Important AZ case on CC&Rs interpretation

While this case deals specifically with Arizona statutes, the legal doctrine applies across all states.  The issue involved amending the CC&Rs by means of consent forms. Learn how the courts look at HOA complaints on interpretating CC&Rs — not what you probably think. So learn! 

Your declaration probably has the misleading statement that the board has the right to interpret the governing document. Not so! The courts have that sole right.

Please note that on important cases affecting HOA board authority and  powers, you may well find CAI filing an amicus brief as in Mountz.[1] For those with some legal understanding, the following will make sense. If you don’t understand, post questions here.

 The case

A number of owners sued seeking a declaratory decision that the amendment was unenforceable, and the lower court agreed. The HOA had sent a letter indicating “that owners could approve the Amendment by signing and returning an attached consent form.” The result was announced at the subsequent annual meeting, and the VP  “certified that the Amendment was adopted by at least 50% of the lot owners.”

Now pay attention to my warnings of word games and expansionist interpretations. The lower court held “the Amendment invalid because it was not executed by at least half of the owners,”  because

“the CC&Rs authorize an amendment “by Instrument executed by the [o]wners of at least fifty percent (50%) of the Lots . . . and such amendment shall not be effective until the recording of such Instrument.” (Emphasis added.)  The Court said that “Because it was  not done in this manner, the Amendment is invalid.

Mountain Gate argued “when the approving owners signed and returned their consent forms, they gave the Board actual authority to execute the Amendment on their behalf.”  The key issue came down to, what is the meaning of “execute.”

CC&Rs contract Court interpretation principles

My annotations are in square brackets [].

  • A restrictive covenant is a contract [The courts have not clarified that by “contract” they meant under Contract Law, which the CC&Rs would fail to meet.  Instead, one court held that the CC&Rs are interpretated as a contract, again missing application of Contract Law.]
  • When we interpret them, as with any contract, we strive to give words their ordinary, common-sense meaning to carry out the parties’ intent. [As with the argument over the meaning and use of the word “execute”].
  • Restrictive covenants “should be interpreted to give effect to the
  • intention of the parties. . . . We look to the “language used in the instrument, . . . the circumstances surrounding the creation of the [instrument], and . . . the purpose for which it was created.”
  • Enforcing the intent of the parties is the “cardinal principle” for interpretating restrictive covenants. . . . We will not read a covenant in a way that defeats the plain and obvious meaning of the restriction.  [the Amendment, and it was executed by only one lot owner, a Board member.] The plain language of Section 11(E) does not authorize one individual to amend the CC&Rs by “written consent”
  • we will not add provisions that were not originally included because doing so would defeat the intent of the amendment provision. . . . [the HOA]  broadly reads those definitions to allow the execution of a document through an agent. But the Association cites no authority supporting its argument that agency principles may trump the plain language of a restrictive covenant. [The HOA argued the interpretation of the word “execute” but the Court rejected this expansive meaning of the word within the intent of the CC&Rs. Also understand the need for supporting evidence to back any argument you make.]
  • Contracts are read to incorporate applicable statutes,  but a statute governs only when the contract is incompatible with the statute. [This is a strong statement of no interference with contracts].

Notes


[1] Mountz v. Mountain Gate, No. CA-CV 21-0656 (App. Div. 1, from Navajo County,11-10-2022).

HomeAdvisor study critical of CAI surveys

For years (since 2005) the public in general, the media, and state legislators have been targets of CAI’s “satisfaction” surveys sponsored by its affiliate, The Foundation for Community Associations Research. This year a study was conducted by HomeAdvisor this past September in an effort to uncover  the attitudes of US HOA members across the country regarding life in an HOA.

The HomeAdvisor study confirms the 2015 online polls by two homeowner rights advocates, Sara Benson (Chicago) and Jill Schweitzer (Phoenix), on homeowner satisfaction with HOAs.  In stark contrast, not surprisingly, the Combined Advocate Surveys, as I refer to them, revealed opinions and views refuting the results of the CAI “happiness” surveys. It appears that the CAI studies were happiness studies of happy HOA members.


Read my full analysis, “HomeAdvisor study confirms advocate study critical of CAI surveys,” and its statistical findings.

 

 

CAI: your friend or your foe?

Author’s note:  I’d like to thank the ever-alert Deborah Goonan of IAC for this important tip.

Unbelievably, the CAI Washington chapter spills the beans  on CAI’s mission and objectives.  As a tax-exempt 501(c)6 business trade nonprofit the oxymoron statements below admit to working for business entities and at the same time, serving the consumers of these services, the HOAs.  “to advocate on behalf of community associations.” 

CAI is not permitted to have HOAs as members, so it recruits the boards of directors as individual volunteers creating conflict of interest conditions. I offer this statement by the chapter to set the tone for my criticism of the following article.[1] Note it skips over serving its members, the attorneys and managers who are vendors to HOAs.

“Our Vision: “To be recognized as the leading resource for Community Associations and Business Partners.

“Our Mission: “Optimize the operations of Community Associations and foster value for our Business Partners.

