Do state laws coerce homeowners and support HOAs? Are UCIOA and other HOA statutes establishing state actors?
The New Jersey Supreme Court appears to headed for a decision soon on constitutional issues for homeowner rights — the Twin Rivers case. Steven Siegel, whose very important paper on constitutionality and private governments is referenced in Note 1, has also co-authored the Twin Rivers AARP amicus curiae brief for the homeowners.
The US Supreme Court has stated criteria for state actors/actions beyond the antiquated “public functions” test based on the 1946 company town model. In my view, many state statutes easily satisfy one or more of these criteria and clearly establish HOAs as state actors.
Our cases have identified a host of facts that can bear on the fairness of such an attribution. We have, for example, held that a challenged activity may be state action when it results from the State’s exercise of “coercive power,” Blum, 457 U.S., at 1004, 102 S.Ct. 2777, when the State provides “significant encouragement, either overt or covert,” ibid., or when a private actor operates as a “willful participant in joint activity with the State or its agents,” Lugar, supra, at 941, 102 S.Ct. 2744 (internal quotation marks omitted). We have treated a nominally private entity as a state actor when it is controlled by an “agency of the State,” Pennsylvania v. Board of Directors of City Trusts of Philadelphia, 353 U.S. 230, 231, 77 S.Ct. 806, 1 L.Ed.2d 792 (1957) (per curiam), when it has been delegated a public function by the State, cf., e.g., West v. Atkins, supra, at 56, 108 S.Ct. 2250; Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614, 627-628, 111 S.Ct. 2077, 114 L.Ed.2d 660 (1991), when it is “entwined with governmental policies,” or when government is “entwined in [its] management or control,” Evans v. Newton, 382 U.S. 296, 299, 301, 86 S.Ct. 486, 15 L.Ed.2d 373 (1966). (See note 1).
I believe that many elements of state laws can be shown to create HOAs state actors. Many phrases in law are simple pro-active statements, such as the words “constitute” or “create”, as in “acceptance of the deed constitutes acceptance of the CC&Rs” or “creates a lien on the property as of the date the assessment is due”. In other phrases we run into the issue of state mandates. For example, the word “shall” in statutes is interpreted to mean “must”, and the word “may” does not constitute a command or order, but a just an option. Therefore, it has been argued, a statute is not a legislative mandate if it contains the word “may” rather than “shall”, as many HOA statutes contain.
But, let’s examine this a little more closely. The state has the right under its police powers to regulate our activities, but it must justify its interference as a legitimate government interest. And the tests for “legitimate government interest” become more severe as the state attempts to take away our fundamental rights. For example, the state restriction on our rights must not be one of convenience for them, but of necessity because the state’s objective could not otherwise be accomplished. I have not seen any such justifications in any state HOA Acts or statutes, not even in the various UCIOAs.
If the law is silent on an issue, the legality of the issue is open for a decision. If the law says “shall” or makes what I referred to as a “simple pro-active statement”, then the answer has been given quite clearly. If the statute says “may not”, then it is also quite clear. Now, if it says “may”, isn’t this a legalization of the act and a permission for a person to act in such a manner? While it is not the same as a mandate by the state, isn’t it a legalization of the act? And as such, isn’t the state “sanctioning” the act, which can be viewed as state support for the action, such as fining a homeowner without providing proper due process protections by independent tribunals? Otherwise, if the state disapproved or did not support the action, the statute would have read “may not”. But, it said. “may”.
I argue that all these “mays” are a clear indication of state support, encouragement and coercion in favor of HOAs that deny homeowners their fundamental rights, and make HOAs state actors.
1. Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Ass’n, 531 U.S. 288 296 (2001). (See generally, Steven Siegel, The Constitution and Private Government: Toward the Recognition of Constitutional Rights in Private Residential Communities Fifty years After Marsh v. Alabama, Wm & Mary Bill of Rights J., Vol. 6, Issue 2 (1998)).