Restructuring HOAs: “benefit of the member” pt. 1

Mentoring: “inure to the benefit of the member”

Government of the members

Continuing my discussion of the Declaration’s intent and purpose[1] as expressed by “shall inure to the benefit of the member, ” the question arises as to how does the BOD accomplish this task when it has a contractual obligation to many owners. How can the BOD represent the individual interests of the buyer with those of all existing members? Must we accept the interpretation of “member” in the Declaration to really mean “members”? Really!

This concern is of importance and not a mundane, trivial concern because it involves concepts and principles of representative democracy, as claimed by HOA proponents, the will of the people doctrine, vote of the majority, and obedience in conscience. It is relevant because the HOA is not subject to municipal law or the Constitution, but under a binding, private contractual agreement. HOAs are allowed to exist as outlaw governments, operating and functioning outside the laws of this democracy.

Much too often the courts and legislatures have treated the HOA as if it were a municipal government, ignoring the CC&Rs contract and misapplying municipal doctrine and precedent; without applying those aspects of the laws that protect the member’s constitutional rights. For example: allowing the HOA to tax its members — called assessments — with a right of draconian foreclosure, but providing a laughable “due process” known as “a right to a hearing” where the judges are the accusers and judicial civil procedure is an unknown.

Ask yourself: Is this the benefit being provided in the best interests of the members? I think not! And the legislatures do not have clean hands in this matter, not at all!

Maintaining an orderly HOA

The philosophical theory, simply stated, behind a democracy as a direct democracy is the voice of the people. But what does that really mean? First, it means each person gets to have his voice heard in the governance of his community or society along with all others. And that combined, aggregated voice is measured not so much as by shouting but by a vote of the hands or a ballot. Second, our US representative democracy the people elect representatives to speak their voice. In HOA governments members choose a board of directors to govern the HOA as their elected representatives, or their voice.

In both cases the practical application of the voice of the people has been reduced to a vote of the majority and the majority rule doctrine.[2] These were issues that the political philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment — Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Adam Smith — had to contend with as necessary for an orderly society even though it was not a true, direct vote of the people. But what about the minority, those who disagreed with the majority position? Well, they had to obey the general will of the people represented by the majority even though they were on the losing side.[3] However, they may not agree in conscience especially if they firmly believe the law is unjust and not fair.

Former AG Meese wrote,

Through deliberation, debate, and compromise, a public consensus is formed about what constitutes the public good. It is this consensus on fundamental principles that knits individuals into a community of citizens.[4]

Where is the consensus of the HOA members to constitute the public good? To knit individuals into a true community? Surely not by a hand-me-down contract that the buyer must accept as is without any give and take.

Randy Barnett, Director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution, wrote,

A law may be ‘valid’ because it was produced in accordance with all the procedures required by a particular lawmaking system, [the HOA amendment procedure, for example] but be ‘illegitimate’ because these procedures were inadequate to provide assurances that a law is just.[5]

With respect to the courts and legislatures upholding tacit (implied) consent, Keith Wittington, Prof. Politics at Princeton, wrote,

Tacit consent purports to provide a rationale for obligating those of us who, by chance or choice, have not made their approval of the government explicit. . . . Perhaps most significantly, we are taken to have consented tacitly to government action if we continue to vote for government.[6]

Understand that when your HOA says the majority rules maintaining that it represents the voice of the owners just remember it’s just a means to maintain an orderly society and to grant the board the authority to govern. What about a member’s agreement in conscience?

This topic continues with Restructuring HOAs: “CAI influence on member benefits” pt. 2 with the CAI School to be posted soon.

Notes

[1] See “Restructuring HOAs – intents and purposes,” George K. Staropoli, HOA Constitutional Government (Feb 2020).

[2] State laws governing corporations provide the legal basis for BOD authority and powers. Robert’s Rules provides widely accepted procedures based on majority rule.

[3] For a summary of the will of the people see my Commentary, HOA consent to agree vs. “the will of the majority. For a detailed discussion of agreement in conscience and consent to agree see Randy Barnett, Restoring the Lost Constitution, Princeton Univ. Press, (2004); Keith E. Whittingham, “Chapter 5, Popular Sovereignty and Originalism,” Constitutional Interpretation, Univ. Press of Kansas (1999); Edwin Meese III, “What the Constitution Means,” The Heritage Guide to the Constitution (2005).

[4] Id, Meese.

[5] Supra n. 3, Barnett.

[6] Supra n. 3, Whittington.

 

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