The writing is on the wall for HOA reforms

Although the Arizona Supreme Court has not yet decided to hear Tarter v. Bend (CV 21-0049), my 44 page Pro Se amicus curiae brief is a matter of public record, regardless.  The case about a defamation suit by the HOA president, also an attorney and a limited-purpose public figure, raised constitutional issues of public speech with respect to questions of HOA governance. 

Selected excerpts follow.

As with the issue in Dombey (Dombey v. Phoenix Newspapers, Inc) . . . failing to present the question of Tarter’s status as a possible public figure denied the jury from considering the issues of protected free speech on public issues.

Kosor (NV) was sued on the basis of his criticism  and distribution of a pamphlet and letter at a board meeting seeking a seat on the board of directors.

“Because we conclude that each of Kosor’s statements was “made in direct connection with an issue of public interest in a place open to the public or in a public forum,” we reverse the district court’s decision to the contrary and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The impetus behind this view can be laid to the heavy lobbying of state legislators, judges, the public and the media by the Community Associations Institute (CAI). From its 2016 white paper,

“Most legislators do not thoroughly understand common-interest communities or who their patchwork legislation is actually protecting. . . . Legislative responses to individual constituents contribute to community associations being perceived as over-restrictive micro-governments focused on covenant enforcement.”

In response to my Arizona Supreme Court pro se amicus brief in Gelb v. DFBLS (CV-10-0371-PR) CAI attorney Jason Smith wrote,

“It is clear from the that the amicus curiae [referring to me] simply wants to impose constitutional protections on members in homeowners associations. The law has never supported that proposition.”

[I called to the Court’s attention a question of a SLAPP lawsuit against Brendt.]  The issue of an HOA SLAPP lawsuit against a member is in the interest of general public and of statewide importance, and also of national concern, the impact on community associations is certainly substantial. This Court should, sua sponte, consider Tarter’s legal action as a HOA politically motivated strategic lawsuit  against member participation.

I urge the Court to apply the long overdue correction  of  Plessy v. Ferguson by Brown v. Bd of Education to the long overdue and needed corrections to the unconstitutional HOA legal scheme.  As with Brown, America’s culture and environment has changed dramatically from 1964’s Homes Association Handbook and the formation in 1973 of Community Associations Institute (CAI) to deal with rising HOA problems and constitutional concerns after only 9 years. 

Pro Se Bendt amicus brief accepted by AZ Supreme Court

My amicus brief was accepted and is now part of the record. The court has yet to decide if it will hear the case, which could be weeks – months way.

“Arizona Supreme Court
Civil Petition for Review – Appeal
CV-21-0049-PR TIM TARTER et al v DOUGLAS BENDT et al

“12. 25-Jun-2021 Amicus Curiae Staropoli filed an ‘Amicus Curiae Brief of George K. Staropoli in Support of Appellants’ on June 17, 2021 and a ‘Motion to Appear Amicus Curiae Brief of George K. Staropoli in Support of Appellants’ on June 24, 2021. After consideration, [163736]

IT IS ORDERED the ‘Motion to Appear Amicus Curiae Brief of George K. Staropoli in Support of Appellants’ is granted. The brief shall be filed as of June 17, 2021. Tracie K. Lindeman”

* * * *

I stated my value, in part, as:

“The issues addressed in this case are of general importance and statewide but also national concern, as the impact on community associations is certainly substantial and states look to other states for guidance in this developing area of law. 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.

“Professor Evan McKenzie in his landmark 1994 book (Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government (1994)) acknowledged the fact that ‘HOAs currently engage in many activities that would be prohibited if they were viewed by the courts as the equivalent of local governments.’”

The continuing saga of Bendt and public speech in HOAs

Earlier I had reported on Arizona homeowner Bendt who dared speak out and criticize her HOA president and BOD using social media, emails, and pamphlets among other statements. See HOA limited-purpose public directors and officers  and Limited purpose public HOA board; slander; AZ HB 2052. What courage and determination to fight against her HOA president and 2 board members who are attorneys.

 With all respect and encouragement I have supported her fight to defend  herself from accusations of defamation. In her appeal, which she lost, the HOA admitted that the president was a limited-purpose public figure with the acceptance that social media and that the HOA is a public forum;  with protected free speech in regard to matters of members’ concern and HOA governance issues. Bendt protested an election and alleged improper and wrongful acts by the president. The result was  a well calculated, in my view, personal defamation attack on Bendt to avoid the larger, broader aspects that protect members’ criticisms, with certain restraints.

Her defense has now moved on to the AZ Supreme Court, waiting for acceptance of her petition. Roughly less than 10% of supreme court petitions for review are accepted. Good luck to Bendt!  If accepted, then her case is scheduled for oral arguments and a decision in a few months.

 Stay tuned to this case of widespread importance to homeowner rights.

 BTW, homeowner protections contained in AZ HB 2052 are lost as the bill died in Rules committee, which is controlled by the leaders of the majority party.

 For the record, I am not a lawyer nor am I giving legal opinion or advice.

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).


