Reorienting the HOA board – fair elections

Mentoring: Reorienting the HOA board – fair elections

I cannot overstate the profound damaging effect of the boilerplate CC&Rs covenants – the HOA-Land fair elections doctrine — that define the highly inadequate process and procedures alleged to be fair elections and approved by the member. In a democracy, the fair elections doctrine is the means for the expression of the will of the people and the consent to be governed by the HOA’s members. It is the fundamental basis for a valid consent to be governed. Unjust BOD biased election procedures deny the legitimacy of the HOA-Land doctrine.

In Dublirer the NJ Supreme Court held,

Dublirer’s expressional activity was ‘political-like speech’ because it related to the management and governance of the common-interest community. . . . [Dublirer’s] message was akin to and should be treated as political speech, which is entitled to the highest level of protection in our society. . . . If anything, speech about matters of public interest, and about the qualifications of people who hold positions of trust, lies at the heart of our societal values. . . . We therefore find that the Board’s House Rule violates the free speech guarantee in New Jersey’s Constitution.[1]

In California the appellate court held,

A homeowners association board is in effect ‘a quasi-government entity paralleling in almost every case the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a municipal government’ (citing Cohen v. Kite Hill Community Assn).”[2]

Democracy Web[3] clarifies the importance of fair elections in a democracy.[4]

If consent of the governed is the most fundamental concept of democracy, its most essential right is that of citizens to choose their leaders in free, fair, and regular elections. Other rights are necessary to democracy; elections by themselves are insufficient. Yet the right to freely elect one’s representatives and to influence the political direction of one’s government is democracy’s indispensable political foundation.

Without free elections, there is neither the possibility for citizens to express their will nor the opportunity for citizens to change their leaders, approve policies for the country, address wrongs, or protest the limitation of their rights. Elections establish the citizenry’s and the individual’s political rights. They are the ongoing representation of the consent of the governed

As it stands HOAs cannot be described as a democracy, or a democratic business as CAI’s Tom Skiba(CEO) alleged,[5] so long as the current fair elections doctrine remains in place.

Community associations are not governments — many years of legislation and court rulings have established that fact beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet they are clearly democratic in their operations, electing their leadership from among the homeowners on a periodic basis.

In an unbelievable doubletalk and excellent example of the pot calling the kettle black and Orwell’s DoubleSpeak, Skiba asserts,[6]

The solution to that problem is not to replace democracy with tyranny, royalty, or some other form of government, but to work to make the democratic process better and to hold those elected accountable. . . .

I for one prefer the democratic principles that have served this country for more than 230 years, as frustrating as the process can sometimes be, rather than the various failed alternatives washed up on history’s shores.

In addition, while the appellate court upheld California’s HOA fair elections statutes,[7] the California CAI Legislative Action Committee opposed the decision in support of democratic functions in HOAs.[8]  And not unexpectedly, this “front-line” position is in conflict with the CAI policy:

Community associations are one of the most representative and responsive forms of democracy in America today. Residents of a community freely elect neighbors to serve on the board of directors of the community. Numerous other owners or residents  serve on committees and help with special tasks as they arise.”[9]

Simply unbelievable! Believable!

State legislation to reform HOA fair elections

I am well aware, and you may raise the fact, that state laws and CC&Rs vary quite a bit in regard to voting and director elections. Some say very little except quorum requirements and secret or mail-in ballots; some require independent elections committees and vote counters, or the right to view the ballots, etc. but they all hold true to the Handbook that places strong control within the hands of the BOD. This is especially true when the BOD must approve candidates or propose amendments or rules without real member participation and voice.

Attempts to correct these injustices are found in many states. I am pleased to see that 2 legislators (Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land) in the NJ Assembly understand HOA constitutional issues and have sponsored a bill, A-3163 (2013), accordingly. The Cape May County Herald[10] reports,

Homeowner’s Associations must operate under similar rules and procedures as other governing bodies,” Andrzejczak said.  “A resident’s interest and right to approve and elect board members must be preserved. And setting clearer, more fair and unified set of rules for board elections and a clarifying a resident’s ability to recall will help to do just that.

