How authoritarianism operates in an HOA

The HOA legal structure and scheme is basically authoritarian in nature: strong central power, limited political freedoms, no accountability, and under the rule of man, not law. 

CCHAL[1] argues be careful of   “’rules’ put in place in the name of ‘health and safety.’  Yes, some – but not all – may be necessary, but the pandemic creates an environment for putting in place some repressive rules too.” And reading the Golden Rain proposed rules, yes, in my opinion also, they are repressive.

 1. Pay a $500 deposit to get the ball rolling;

2. Apply for a permit at least three days before a planned protest;

3. Pick a maximum one-hour time slot during the day for the demonstration;

4. Ensure all participants social distance and stay out of roadways;

5. Plan on paying for any damage and cleanup costs;

6. Host protests only in an area bounded by three roads.

Proposed only rule 4 can be argued as in the interest of members health, safety and welfare as the GR CEO stated to the East Bay Times “This comes back to safety.”[2]  Rule 5 comes across as intimidation as this topic is already contained within the governing documents, and assumes violence will occur. According to the article, indicating another overly broad sweep at restrictions, GR’s intent was directed at dealing with protestors, as occurred in May in regard to BLM, yet the rules apply to any gathering of members. Rules 3 and 6 appear to be arbitrary restraint on free speech.

Rule 1 is punitive and is in violation of California law enacted in 2017, SB 407,[3] as pointed out by CCHAL. In general, the GR board/trustees seem to have ignored the law and cannot say that they didn’t know the law.

According to East Bay, “Golden Rain CEO Tim O’Keefe told the committee that the Davis Sterling Act doesn’t apply here because the foundation is a private organization, not a ‘common interest’ area like a homeowner’s association.”  That’s an unbelievable and irresponsible falsehood by the GF CEO!  In the 2017 directly involving Golden Rain, the appellate court held,

The court found that GRF is an ‘association’ subject to the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (Civ. Code, § 1350 et seq.) (the Davis-Stirling Act). fn. 1 We agree, and affirm.”  (Golden Rain Foundation v. Carol Franz, 163 Cal.App.4th 1141 (2008). (Plaintiffs were Leisure World members).

HOA members should understand that the common defense of BODs is “upon advice of attorney,” and in this case we hear that “the proposed rules had been reviewed by the organization’s attorney.”[4]  Are you aware of attorney rules of professional conduct?  You would be surprised what they have been getting away with as I inform readers in my post.[5]

Two things stand out in my mind, from years of studying and analyzing BOD motivations and defenses, many times supported by the HOA attorney’s opinion: these HOA boards/trustees are rogue BODs functioning with complete disregard of the laws.  HOA members BEWARE of your BOD and the opinions of its attorney!

Relevant sections of SB 407 include:

4515.  (a) It is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that members and residents of common interest developments have the ability to exercise their rights under law to peacefully assemble and freely communicate with one another and with others with respect to common interest development living or for social, political, or educational purposes.

(c) A member or resident of a common interest development shall not be required to pay a fee, make a deposit, obtain liability insurance, or pay the premium or deductible on the association’s insurance policy, in order to use a common area . . . .

(d) A member or resident of a common interest development . . . may bring a civil or small claims court action to enjoin the enforcement of a governing document.  The court may assess a civil penalty of not more than five hundred dollars ($500) for each violation.

There is no legitimate justification for GF’s proposed rule changes except to assert its power and control over the members. In general, including GR, HOA boards are authoritarian and supported by too many members who are authoritarian followers.  In order to successfully deal with the unjust powers and authority of BODs,  the legislators, the public, and HOA members in particular  need to read and understand the social and political culture of HOAs. Visit my posts on authoritarianism in HOA-Land.[6]

References


[1] Marjorie Murray, email letter of July 26, 2020,  Center for California Homeowner Association Law (info@calhomelaw.org).

[2] Annie Sciacca, “Want to protest at Rossmoor? Schedule it during business hours,” East Bay Times, July 10, 2020.  

[3] Chapter 236, California Revised Code (2017), SB 407. http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB407

[4] Id.

[5] See my post,  A lesson in professional conduct for HOA attorneys (2020).

[6] George K. Staropoli, HOAs undermine principles of democratic America (2020); Authoritarianism in the HOA-Land Nation (2020).

 

AZ fair elections reform bill SB 1412 moves on

On May 21st, after a long interruption due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the Arizona House passed SB 1412 by a unanimous vote of 11 – 0 in favor. GREAT! It joins California’s SB 323 passed into law last year.

See Authorities for protected HOA political speech — SB 1412 poll and AZ SB 1412 reflects move to HOA constitutional reforms.

Calif. holds HOA elections as protected free speech public elections

Speaking of HOA members and public voting rights, “Why Are HOA Members Allowed A Public Vote?”[1], let’s look at the reverse side and ask, Why aren’t HOA elections equivalent to public elections?  This is another example of how successful constitutional challenges can lead to and bring about broad HOA reform legislation.

