HOA seeks to curb advocates' right to internet free speech

One of the most important factors that has helped homeowner rights advocacy has been the lack of control and influence over the Internet by HOA industry special interests.  Even Community Associations Institute, CAI, leadership has recognized the impact that the Internet — the websites and email lists — has had on its domination of the information delivered to the policy makers, especially the legislators. 

Today, in California, an HOA and its CAI member attorneys are seeking to acquire the Internet domain name, AHRC.COM, not as the result of a free speech or defamation court decision, but  ostensibly as payment for a judgment. Many believe that this is a legal technicality to shut down this powerful voice of the homeowners who read and publish information criticizing and exposing events, incidents and people opposed to the protection of homeowner rights. How much is a nonprofit domain name worth?  Will the HOA continue the policies of AHRC.COM and publish and distribute information contrary to HOA boards and the industry special interests?  The immediate response is, “Hardly”.  It can only be seen as an attempt to stifle Internet free speech. 

Eight years ago in 2000, when I first became involved, AHRC.COM was the only nationally known homeowner oriented Internet delivery system — publisher and distributor — of material information for decision-making by homebuyers and legislators.  The CAI attorneys were rarely identified as members of the national lobbyist trade group, as today, with its personal agenda to support the status quo.  Advocates were not even consulted.   

In 2000, advocates opened several new email lists and websites.  HOANET and CCFJ are two well-known sites that began operating that year. Others followed. The independent Internet began attracting homeowners relieved to find a vehicle to obtain, share and distribute information on HOA conditions and incidents, information lacking from those state consumer protection agencies, such as the state’s attorney general office, the real estate department, business and professional regulatory agencies, and designated consumer protection agencies. 

(NYS has the most comprehensive document, but an after the fact document,  “What To Do About Problems With Your Homeowners Association”, availabe online from the Attorney general’s consumer protection link.   However, it does not address most of the issues raised in “10 Myths About HOAs”).

It took only about a year before the media actively sought out advocates as a result of this new publication source, and the people’s side, the homeowners, began to be heard. With criticism backed by supporting materials, the industry had to answer questions and defend its actions to the public. Many of the most egregious sources of information “headed for the hills”, and we now see the “puppet” groups of management firms and associations of association board members standing in place of most of the CAI member lobbyists.  The playing field has been leveled quite a bit, but the industry with its national well-financed organizations still dominates the policy makers.  The aims and purposes of the Founding Fathers to explicitly protect free speech, making it the First Amendment, testifies to the place free speech plays in the proper functioning of a democracy.  Along with cries for sunshine laws, open meetings and freedom of information access, the internet public information publishing and distribution vehicle for homeowners associations is a 21st century poster child for first amendment protections. 

We must not allow the HOA industry special interests to take control of the last, truly independent news service vehicle available to homeowners seeking a redress of grievances before state legislators.  AHRC.COM must not be placed in the hands of the opposition where it would languish and disappear, an event harmful to our democratic system of government.   

Read what others have to say about this event.  Go to http://coloradosprings.yourhub.com/CrippleCreekTellerCounty/Stories/News/Government/Story~442525.aspx 

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Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 9:13 am  Leave a Comment  

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