AZ Supreme Court landmark HOA opinion

For the times they are a-changin’”[1]

The Arizona Supreme Court opinion in Kalway[2] is, in my view,  a landmark opinion supporting and protecting individual property rights of homeowners in HOAs that are subject to a broad, procedural CC&Rs amendment procedure.  The boilerplate CC&Rs in an intentional denial of fundamental property rights strip away eminent domain protections by ignoring the content of CC&Rs amendments —  anything and everything goes!

Referring to AZ statute 33-1817(A) that allows amendments solely based on a majority vote of the members, the Court stated:

“But § 33-1817(A) does not displace the common law, which  prohibits some amendments even if passed by a majority vote. The original declaration must give sufficient notice of the possibility of a future amendment; that is, amendments must be reasonable and foreseeable.”

The Court cited its 2010 opinion in Dreamland,[3]

“We agree that these cases tend to support the homeowners, in that each refuses enforcement of a new covenant that markedly changed the obligations of the implicated lot owners. . . . in those cases where courts disallowed the amendment of covenants, the impact upon the objecting lot owner was generally far more substantial and unforeseeable than the amendment at issue [in the case before it]

I had addressed these concerns  regarding the Dreamland decision in my 2009-2010 Commentaries that provide  details on these substantive issues.[4]

Although not stated were issues of due process, equal protection of the laws, and eminent domain takings — not raised in the initial complaint or appeal, so the courts  did not offer a direct opinion —  this  opinion strikes at HOA eminent domain takings of homeowner property rights.  It also dealt with the question of homeowner notice (due process) and unexpected and unreasonable modifications to the CC&Rs (lack of equal protection under CC&Rs private eminent domain rights).

* * * *

The above represents my perspective as a longtime 22-year homeowner rights advocate and activist.  CAI Arizona has a different perspective favoring HOAs and their decisionmakers, the board of directors.[5]. Its presentation starts with the overall court opinion.

“Based on this recent case law, CC&R amendments must be reasonable and foreseeable in order to be enforceable. In other words, community associations can no longer amend CC&Rs to create new obligations where the original CC&Rs did not provide owners notice that they may be subject to the new obligations.”

But then adds its spin and advertising appeal:

“Please note that these amendments are specific to Calabria Ranch and its CC&Rs. In other words, an amendment that the Arizona Supreme Court found invalid in the Calabria Ranch case may be found valid for a different community association. Again, we strongly recommend consulting with the CHDB team to analyze your community association’s specific CC&Rs and any proposed, or previously adopted, amendments.”

Looking at the tremendous value toward HOA reform, the Court’s opinion would apply to any instance where the broad conditions — no notice and unexpected and unreasonable — apply, above and beyond those specific amendments dealt with in Kalway.  I’ve found the most prevalent are unexpected and unreasonable amendment modifications, and a failure to provide notice to the homeowner that abounds in the CC&Rs. It falls into those discretionary areas where the CC&Rs are silent, which the Court has declared doesn’t give the BOD unlimited rights.

This opinion presents a powerful tool, a powerful argument before the courts and before state legislatures when seeking HOA substantive reforms.

Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

(Bob Dylan, Blowin’ In the Wind,  1963)

Notes


[1] Bob Dylan,  “For the times they are a-changin’”  (1964).  It’s interesting to note the coincidences of publication years for this song and The Homes Association Handbook.

[2] Kalway v. Calbria Ranch, CV-20-o152-PR (Ariz. March 22, 202).

[3] Dreamland Villa Community Club, Inc. v. Raimey, 224 Ariz. 42, 51 ¶ 38 (App. 2010).

[4] HOA principalities where there’s no ex post facto or eminent domain protections and AZ court ends open-ended “ex post facto” HOA amendments.

[5] “CC&R Amendment Update from the Arizona Supreme Court,” March 29, 2022 By Carpenter Hazlewood I News.

Desert Mountain opinion (AZ) constitutionality part 1

The Arizona appellate court ruling in Nicdon v. Desert Mountain[1] needs to be appealed to the AZ supreme court on color of law denial of fundamental rights to property; on violations of the equal protection of the laws.  While the issue at hand was an amendment to restrict short-term rentals to just 30 days, it raised several constitutional concerns.

It is unfortunate that the Court relied on earlier HOA case law as precedent.  When these older decisions are quoted and cited, they must be reviewed and rebutted along constitutional concerns. 

Disclaimer: Understanding that in spite of my 20+ years reading hundreds of federal and state supreme court and appellate court opinions, I am not a lawyer nor am I employed by a lawyer; I only offer my views.

. . . .

With respect to Desert Mountain, the following are quotes from the opinion  that I find contentious and worthy of constitutional challenges.

1.  “By accepting a deed in the Desert Mountain planned community, Nicdon became bound by the Declaration, including properly adopted amendments. . . . when [a] homeowner takes [a] deed containing restriction allowing amendment by majority vote, homeowner implicitly consents to any subsequent majority vote to modify or extinguish deed restrictions”.

