The how and why of “boss” HOA presidents

This commentary is a follow up on my review of Kelly G. Richardsons’ article (Dictatorial HOA presidents and silent directors are at risk).

With all due respect to Richardson, his discussion of the role of HOA “boss” presidents and silent boards of directors makes no references to the causes of this common defect in the management of HOAs, or the more relevant, in ruling a community.  As an important CAI (Community Associations) lawyer advising and educating BODs on how to rule a community, we should expect not only answers but solutions as well.  His article does neither.

Richardson does  inform his readers about the makeup of good presidents: “Good HOA presidents understand the boundaries . . . . Good presidents are key . . . .”  He closes with the advice, “So, keep the good ones!”  He fails to address the legal structure of an adhesion contract and the CC&Rs that grant the BOD broad powers and authority. As such, the legal structure would not stand up to constitutional judicial scrutiny if the HOA were an arm of the state and not a private, contractual arrangement.

The legal structure prevents active, meaningful, democratic participation by members in board  elections and in amendments to the governing documents as found with public government. For example, members cannot file a petition, equivalent to a public domain initiative, requiring the BOD to hold a vote of the members on an issue, removing the absolute power to do as it pleases when contrary to the will of the  majority. The members would be able to contest the BOD’s position. Ihe absence of constitutional protections promotes the formation of power cliques that function as authoritarian governments. And so, we have “boss” presidents and silent boards of directors.

As a good lawyer, Richardson would probably say that this is the law, this is the way it is, and if you don’t like it change the laws. And who helped create and shape these pro-HOA laws?   For example, CAI has been involved since the beginning in 1964 in creating those Uniform Common Interest Ownership Acts (known as UCIOA) and adopted  with some modifications by a handful of states.

It’s up to YOU, as it has always been.

“It does not  help the sheep to blame the wolf. The sheep must not fall into the clutches of the wolf “ (Mahama Gandhi, fighting the imperialist British Empire).

Dictatorial HOA presidents and silent directors are at risk

This post is based on the article, HOA Homefront: Presidents are board members not bosses that acknowledges a serious and common problem with most HOA governance.  By Kelly G. Richardson | Kelly@Rodllp.Com. August 26, 2022.[1] 

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The HOA president’s role is often misunderstood and can result in a very serious board dysfunction. It can as well cause stress and risk for the president. First, it is critical to understand that the role and power of the HOA president are dramatically different than that of a for-profit corporate president.

In a for-profit corporation, the day-to-day running of the business is typically the responsibility of the president, the “boss” so to speak.”  However, in most HOAs the day-to-day execution of board decisions is executed by the association’s professional manager. “The HOA’s boss is not the president but is [] the HOA board.”

 The president has just one vote on the board, and that vote is no more valuable than any other director. Directors should take heed that those “who always automatically defer to the president are not fulfilling their responsibility to the association.”  Furthermore, corporation law holds any director  as implicitly agreeing if he does not post a dissenting opinion, which unfortunately, the governing documents are silent and do not provide an explicit right to file dissenting opinions.

By taking the “boss” role, a president is often outside his authority and disrespects the board that is the actual authority. Such a president could also be acting without corporate authority and exposed to personal liability for corporate commitments made without board approval.

Note 1. Kelly G. Richardson, Esq. is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Partner of Richardson Ober LLP, a California law firm known for community association expertise.

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Finally, a valid HOA non-CAI survey

Check out the Rocket Mortgage survey here.

57% Of HOA Residents Don’t Like Having An HOA

“Key Takeaways

  • Fewer than half (47%) of HOA residents surveyed believe their neighborhood is better with an HOA.
  • Fewer than 2 in 3 (64%) HOA residents surveyed feel their HOA honestly handles its finances.
  • One in 10 HOA residents surveyed is considering selling their home for HOA-related reasons.”

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).

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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.

Management Case Study #2 –  court HOA receivership; attorney sued; case sealed

“The events of 2008 – 2012 presented here span wrongful acts by an Arizona HOA and its attorney resulting in a court appointed receivership, and leading to the attorney being sued for aidding and abetting, among other things.  The case then disappears from county court public records and the outcome remains unknown.

“‘Defendants have conspired to take over their homeowners association . . . for improper purposes. Defendants have utilized the Association to gain control of as much property in the community as possible, through improper means .’

“[The HOA atorney] was personally sued for: ‘Breach of Ethical Duties: Disgorgement; Aiding and Abetting; Professional Negligence; Breach of Contract; Breach of Fiduciary of  Duty.’ 

“I do not have any additional court filings, either updates or final disposition.  In May 2012, after 1 ½ years of silence,  I looked into the court records only to discover that the case disappeared from public view.”

Read the full 5-page case study here.