The writing is on the wall for HOA reforms

Although the Arizona Supreme Court has not yet decided to hear Tarter v. Bend (CV 21-0049), my 44 page Pro Se amicus curiae brief is a matter of public record, regardless.  The case about a defamation suit by the HOA president, also an attorney and a limited-purpose public figure, raised constitutional issues of public speech with respect to questions of HOA governance. 

Selected excerpts follow.

As with the issue in Dombey (Dombey v. Phoenix Newspapers, Inc) . . . failing to present the question of Tarter’s status as a possible public figure denied the jury from considering the issues of protected free speech on public issues.

Kosor (NV) was sued on the basis of his criticism  and distribution of a pamphlet and letter at a board meeting seeking a seat on the board of directors.

“Because we conclude that each of Kosor’s statements was “made in direct connection with an issue of public interest in a place open to the public or in a public forum,” we reverse the district court’s decision to the contrary and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The impetus behind this view can be laid to the heavy lobbying of state legislators, judges, the public and the media by the Community Associations Institute (CAI). From its 2016 white paper,

“Most legislators do not thoroughly understand common-interest communities or who their patchwork legislation is actually protecting. . . . Legislative responses to individual constituents contribute to community associations being perceived as over-restrictive micro-governments focused on covenant enforcement.”

In response to my Arizona Supreme Court pro se amicus brief in Gelb v. DFBLS (CV-10-0371-PR) CAI attorney Jason Smith wrote,

“It is clear from the that the amicus curiae [referring to me] simply wants to impose constitutional protections on members in homeowners associations. The law has never supported that proposition.”

[I called to the Court’s attention a question of a SLAPP lawsuit against Brendt.]  The issue of an HOA SLAPP lawsuit against a member is in the interest of general public and of statewide importance, and also of national concern, the impact on community associations is certainly substantial. This Court should, sua sponte, consider Tarter’s legal action as a HOA politically motivated strategic lawsuit  against member participation.

I urge the Court to apply the long overdue correction  of  Plessy v. Ferguson by Brown v. Bd of Education to the long overdue and needed corrections to the unconstitutional HOA legal scheme.  As with Brown, America’s culture and environment has changed dramatically from 1964’s Homes Association Handbook and the formation in 1973 of Community Associations Institute (CAI) to deal with rising HOA problems and constitutional concerns after only 9 years. 

Why HOA members fail in court – failing to know the enemy

In Nuclear Verdicts, not specifically addressing HOA cases and speaking to defense attorneys, author and defense attorney Tyson sees the failure to succeed  as a failure of the defendant to get angry.  “YOU are the solution to what has been wrong with our legal system.”  In keeping with the mission of a homeowner advocate’s cry of “fightclub,” Tyson’s Nuclear Verdicts’  mission “is about fighting individuals and groups who are attempting to take advantage of our legal system.  There are people every day who make false and exaggerated claims . . . .”   

I have applied his general statements to HOA-Land.  Tyson is quite on the mark with the many instances of HOA attorney conduct in the courtroom.  And on the failure of homeowners to appropriately and strongly respond. “Bad lawyering [on the part of the homeowner’s attorney] is much more common” than the HOA attorney’s “stretching their claims beyond what is real and verifiable.”  The homeowner attorney  “is surprised, or unprepared, or just not as good as the” HOA attorney. Tyson sums it all up with, “So how do you fight injustice? First of all you need to get angry! You need to stop complaining and do something about it.? 

. . . .

I have read dozens of trial and appellate court cases and opinions across the states, and have personally witnessed the conduct of HOA attorneys and board members in court. My research is consistent with Tyson’s position. I offer my own views for those seeking to go to court to take heed of, and to just DO IT!

My conclusions as to why homeowners lost in court fell into several causes, the chief being the failure to know the enemy, as Sun Tzu wrote in the Art of War. Other causes, as I saw them, 1) insufficient evidence and documentation provided to the court, 2) failing to state a claim, in other words, the HOA broke no laws or violated the governing documents but just exercised its discretion as was its right, 3) attorney lack of expertise and knowledge of HOA  case history, and 4) member afraid to argue the case as warranted for one reason or another.

