Case study: Just how are HOAs independent principalities?

The Arizona Senate Government Institutions Committee failed to pass, for the second consecutive year, a bill reaffirming the civil government’s power and authority over public roadways.  Bowing to pressures from an unincorporated town, Sun City, the legislators accepted the right of a group of private people, who are governed by CC&Rs, to infringe, usurp, and trespass upon local government ordinances.

Why is the Senate committee deferring to private agreements, which ignore constitutional law and its protections of our rights and freedoms?  Why is the legislature agreeing to HOA political government supremacy over public laws, while not recognizing the HOA as a de facto government and holding it accountable as such?  This deference gives the HOA pretty much of a free ride. 

We need to ask on what basis does the Restatement of Servitudes, which offers recommendations to the judicial system by pro-HOA “legal-academic aristocrats”, proclaim: “Although zoning regulations and servitudes are usually compatible in the sense that the more restrictive prevails . . . .”[i]   What does “usually compatible in the sense that the more restrictive prevails” mean?  And, we also need to ask is the current legal doctrine of CC&R supremacy legitimate and constitutionally valid? 

The Arizona Attorney General, in a 2006 Opinion[ii] on this issue, with respect to county fire code authority, cites case law and provides the following conflicting opinions:

  1. In general, when a contract is incompatible with a statute, the statute will control. . . . The exercise of police power to protect the public welfare, such as the enactment of fire codes, may supersede provisions in private contracts like CC&Rs if the government’s actions are reasonable and appropriate to the public purpose.
  2. restrictive covenants cannot avoid obligations imposed by parking ordinance;
  3. municipal ordinance imposing fence requirements supersedes restrictive covenant;
  4. The provisions of these and other fire codes supersede conflicting provisions in CC&Rs.


  1.  State or county fire codes supersede CC&Rs when fire code provisions directly conflict with CC&R provisions.
  2. When a fire code provision and a CC&R provision are not in direct conflict, but rather, are both restrictive, the provision that contains the more stringent restriction will control and will establish the permitted use.


The first 4 items from the AG’s Opinion are consistent and reflect an unequivocal doctrine that statutes and ordinances supersede CC&Rs.  While item (4) above introduces the issue of “conflict”, it still holds that the ordinance controls even when there is conflict.  Items (5) and (6) above, which are found in the summary section of this short 5-page opinion, are contradictory, and conflict with the first four items taken from the “Analysis” section of this Opinion.. 

We are now faced with the question: what is meant by “direct conflict” as opposed to just “conflict”?   The AG offers no clarification of these terms. This hair-splitting distinction reverses the cited case law and serves to support CC&Rs as controlling over ordinances when the covenant is “more  restrictive.”  

Perhaps, to better understand these words, we can ask: What meaning can be attached to “indirect conflict”? If, for example, a parking ordinance restricts parking from 10:00PM to 6:00AM, is  a covenant restricting parking at any time “more restrictive” or in “direct conflict”?  The pro-HOA quick answer is: obviously it’s more restrictive.  The criterion of  “more restrictive” to grant HOA agreements as controlling is without any rational legal basis to serve as criteria for the denial of legitimate government authority as set forth in the statutes and ordinances.   The only rational basis for a government interest for the surrender of civil authority to a private entity is that “that’s what this private group wants.”  

But the denial of our rights and privileges rises to a constitutional issue, which must requires a more stringent test of “a compelling and necessary government interest”. Those raising the “safe parking” issue in opposition to the have over remedies in law to effectively address their concerns without a wholesale grant of authority to the HOA. . “More restrictive” denies rights belonging to the people by a private organization —  the right, in our example, that the people enjoyed from freedom to park at all other unrestrictive times.  “More restrictive” directly conflicts with the rights belonging to the people.

It should be understood that any such enforcement by the courts could be challenged under the state constitution’s “privileges and immunities” clause, or under the color of law doctrine of 42 U.S.C 1983.

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . .


Covenants that are unconstitutional, contrary to public policy, unreasonable, or arbitrary and capricious are invalid and unenforceable.  Pro-HOA devotees offer the desperate and misleading argument that “members agreed to be bound by the CC&Rs, raising the issue of “contract interference.” Which leads to a multitude of questions concerning the validity of the consent to have agreed under the requirements for a bona fide contract.  Which leads to the argument that servitudes law with its constructive notice doctrine — homeowners are bound, sight unseen to the CC&Rs — controlling issues of constitutional law.[iii]  Which “turns the Constitution on its head” and leads to questions of a constitutionally valid surrender of one’s rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities. Which, coming full circle, leads to covenants that are unconstitutional, contrary to public opinion, unreasonable, or arbitrary and capricious are invalid and unenforceable.


[i] Restatement (Third) of Property: Servitudes, § 3.1 cmt. c (2000).

[ii] ATTORNEY GENERAL OPINION, Terry Goddard, No. I06-005, (R06-009), November 15, 2006.

[iii] Supra, n. 1, § 3.1, cmt. h. (“The question whether a servitude unreasonably burdens a fundamental constitutional right is determined as a matter of property law, and not constitutional law“).

Published in: on April 16, 2010 at 8:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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