In NJ, HOA boards do not have to be reasonable

Nor in any other state that stands by the Business Judgment Rule (BJR) doctrine.


Re: Esposito v. Riviera at Freehold HOA, No. A-6001-09T1, (NJ Supr.Ct App. Div. April 2011).


This appellate court decision reflects what’s wrong with our judicial system with its doctrine of binding precedents, stare decisis, that is used to uphold earlier decisions even if they may be obviously unjust by anyone’s standard. It perpetuates injustice and judicial bias, as we see with HOA decisions. In Esposito, the court cited the protections for homeowners based on the Twin Rivers NJ Supreme Court opinion,


The protections for common interest residents were described by the Court in [Twin Rivers]. The Court noted that (emphasis added):


First, the business judgment rule protects common interest community residents from arbitrary decision-making. . . . Pursuant to the business judgment rule, a homeowners’ association’s rules and regulations will be invalidated (1) if they are not authorized by statute or by the bylaws or master deed, or (2) if the association’s actions are “fraudulent, self-dealing or unconscionable.” Our Appellate Division has uniformly invoked the business judgment rule in cases involving homeowners’ associations.


[It should be noted that this ipse dixit (a dictum in the courts) that homeowners were protected by the business judgment rule was an “offering” to mollify homeowners who just had their constitutional protections to free speech rejected by the NJ Supreme Court.]


Note the BJR absence of reasonableness in board decision making as found in the Restatement (Third) of Property: Servitudes, § 3.1(2) – (4), and elsewhere. However, the homeowners were well aware of reasonableness as a criteria for valid decisions and argued the “material adverse effect” standard that includes reasonableness as a criteria instead of the BJR. Unfortunately, the Court quickly perceived that this standard only applied to condominiums as indicated in the court decision (Billig v. Buckingham Condominium Association I, Inc., 287 N.J.Super. 551 (App. Div. 1996)).


The Court decided that, emphasis added,


The trial judge held that since the Association was not a condominium association, the Condominium Act did not apply, and he refused to extend the “reasonableness” and “material adverse effect” standard in Billig to this matter. After a careful review of the record and weighing of the evidence, we see no reason to disturb the judgment requiring replacement of the door. We reach this decision based on the finding of facts by the trial court, which are adequately supported by the evidence, and essentially for the legal conclusions expressed in [the trial judge’s] comprehensive and thoughtful opinion.

What about justice? Why is reasonableness required for justice to be served in condos but not in HOAs? HOAs are sui generis, a combination of nonprofit and governmental functions. They are not just another run-of-the-mill nonprofit with ease of entry and access, and without liens or foreclosure penalties. Don’t they deserve a heightened degree of homeowner protection as provided under the “material adverse effect” and Restatement doctrines? Are we a nation of laws to serve justice or a nation of men to decide as they please?


[As to the nature of this complaint, the homeowner replaced his “colonial” style door with a “gothic” style door, which I am told are quite different. Esposito claimed that the property manger gave him a verbal OK, which he relied on, but submittted a change approval after the fact. The ACC, as we all could anticipate, denied the after-the-fact request. And so the suit progressed. Why, it can be reasonbly asked without fears of lost income, didn’t the board or ACC simply say it was quite unreasonable to replace a colonial with a gothic? You don’t need a King Solomon to nake this rational, reasonable, decision. Well, maybe so if you accept McKenzie’s view that incompetent people are conscripted to run HOAs and who affect the individual homeowner’s finances. Was it undue lawyer influence based on the fear of lost fees?]


Returnng to the argument at hand, judicial bias against HOAs, as I wrote previously in Judicial precedent and HOA bias,

The researchers found that the doctrine of stare decisis, itself, falls victim to the preferences of the judges. “Stare decisis is the rule of law that imports the aura of legitimacy on the judicial process by holding future decisions to be bound by prior decisions that serve as “precedent.” The doctrine of stare decisis ‘permits society to presume that bedrock principles are founded in the law rather than in the proclivities of individuals, and thereby contributes to the integrity of our constitutional system of government. Vasquez v. Hillery, 474 US 254 (1986).’


In HOAs in America, I quoted William B. Allen’scomments on Machiavelli’s The Prince, which helps illuminate my argument. In his commentary Allen wrote that “the role of morals in politics is mainly to cultivate illusions,” and that “politics is merely appearance and morality is merely pretense.” And speaking of justice, the necessary ingredient for the claim to the legitimacy of government and to be obeyed in conscience, Allen offers Machiavelli’s advice, “Because the [right] to rule is rather the appearance of justice rather than justice itself, the appearance of injustice defeats every [right] to rule.”


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  1. […] as to another question of reasonableness, the NJ Esposito case, In NJ, HOA boards do not have to be reasonable, and go figure how our judicial system works. See also the link to the Paula Franzese and Steven […]

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