I possess, as well as on other advocate websites including CAI’s pages on it amicus briefs and case history reviews, a wealth of information on knowing the enemy. Failing to provide this information to your attorney that will enhance your chances of success and to lessen his “learning time,” saving you money, can harm the chances of your winning in court.

YOU are the solution to what has been wrong with our legal system.”

I’d like to thank Sonia Bendt for understanding this need to cooperate and work together, and who sent me Tyson’s book realizing it would be very helpful to all homeowners going to court.

Robert F. Tyson, Jr, Nuclear Verdicts: defending justice for all, Law Dog Publishing (2020).

CAI’s early awareness of HOA constitutionality, public mini-government

It appears that CAI has adopted a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” attitude toward HOA constitutionality and public mini-government issues that are still prevalent today.  And it spread to the policy-makers.

Wayne S. Hyatt’s 1975 Emory Law Journal article, Condominium and Home Owners Associations:  Formation and Development, 2 years after the formation of CAI, presents his highly influential view on HOA constitutionality while recognizing that HOAs are mini-governments.

Wayne Hyatt “the most prominent advocate in CAI” serving as a 1975 “homeowners representative” and a former president (1978-79) (Privatopia, p. 219, 138 respectively). Hyatt  devoted his practice to working with developers of condominiums, master planned communities, resorts . . . to create community governance structures and community stewardship organizations.

While actively practicing law, he was also a member of 1) the American Law Institute (that wrote the pro-HOA Restatement of Servitudes, 2) the College of Community Association Lawyers (CAI affiliate) , the Community Associations Institute (CAI, created in 1973 by the National Association of Home Builders [grant of]  $30,000), and  3) ULI – the Urban Land Institute (sponsor of the 1964 “HOA bible,” The Homes Association Handbook) and served as a ULI Trustee.

He also served as an Advisor 1) to the Restatement of the Law (Third) Property: Servitudes, and 2)  to the Special Committees on a Uniform Condominium Act and a Uniform Planned Community Act of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (Uniform Law Commission, UCIOA and UCA).  Hyatt received several awards from CAI.

Hyatt developed many of the Dell Webb’s master planned and resort/active adult association CC&Rs over the years.

His 1975 Emory Law Journal article gives readers a good idea of constitutionality and local government concerns that seemed to have evaporated over the years as CAI’s influence increased dramatically.  A few important excerpts:

  • “The California Code provides for an association and affords it the powers and duties of the mini-government.” {T]he [Georgia] legislature has in effect provided a large measure of home rule for what is in essence a category of small municipalities, and each has established a system of officers and directors in the nature of a mayor and council to oversee the exercise of this rule.” (At 988). 
  • “‘Has the state permitted, even by inaction, a private party to exercise such power over matters of a high public interest that to render meaningful’ constitutional rights, private action must be public?”(Footnote 33 at 983). [In simple terms, private government HOAs must be subject to local government protections].
  • “The Declaration is not a contract but, as a covenant running with the land, is effectively a constitution establishing a regime to govern property held and enjoyed in common.  It further sets forth procedures to administer, operate, and maintain the property. . . . the declaration and particularly the by-laws create not only a corporate structure but also a governmental authority that requires and deserves competent, experienced persons . . .” (at 990).
  • “The power of ‘levy’ is a distinctive characteristic of the association and removes it from a mere voluntary neighborhood group. . . . The imposition of penalties, whether fines . . . or a denial of use of facilities enforced by injunction, certainly represents quasi-judicial power to affect an individual’s property rights. . . . The possession and exercise of such power has substantial consequences with clear constitutional implications.  The courts have not yet considered a direct constitutional challenge to an association’s action.” (at 983).
  • “[T]he constitutional issue is most acute in rule enforcement; however the association’s established procedures, declaration, and by-laws should insure compliance with at least rudimentary constitutional principles, and there must be a procedure to protect members’ rights.” (at 984).

Nowhere will you find any equivalent discussion of HOA constitutionality, or HOAs as mini-governments or as a form of local public government. Not in its Manifesto, Community Next 2020 and Beyond (2016);  not in its Public Policies: Private Property Protection, Government regulation of Community Associations, and Rights and Responsibilities For Better Communities (July 15, 2021).