Surprise! Surprise! “Implicit consents”  means not clearly stated. This is a reality hidden from and not made known to the buyer at closing by the builder, the HOA, or the real estate agent, thus raising full disclosure of material facts violations. Meanwhile the courts, and CAI, have repeatedly upheld the validity of the CC&Rs as a bona fide contract against homeowners.

2.  “In addition, in interpreting contracts, “we attempt to reconcile and give effect to all terms . . . to avoid any term being rendered superfluous.”  The Court accepts CC&Rs as a valid contract.  Based on (1) above, this is an unequal protection of the laws and a due process violation resulting from misrepresentation of material facts.

3.  “In adopting the Amendment, Desert Mountain properly followed the procedures laid out in its governing documents.”  Under contract law this can be seen as an invalid “agreement to agree.”   The homeowner raised the issue of an unreasonable addition to the CC&Rs, but the Court saw it differently.  The real argument, in my mind, was the invalid agreement to agree and therefore,  a taking of personal property without compensation not permitted under the federal and Arizona constitutions.

Although no such restrictions explicitly appeared in the Declaration when Nicdon’s principals purchased their home, they could have reasonably anticipated further restriction or expansion on matters within the scope of the Declaration’s regulation.”

There are no grounds for holding that a member “could have reasonably anticipated further restriction or expansion on matters. . . .”  It’s dictum.  The governing documents are not set up for handling agreements to agree on broad and unreasonable amendments that are NOT negotiated with the members. Voting for the amendment is not negotiating. Many members speaking out on contract matters is not negotiating one-to-one. But, in order to make the HOA work, the amendment process, following public processes, rejects contract validity.  We have unequal protection of the law.

Also, is this an open-ended procedure  making the covenant invalid? “Some courts have concluded that an agreement to negotiate at a later date is an unenforceable agreement to agree. . . . But other courts have distinguished unenforceable agreements to agree from valid agreements to negotiate in good faith.”[2]

4.  “Given these provisions, as well as the comprehensive nature of the Declaration and its amendment procedures, a prospective purchaser of a lot in the community would reasonably be on notice their property would be regulated by extensive use restrictions, including limitations on renting of homes, subject to amendment in accordance with the Section 5.20 process.”

I would argue that a buyer would “reasonably be on notice their property would be regulated by extensive use restrictions” is  an abuse of discretion in that reasonableness is with regard to the content of the amendment and not the notice of an amendment.  It is obvious that there is no provision for negotiations with the homeowner.  The governing documents amendment provisions are set up as if it were a local government and not a one-to-one contract. It needs further explanation.

5.  “A restrictive covenant is generally valid unless it is illegal or unconstitutional or violates public policy” was quoted from the Restatement (Third) of Property (Servitudes) § 3.1(1). 

The Court added §3.1(1)),

 “this concept “applies the modern principle of freedom to contract,” which generally means that courts will enforce parties’ agreements “without passing on their substance.”. . . .  A restriction may violate public policy for several reasons, including if the restriction is “arbitrary, spiteful, or capricious.

I will forego a discussion of freedom to contract[3] and the reliance on the Restatement of Servitudes,[4] which I find biased in its support of HOA and not an independent reporter on common law and court decisions.  Part 2 will go into these complex but highly relevant constitutional issues relating to the HOA legal scheme.

. . . .

What has been lacking in HOA litigation over the years, with all due respect to homeowner champion lawyers, is constitutional law expertise.  I’ve read too many cases that touched upon constitutional arguments like free speech, due process, and equal protection of the laws but failed to delve deeply into these defects in the HOA legal scheme.

  The broad approach successfully used by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her women’s rights litigation needs to be adopted here. And, as usual, CAI was there representing the HOA or by filing amicus curiae briefs.

References


[1]   Nicdon v. Desert Mountain, No. 1 CA-CV 20-0129 (April 29, 2021).

[2] The Lawletter Blog, The National Legal Research Group, (April 30, 2021).

[3] The question of  “freedom to contract” is explored by Randy Barnett where he argues that there are limitations. Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty, Randy E. Barnett, Princeton University Press, (2004).

[4] Restatement (3rd) Property: Servitudes (American Law Institute 2000).


Resurrecting the argument for a homeowners bill of rights

This demand for a homeowners bill of rights by homeowner rights advocates had its play back in the 1997 – 2008 period, some 10 years ago. There was:

  • the AHRC’s 1997 bill,[1]
  • Lois and Samuel Pratt’s 1999 bill,[2]
  • my 2000 address to the AZ Legislature[3],
  • the 2006 AARP bill of rights,[4]
  • and my 2008 “Members Bill of Rights” amendment to CLRC.[5]

And there are undoubtedly others that I missed. Deborah Goonan recently re-posted a 2015 article[6] speaking of no Bill of Rights and constitutional violations of the 14th Amendment.  In 2017 the California Legislature adopted a limited bill of rights dealing with member political free speech.[7]

A new look at homeowner rights is needed, one that takes a down-to-earth approach and focuses on the common CC&Rs covenants and bylaws that read like,