If only advocates would stand up to CAI

This month, April 18th and 21st,  I posted comments[1] on the dereliction of duty by state legislatures and the need for the DOJ to investigate state legislatures as well as the undue influence by CAI teachings in its School of HOA Governance[2]  Yesterday, the 23rd, it seems that CAI is trying to soften its misleading statements and failure to disclose the whole truth about HOA-Land.  Previously I had commented upon Kelly G. Richardson’s[3]  2020 article  in The Public Record,[4]

“Richardson seems to be saying that indeed a director has a fiduciary duty to the member but that duty to the HOA comes first.   He further warns directors, who have relevant knowledge and expertise, to remain mum and not speak out least he be sued. If the director chooses to speak out as he should do in the best interests of the HOA, ‘the director is not acting as a director but is an unpaid consultant and could be held liable for their advice.’”[5]

In yesterday’s “ HOA Homefront: What surprises lurk in your CC&Rs?”[6]  Richardson added to his attempt to “tell it like it is” revealing some hidden aspects of CC&Rs. (Emphasis added).

“Here are 11 things about CC&Rs that might surprise you, before you read them. 

“CC&Rs bind all owners, regardless of whether they read it, understood it, or received a full copy of it. As a recorded document, CC&Rs are a “covenant running with the land,” meaning a legal commitment attaching to the land and therefore its owners.

“Normally enforced by courts, even if they seem unreasonable. The California Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that CC&Rs are presumed enforceable, with some narrow exceptions (such as if they contradict a law).

Original developer-supplied CC&Rs often are boilerplate with parts not applicable to the community. This is because the developer’s primary interest is to obtain quick approval from the Department of Real Estate to begin selling the homes.

As limits upon owner autonomy, CC&Rs can seem intrusive at times. These limits help to protect neighbors from unneighborly behavior and against properties detracting from the community.”

I must admit he comes clean to a certain degree admitting to some of those hidden aspects of CC&Rs, which the interested parties including legislators and the media should have been made aware prior to any decision-making, or before buying a home in an HOA. Too late after the fact!  Additionally,  Richardson fails to “call for action” — frequently used by CAI chapters — to correct these silent gotchas by adopting my proposed legislation,[7] which plainly says,

“The association hereby waivers and surrenders any rights or claims it may have under law and herewith unconditionally and irrevocably agrees 1) to be bound by the US and State Constitutions, and laws of the State within which it is located, as if it were a subdivision of the state and a local public government entity, and 2) that constitutional law shall prevail as the supreme law of the land including over conflicting laws and legal doctrines of equitable servitudes. Legislative dereliction of duty

“Furthermore, any governing documents of an association not in compliance with the above shall be deemed amended to be in compliance, and notwithstanding the provisions of any law to the contrary, a homeowners’ association shall be deemed to have amended its governing documents to be in compliance.

Lesson to be learned

For far too many years advocates and homeowners have failed to rally against the heavy influence of CAI on state legislators and the media, thereby allowing CAI to set the tone unchallenged.  This failure demonstrates a severe weakness to achieve HOA reforms of substance.  It is widely known, and proven countless times in other successful arenas, that legislation is accomplished by means of a widespread outcry by the “victims.”  Former Colorado Senator Morgan Carroll strongly advises her readers,

We elect people to represent our interests, but our elected representatives cannot adequately represent you unless they hear from you. . . . If you don’t participate in your government, then the only remaining participants in the system are legislators and lobbyists.” 

It has been a long time failure by homeowner rights advocates to achieve meaningful, constitutional reforms. For whatever reason for this lack of involvement in a nationally united front, the practical reality has been the continued control and dominance by the CAI School of HOA Governance.[8] 

As an aside, CAI’s March “Call For Action”, “Grassroots Advocacy Initiatives Are More Essential Than Ever,” seems to be desperately seeking more active grassroots  involvement by its members, yet advocates remain silent.

“It is more important than ever for CAI advocates to engage in grassroots activism across the country. CAI believes it’s crucial for our members to tell legislators their stories and help them better understand the need for proper public policy decisions when approaching state legislation regulating community associations.”[9]  

Presently, Colorado’s HB 21-1229 is falling by the wayside as well as Arizona’s HB 2052, resurrected from last year’s SB 1412, both excellent reform bills.  California is facing problems with  SB 391 and in Florida  SB 623 (2020) went into defeat.

If only more had come forward and challenged, criticized, and exposed CAI we would have achieved much, much more.  Richardson’s article offers an excellent opportunity to step up to the plate!

References


[1] See Legislative dereliction of duty: supporting HOAs and   State legislatures must be held accountable for dereliction of duty.

[2] 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.

[3] Kelly G. Richardson: CAI Board of Trustees 2011-2017; Community Associations Institute (CAI), National, President, 2016; College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL), 2006; CAI’s California Legislative Action Committee, Chair, 2009, 2010; National Association of Realtors; California State Bar Association, Real Estate & Litigation Sections.

[4] HOA Homefront: Fiduciary Duty – What It Is, And Is NOT,

[5] CAI School faculty advice – managing HOAs.

[6] The Press-Enterprise, News, Housing, Opinion (April 23, 2021).

[7] See for example, Legislative dereliction of duty: supporting HOAs.

[8] Supra n. 2.

[9] See Grassroots Advocacy Initiatives Are More Essential Than Ever .