Homeowners living in developments are still consumers and must be protected under the law,” said Land. “Ensuring their right to fair elections and protecting their right to choose board members, who will make decisions on their behalf, is a measure of consumer protection that they simply deserve as property owners.

California’s SB 323 (2019) fair elections bill was made law stating, in part,

A member of an association may bring a civil action for declaratory or equitable relief for a violation of this article by the association. . . . Section (b) is modified to read, “A member who prevails in a civil action to enforce the member’s rights . . . the court may impose a civil penalty of up to five hundred dollars ($500) for each violation.”

Arizona’s SB 1412, making progress at the legislature, also seeks political content protections in HOA politics. It seeks to prohibit HOAs and condos from restricting political free speech. Members are permitted to associate, meet, discuss, show signs regarding political activity.  Key wording:

“AN INDIVIDUAL MEMBER OR GROUP OF MEMBERS MAY ORGANIZE TO DISCUSS OR ADDRESS PLANNED COMMUNITY BUSINESS, INCLUDING BOARD ELECTIONS OR RECALLS, POTENTIAL OR ACTUAL BALLOT ISSUES . . . .”

Why are these unjust and unconstitutional covenants, conditions and restrictions allowed to stand?   The misguided mission and vision statements meant to deceive; the failure to act in the interest of the members; the failure to reject the business judgment rule[11] that serves to protect the BODs over the rights of the members; and the employment of the inequitable HOA fair elections doctrine that deny a genuine consent of the governed.

The answer is obvious to those willing and able to handle the truth. The vast majority of the members have lost their freedom of mind.[12] They appear to be RWA followers[13] of the authoritarian[14] BOD. They have been thoroughly indoctrinated into the teachings of the CAI School of HOA Governance[15] where real estate attorneys provide advice on how to run the HOA and what’s good for the community.

All the more reason for this seminal position paper, Restructuring the HOA Model of Governance. All the more reason for a restructuring of the HOA model and a reorienting of HOA directors and officers to return lost constitutional principles.

 

Notes

[1] Dublirer v. 2000 Linwood Avenue Owners NO. 2011 069154 (N.J. 2014).

[2] Damon v. Ocean Hills, 102 Cal.Rptr.2d 205 (2000).

[3] Democracy Web emerged from the longstanding effort of the Albert Shanker Institute (ASI) and its founding organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), to foster education for democracy in America’s schools. (Scroll down to About).

[4] Democracy Web,  scroll down to Essential Principles.

[5] Tom Skiba, Community Associations Institute Blog, Ungated, April 2, 2008.

[6] Id.

[7] Wittenberg v. Beachwalk HOA,  NO. G046891 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. June 26, 2013).

[8]Appeals Court Ensures Equal Access During Elections”, Blog of the Community Associations Institute California Legislative Action Committee, July 9, 2013.

[9] Section 8 in An Introduction to Community Association Living (2006),

[10] Herald.com (Cape May County NJ, Dec. 8, 2016).

[11] See Reorienting the HOA board: business judgment rule in the Plan.

[12] See “Cultural Dynamics of HOA-Land,” The HOA-Land Nation Within America (2019); HOA Social Dynamics — Freedom of mind pt. 1 (2020) George K. Staropoli.

[13] Robert Altemeyer, The Authoritarians, (2007).

[14] See HOA political dynamics: totalitarian democracy, George K. Staropoli (2019). “Followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want–which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal.” See survey on HOA authorianism,

[15] The foundation and principles of the School can be traced back to CAI’s Public Policies, The CAI Manifesto (its 2016 “white paper”), its numerous seminars and conferences, its Factbooks and surveys, its amicus briefs to the courts, and its advisories, letters, emails, newsletters, blogs etc. I have designated these foundations and principles collectively as the CAI School of HOA Governance.

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