  1. If there are conflicts between the provisions of Arizona law, the Articles, the Declaration, and these By-Laws, the provisions of Arizona law, the Articles, and the By-Laws (in that order) shall prevail.
  2. these By-Laws [Declaration] may be amended only by the affirmative vote or written consent, or any combination thereof of Members representing at least 51% [67%] of the . . . votes in the Association.
  3. no amendment may remove, revoke, or modify any right or privilege of Declarant . . . without the written consent of Declarant

Over the years I’ve discovered that the courts have universally upheld the broad amendment covenant as generically stated in (2) above.  The basis of their decisions is the very dangerous and overly broad interpretation that homeowners agreed to be bound[8] by the CC&Rs and bylaws.   Note that (3) above carves out an exception for the Declarant that requires his explicit consent, while accepting the majority rule principle in regard to the members. But, this “acceptance” to be bound by majority rule violates a fundamental right of citizens in regard a governmental “taking” or eminent domain action.

In many instances the courts have required 100% consent when the amendment adds new covenants, covenants not found in the CC&Rs, the most notable being changing from a voluntary HOA to a mandatory HOA.  This would be inconsistent with (1) above that holds that the law of the land prevails, and which of course, the buyer also agreed to. But, CAI comes to the rescue and prevails in the courts that the CC&Rs and bylaws contain valid waivers and surrenders of fundamental rights, even to the extent of accepting implicit (not stated but presumed consent) waivers and surrenders as valid.

Hold on! It is long held legal doctrine that the surrender and waiver of these rights must be explicit, one by one. And that, under contract law, there must be a meeting of the minds with full consent and no misrepresentation in the buying process. I have concluded that,

Public policy today rejects constitutional government for HOAs allowing them to operate outside the law of the land. The policy makers have failed to understand that the HOA CC&Rs have crossed over the line between purely property restrictions to establishing unregulated and authoritarian private governments.

The point I wish to make is that the absence of any meaningful bill of rights that genuinely protects the rights of HOA members is ab initio (from the beginning) a rejection of democratic norms and institutions.  The HOA cannot, therefore, be considered democratic by any means regardless of the propaganda by CAI and other pro-HOA supporters.

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.

. . . .

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.[9]

Simply unbelievable!  (In face of subsequent advocate criticisms, CAI began speaking of HOAs as a business, and we are seeing more and more statements that when a homebuyer signed his real estate contract, he was actually investing in a business.  Unbelievable!  Shades of George Orwell’s NewSpeak from his novel, 1984, where people are indoctrinated to hold 2 opposing views at the same time, and be at peace.)

What is intentionally absent — yes, intentionally otherwise the renowned CAI layers would have to claim incompetency regarding the law – is a Homeowners Bill of Rights.  Can you imagine that if the HOA framers, those stakeholders, of the HOA concept had actually met and discussed with knowledgeable and informed public that there would be protections for homeowners?  Can you imagine?

What the absent, yet informed public, would have added was a Preamble to an Amendment to the CC&R that would have been like that found in the Bill of Rights:

 Preamble to the US Bill of Rights

“THE Conventions of a number of States, having at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution:”

The basis for the BOR was a distrust of government and the need to further protect the people.  Regarding the HOA documents, the 9th and 10th Amendments, as applied to the HOA legal scheme, would prevent the broad interpretations that have been and are continuing being held by the courts.  No more generalities, except in favor of the members.  If it was good for America over 230 years, it must be good for HOA-Land!

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The 9th Amendment simply says that if it ain’t specified – enumerated — in the governing documents, it belongs to the membership.  No more broad interpretations of waivers and surrenders of rights.  The 10th Amendment simply says that if the members did not explicitly agree to certain HOA powers (delegated to), it belongs to the membership.

This is the argument and approach needed to get a Homeowners Bill of Rights accepted by state legislatures.  It should be a national campaign by all advocate groups in all states for their next legislative session.  There is time to organize and prepare.

 

References

[1] See “Short History” in co-opting the HOA “homeowners bill of rights”, Elizabeth McMahon, 1997.

[2] See A BILL OF RIGHTS FOR HOMEOWNERS IN RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS (1999).

[3] Statement to AZ Legislative Homeowners Association Study Committee, 2000.

[4] A Bill of Rights for Homeowners in Associations, AARP HOA Bill of Rights, David Kahne 2006.

[5] Supra, n. 1. “CLRC” is the California Law Review Commission.

[6] Let’s Get Some National Attention on HOA, Housing Issues, Deborah Goonan, 2015 original post.  

[7] A California true HOA Bill of Rights (SB 407).

[8] For a summary of the issues regarding the agreement to be bound position, seeConsent to be governed, No. 4, HOA Common Sense: rejecting private government.  The notes contain very important authorities on this issue.  (In only one case did a court reject this position because it felt that the amendment exceeded the reasonable expectations of the homeowner.  For example, having part of their assessments go toward a private entity unrelated to the HOA).

[9] CAI CEO Skiba in his April 2, 2008 Ungated blog entry.