What We Do: 1. Advocacy – establish and enhance/maintain relationships with legislators and government officials and to advocate on behalf of community associations; 2. Member Development – boost membership and participation through enhanced outreach; 3. Education – provide a World-Class Education Curriculum for Stakeholders; 4. Member Services – maximize value provided to our current members, including Business Partners (events, conferences, materials, etc.).

Who We Serve: “Community Association Leaders, Business Partners, CAI National, Community Association Members, Developers/Builders, Financial Institutions, Government Agencies, Insurers, Legislators, Managers, Media, Realtors, Sister Associations.

* * * *

Quorum Magazine article Based on the above stated mission and purpose of CAI, the Washington chapter’s magazine recounts a superficial, misleading whitewash portrayal of the history of HOAs in America[2]; it serves as good CAI propaganda and portrays an unprofessional social media illusion that  all’s well in HOA-Land. It is all real estate development oriented sold as a desired and well accepted housing alternative by uninformed individuals.

The article is devoid of constitutional and democratic concerns and validity centering on the HOA as another form of local government —  a contractual, private government.  These issues affecting the rights and freedoms of HOA members can be found in detail in the listed texts and selected quotes. Note the title of the texts, which says a lot.

  • Prof. Dilger wrote in Neighborhood Politics (1992)[3],

“For example, most of those who advocate the formation of RCAs [HOAs] assume that RCAs  . . . incorporate all the rights and privileges embodied in the US Constitution, including . . . the rights of due process and equal protection under the law found in the Fourteenth Amendment.”

  • Prof. McKenzie wrote in his landmark Privatopia (1994)[4],

“T]he property rights of the developer, and later the board of directors, swallow up the rights of the people, and public government is left as a bystander. . . . [Consequently,] this often leads to people becoming angry at board meetings claiming that their ‘rights’ have been violated – rights that they wrongly believe they have in a [HOA]. 

“CIDS [HOAs] currently engage in many activities that would be prohibited  if they were viewed  by the courts as the equivalent of local governments.” 

  • Steven Seigel wrote in his WM & Mary journal (1998)[5],

“Because of the traditional view, RCAs [HOAs] rarely have been deemed state actors subject to the requirements of the Constitution. As private entities, RCAs regulate behavior in a way that is anathema to traditional constitutional strictures;”

  • CAI-ULI funded publication Community Associations (2005)[6].

“[HOAs are] a consumer product sold by profit-seeking firm, a legal device, a corporation reliant on both coercive powers and voluntary cooperation, a democracy, and a lifestyle.  With this plan, TB50 [The Holmes Association Handbook] set out the plan that would be taken in forming the CAI.”

  • Franzese and Seigel argued in their Rutgers journal article (2008)[7]

“The laissez-fare approach to CIC [common interest communities]  regulation is reflected in the statutory law, which affords exceedingly few rights and protections to homeowners association residents.”

It can be safely concluded that CAI is not your friend, and any HOA in bed with CAI is representing its interests and not yours.

Notes


[1] Washington Metropolitan Chapter, CAI (Oct.18, 2022).

[2]Community Associations – A Historical Perspective,” Quorum Magazine, CAI (August 2016, reprinted Oct. 2022).  

[3]  Roger Jay Dilger, Neighborhood Politics: Residential Community Associations in American Governance, p. 160, New York Univ. Press (1992). Formerly WVU Prof. Political Science and Director of Political Affairs.

[4] Evan McKenzie, Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government,  Yale Univ. Press (1994).

[5] Steven Siegel, “The Constitution and Private Government: Toward the Recognition of Constitutional Rights in Private Residential Communities Fifty years After Marsh v. Alabama,” Wm & Mary Bill of Rights J., Vol. 6, Issue 2 (1998).

[6] Donald R. Stabile, Community Associations: The Emergence and Acceptance of a Quiet Innovation in Housing, p. 144 (2000). Funded by CAI and ULI.

[7] Paula A. Franzese and Steven Siegel, “The Twin Rivers Case: Of Homeowners Associations, Free Speech Rights And Privatized Mini-Governments,” 5 RUTGERS J.L. & PUB. POL’Y 630 (2008).

HOA management case study – 2022 epilogue

Author’s note:  This commentary is a follow up to my Dec. 2021 – Feb. 2022 “mgmt case study” posts relating to an Arizona HOA. Its board has continued its path with a few suggestions on open meetings and videotaping the board meetings.  The series starts by entering “case study” in the Search box in the left panel. This is a reorientation and educational process, but the board is not yet amenable to hear the whole truth about HOAs.

