their ‘peers.’” But, then again, is that possible?

You have touched upon one of my 5 HOA substantive reforms arguments, “Fair and Just Hearings,[3] the absence of which is a clear indication of the oppressive and authoritarian nature of the HOA legal scheme.  If it is possible to obtain fair and just hearings, would this move toward democratic reforms cause the HOA legal scheme as it exists today to collapse, or can the real estate package governed by an HOA government survive governed by a true democracy?[4]

References

[1] Judge Henry Friendly, “Friendly, Some Kind of Hearing,” 123 U. PA. L. Rev. 1267, 1279-1295 (1975).

[2] American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/ professional_responsibility/publications/model_code_of_judicial_conduct.html).

[3] See “HOA Common Sense, No. 6, Fair and Just Hearings”.

[4] See “Would the HOA legal scheme collapse under a democratic form of government?

 

AZ amicus brief seeking answers to constitutional HOA questions denied

A constitutionality challenge[1] was made to Arizona’s SB 1482 “HOA Omnibus Bill” (ominous bill), the 2014 version of SB 1454 from last year.[2]   Although the law has become effective this past July 24th, the case is still active.  Yours truly filed an amicus curiae brief in superior court on behalf of the Pro Se plaintive, Dave Russell, to which the Arizona Attorney General, lawyer for the State of Arizona, found objectionable. The judge denied my motion to file the brief.

The AG objected under a too one-sided against Arizona argument (complete objection).

Defendant, State of Arizona, opposes George K. Starapoli’s Motion for Leave to File Amicus

Brief in this matter for the following reasons:

  1. There is no authority to file an Amicus Brief in this matter in the superior court.

  1. It would be prejudicial to the State to allow the brief to be filed at this time. The State has responded to the Plaintiffs Motion for Expedited Preliminary Injunction, and that Motion could be considered based on the documents already filed by the parties. To allow the brief to be filed would prolong the process, require additional response, and potentially confuse the issues.

 

I did not refer to the Injunction, but the complaint itself, so what gives??  What does “potentially confuse the issues” mean?  Too much for the AG or judge to handle???

On the 28th, the judge ruled (complete minute entry),

 

On July 11, 2014, George Staropoli filed a “Motion for Leave to File an Amicus Curiae Brief in Support of the Plaintiff”. The Court has reviewed this motion and considered the circumstances. Under the circumstances,

IT IS ORDERED denying the above-identified motion.

What does “under the circumstances mean?????    Was it too confusing for the court to handle????

 

I was informed that a leading public interest nonprofit that has argued before the Arizona Supreme Court has had its amicus briefs to the Superior Court also denied.  I expected as much, but I had hoped for a dissertation as to why the denial beyond “under the circumstances.”

 

The issues that I raised in my amicus brief were:

 

  • Is a bill allowing HOA managers to represent HOAs while prohibiting the homeowner to engage an unlicensed and untrained third-party to speak for them in small claims court an unconstitutional special law in violation of the equal protection of the law under the US and Arizona Constitutions? (SB 1482, Section 7).

 

  • Do the renter documentation requirements and restrictions constitute an unconstitutional interference with private agreements as it creates more harm to the homeowners than the benefits of an unstated government interest?  (SB1482, Sections 11 and 15).

 

The court must still decide on the injunction to not enforce the bill (or the part dealing with HOA managers in small claims court), which it cannot do because Rule 31 of the Arizona Supreme Court forbids non-lawyers from representing anyone in court, including small claims court.  And the Constitution says the SC controls its procedures and not the legislature!  So, folks, what’s the fuss all about?

 

What this incident has demonstrated is the use of the law by the AG and an eagerly cooperative court.  Was my brief so harmful to the State of Arizona’s case that the truth must be hidden?  Or was my brief valid because the overwhelming facts and background presented made a strong case for the tyranny of the legislature that resulted in an unconstitutional law, a law which was motivated by domineering HOA stakeholders, the special interests?

What my little exercise has demonstrated is the silence on the part of our government.  Why?  Because like an HOA they don’t have too!  A law is constitutional because the ‘sovereign,’ the legislature, has spoken and can do no wrong.   Like an HOA, the state well knows it cannot make a valid and compelling justification for the bill in question, SB 1482.  Any such attempt would demonstrate to all that the State of Arizona was defending the indefensible.  So, mum’s the word.

How does a citizen successfully argue his case when the State’s defense is, “Because I can!”

 

 

References

[1] See the complaint, Russell v. State of Arizona, CV2014-093-052 (Maricopa County Superior Court).

[2] See in general: A lesson in HOA reforms and power politics in AZ; AZ legislature fails to remove invalid statutes from its ARS web page.

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.

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