And not in any of its anti-constitution amicus briefs: Twin Rivers NJ appellate (2004), Dublirer NJ Supreme Court (2011);  Surowiecki, WA Supreme Court (2021) (business judgment rule overrides judicial review); Turtle Rock AZ appellate (2017); Foreshee WI appellate (2017).

Pro Se Bendt amicus brief accepted by AZ Supreme Court

My amicus brief was accepted and is now part of the record. The court has yet to decide if it will hear the case, which could be weeks – months way.

“Arizona Supreme Court
Civil Petition for Review – Appeal
CV-21-0049-PR TIM TARTER et al v DOUGLAS BENDT et al

“12. 25-Jun-2021 Amicus Curiae Staropoli filed an ‘Amicus Curiae Brief of George K. Staropoli in Support of Appellants’ on June 17, 2021 and a ‘Motion to Appear Amicus Curiae Brief of George K. Staropoli in Support of Appellants’ on June 24, 2021. After consideration, [163736]

IT IS ORDERED the ‘Motion to Appear Amicus Curiae Brief of George K. Staropoli in Support of Appellants’ is granted. The brief shall be filed as of June 17, 2021. Tracie K. Lindeman”

* * * *

I stated my value, in part, as:

“The issues addressed in this case are of general importance and statewide but also national concern, as the impact on community associations is certainly substantial and states look to other states for guidance in this developing area of law. The policy makers have failed to understand that the HOA CC&Rs have crossed over the line between purely property restrictions to establishing unregulated and authoritarian private governments.

“Professor Evan McKenzie in his landmark 1994 book (Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government (1994)) acknowledged the fact that ‘HOAs currently engage in many activities that would be prohibited if they were viewed by the courts as the equivalent of local governments.’”

HOA attorneys support coercive HOA laws over member justice

Yesterday, June 24, I attended a ZOOM meeting with a number of attorneys from across the country who were debating 1) whether or not new HOA laws should be applied retroactively to all HOAs even those that were formed prior to the effective date of the new law, and 2) should draft versions of the HOA minutes, from member and board  meetings, be made available to the members and when. 

The general attitude was that new  laws should be made retroactive for the “comfort” of judges and BODs — too many old laws was a pain. But America has existed for over 234 years  with restrictions on ex post facto laws, and more generally, restrictions on civil retroactive laws. While the consensus would allow for individual pre-law HOAs  formed prior to the effective date to opt-out of retroactive application, failure to do so would automatically subject the HOA to the new version of the law a few years later, regardless. The rationale was that the HOA had an opportunity to remove itself from the law.  The general consensus was to adopt the retroactive law in spite of the fact that it was coercive in nature.  HOAs were promoted with this privacy aspect and objections to top-down government interference of one size fits all.

Allow me to explain, if an act, either by the HOA or by  member,  was valid at that time a subsequent version of that law would apply.  Applying the new law could make such a pre-law act invalid with potential financial consequences for the member.  For example, putting a then valid storage bin in the backyard is now invalid if over  a specified footage, and must be removed at the member’s expense.  Or forced to paint his home because the new law gave the HOA permission to require new painting for the good of the community. These ex post facto laws, like the ex post facto HOA amendments, make your alleged contract at closing a mere piece of paper and your rights surrendered to the whims and views of your neighbors.  These retroactive laws are coercive and do not serve member justice nor reflect a home rule doctrine where deference is given to the local community.

In regard to draft minute access, concerns centered around practicability and protecting the HOA, even though many states have laws allowing for verbatim videoing of these meetings — a growing trend toward transparency. I called to their attention that making draft versions available served as a check and balance on BOD conduct and that it would make the BOD’s actions more circumspect. I also raised my concern with regard to the timing of draft and approved minutes since delays of over a  month are an obstacle for effective member response – limiting any after the fact opposition.  In general, it was felt that the member should attend these meetings if concerned, which also raised practicality issues.  There was substantial support  for draft availability.

Overall, the attitude was toward protecting the HOA over BOD transparency.