Resource: Towe Lifestyle article: SCG community is a business

“[The board of directors]  bring an extraordinary level of imagination and management expertise to bear on the very complex problems of running a sophisticated and demanding business. No sugar coating either. The men and women serving you on the BOD represent you and your interests with a sincere desire to make Grand the very best place it can be.[1]

I beg to differ with this statement on several issues that I see as PR and more BOD propaganda.[2]

First, SCG is not a business!  Did you sign a commercial UCC contract or residential  real estate contract? Enough said! From whence  does this mistaken belief  arise.  In my many years of research I found it to be from long term indoctrination and acceptance of the teachings of the CAI School of HOA Governance[3], my categorization, of CAI’s special interest agenda. There is strong evidence supporting the view that CAI dominates SCG policy.[4]

In 2015 the board claimed in its IRS tax-exempt application that SCG was a nonprofit social welfare organization and was not applying for exemption as an HOA.  There are no grounds, no authority in the governing documents, then and now, to make such an assertion. In the application, the president informed the IRS that SCG provides services “benefitting both the Sun City Grand community and the surrounding community.” You will not find that “and surrounding community” claim anywhere else but on the IRS application.

Second, the article contains a number of vague and confusing assertions not supported by the facts,  and contradict such attitudes found in other BOD publications by other SCG officials. One gets a sense of Who’s in charge? Additionally, it raises the question of board competence, which can be found in recent actions and decisions by the BOD[5]. Puffing can be found in the article:

  • an extraordinary level of imagination and management expertise
  • “to make Grand the very best” contradicts the Vision statement that proclaims SCG is already the best, “Grand is the premiere age-restricted adult association.”
  •  “sophisticated and demanding,” which is undoubtedly demanding but a sophisticated” business?  Are the demands on the board of directors beyond its pay grade? Does the public view town managers, SCG equivalent to CAM, viewed as a business? Does the public view town councils, the equivalent of the SCG board, viewed as a business?

Finally, “[Directors] on the BOD represent you and your interestsis misleading and contradicts the law and SCG policy that the board owes its obligations to the HOA “person.”  The 2021 Candidates Package paragraph “9a”,  makes my point. “Directors work first and foremost for the best interests of the Association.”  This authoritarian tone is contrary to our democratic values. This attitude reflects its policy to run SCG as a business, and at times a for-profit business.  

I’m left with who and what is SCG?  The governing documents, like the US Constitution make that clear; yet the board hasn’t seemed to accept this foundation for its authority to act on behalf of the members, and that’s not to be a business.  It has failed to address two top level management concerns of boards of directors: What is our business and what should it be?

As I detail in “CAI dominates SCG” (see link below), the board has a duty of care and a fiduciary responsibility to the members. Unless the BOD does an about face in regard to its CAI legal advisors, members can expect more of the same in dealing with several serious legal matters that are on the horizon.

Notes


[1] Robert Towe,  Board Director, “Our Great Community”, Lifestyles, Oct. 2022.

[2] “Propaganda” is false statements, half-truths, omission of facts, and misrepresentations designed to produce a favorable attitude and mindset in the targets.”  The BOD provides illusions of happiness and approval, and are supported by the majority of their members; its messages use propaganda statements — disinformation consisting of false, misleading, half-truths, omitting facts, and fear.

[3] CAI School of HOA Governance: 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.

[4] Read the domination argument paper at:   CAI Dominates SCG.

[5] See Wizard of SCG.

HOAs: the modern instance of the medieval feudal system

A little bit of history is good for the soul; it puts a perspective on why things are the way they are.  Let’s go back before modern times and the creation of the modern HOAs as outlined in the 1964 The Homes Association Handbook.

Who controls and owns the land? Well, it was he who conquered it and took it from some other governing person or body. In 1077 William the Conqueror from Normandy took control of England from the Saxons, who earlier took it from the Anglos (Anglo-Saxons).

The social/economic system was known as feudalism in which serfs or peasants called vassals, were given  some land called fiefs by the owner, known as the Lord (of the manor). The vassal was to work the land and paid for the grant from the Lord in terms of produce,  services, and money. (It also included serving in the army to defend his Lordship).

In short, William as the “high” Lord gave land to his Nobles who became his vassals. The vassals, in time, “sublet” their lands and created another level of Lord-Vassal relationships, each subservient to the original grant, and so on.

The consequence of the feudal system was the creation of very localised groups of communities which owed loyalty to a specific local lord who exercised absolute authority in his domain. As fiefs were often hereditary, a permanent class divide was established between those who had land and those who rented it.” (Feudalism – World History Encyclopedia).

By this time the parallels can be easily identified.  Follow along with the modernization of feudalism that required changes and additions to real estate property laws and the doctrine of CC&Rs was invoked. As a necessity, the doctrine known as ”equitable servitudes” and was made part of the CC&Rs. Laid out in the Handbook, equitable servitudes replaced the grant from the Lord to his Vassal in such a way as to bind all future owners.   In other words, the CC&Rs enabled perpetual control over the land or subdivision of today. Homebuyers are forced to be bound to this original CC&Rs, as validly amended.

Now to the legality that the owners never signed the CC&Rs created by the developer at the time of initial purchase.  However, the servitudes were hampered by the doctrine of “running with the land” found in your CC&Rs, which proclaimed that the CC&Rs, in order to be binding on subsequent owners, had to be in place at first sale—to the developer. Consequently, from the get-go, homeowners bought into an adhesion contract that did not permit a give and take bargaining  between seller and the new buyer —  you  — as required under contract law 101. I call it a huge GOTCHA!

So, here we are!