Many of us are aware of the treatment of dissenting and opposing voices with respect to BOD actions and elections. There are the threats by rogue BODs of harm, and of  slanderous and libelous statements aimed to discredit and injure the dissenter’s reputation. And then, in true attack the attackers,  there are the lawsuits by the BOD claiming that the dissenter’s speech was harmful and injured the reputation of the HOA and/or BOD members.

Anti-SLAPP

These lawsuits are referred to as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – SLAPP —  whose purpose is to silence the dissenting homeowner(s) by arguing that the HOA/BOD was defamed.[2]  In the name of justice, or the appearance of justice, many states have adopted anti-SLAPP statutes to protect the dissenters; in our case here, the homeowners. The common criteria to file an anti-slapp suit includes (my emphasis):

A moving party may file a special motion to dismiss [the HOA suit] under [the state’s] antiSLAPP statutes “if an [HOA] action is filed in retaliation to the exercise of free speech [homeowner dissent].” In considering a special motion to dismiss, a district court must undertake a two-prong analysis. First, the court must determine whether the moving party [homeowner] has, by a preponderance of the evidence, established that the action [anti-slapp motion] is based upon a good faith communication in furtherance of the right to free speech in direct connection with an issue of public concern.

Furthermore, 1)  the statement must be made without knowledge of falsehood or truth with respect to a public concern, 2) the statement must be made in a place open to the public or in a public forum, and 3) “aimed at procuring any governmental or electoral action, result or outcome.” WOW! No chance in hell to bring an anti-Slapp suit against an HOA.

HOA elections are public

However, as expected, the anti-slapp statutes vary from state to state with Arizona adopting the very strict government election requirement while California has held, over several court cases, that (my emphasis):

California courts have repeatedly held in the context of anti-SLAPP litigation that board meetings of a homeowners association “serve[] a function similar to that of a governmental body. As [the California] Supreme Court has recognized, owners of planned development units “‘comprise a little democratic subsociety.”‘ … 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.”[3]

The use of mail or internet – social media or websites open to the public —  have been held by the California courts to be “ a public forum.”   Nextdoor was held to be a public forum in spite of the fact it functions as a closed group, but its intent is clearly to be open to anyone.[4]

This is another important tool for homeowners and advocates to use in CA, and to lobby for the same return to justice anti-slapp laws in other states.

Notes

[1] George K. Staropoli, “Why are HOA members allowed a public vote?” HOA Constitutional Government (July 20, 2019).

[2] See in general, Colorado’s anti-Slapp statute, Colorado becomes 31st State.

[3] Quoted Appellant’s Opening Brief,  Kosor v. Olympia Companies, LLC, (Nev. SC NO.75669, Feb. 8, 2019). At this writing Kosor has not yet been accepted to be heard by the Nevada Supreme Court.

[4] Id, Part C, vii, printed page 33.  See Kronemyer v. Internet Movie Data Base, Inc., 59 Cal. Rptr. 3d 48 (2007).

Protecting HOA political free speech on matters of general community interest

Should matters of concern and interest to the general HOA member-community be protected from suits designed to stifle participation in HOA governance?  Homeowners in HOAs should be protected from these suits, called SLAPP suits, just as the general public is protected in most states that have anti-SLAPP laws.

The question becomes: will the courts hold issues of HOA governance to be a matter of general public interest and concern?  A failure of the courts to do so puts HOA governments solidly into the category of independent principalities, where members are not permitted free speech on community public issues, especially about their governing body, the HOA.

The expected defenses are 1) that HOAs are private, contractual governing bodies not subject to the 14th Amendment protections, which the members have agreed to obey; and disregarding the Ruiz opinion above,  2) the local HOA community cannot be considered as a public body that is interested in and concerned with matters of public interest; it’s a local, private matter.

There are several California cases holding that HOA concerns amount to public speech because it affects the community at large.  The following are anti-SLAPP suits.

“A SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) is a lawsuit brought primarily to chill a party’s constitutional right of petition or free speech. The anti-SLAPP statute was enacted to prevent and deter lawsuits that chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances and provides “an efficient procedural mechanism to obtain an early and inexpensive dismissal of nonmeritorious claims” arising from the exercise of those constitutional rights. . . . . The resident’s front lawn is a public forum for purposes of the First Amendment. . . . Moreover, it is now well established that the anti-SLAPP statute protects private conversations as well as those occurring in a public forum.” (Santa Barbara).

“’Public interest’ within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute has been broadly defined to include, in addition to government matters,  ‘private conduct that impacts a broad segment of society and/or that affects a community in a manner similar to that of a governmental entity.’ (Ruiz; according to California statutes).

[My emphasis]

“[W]e hold the trial court properly determined the anti-SLAPP statute applied because the evidence showed the alleged defamatory statements were made “in a place open to the public or in a public forum” and concerned “an issue of public interest. . . .  The two locations where the alleged defamatory statements were made–at the Board meetings and in the Village Voice newsletter [HOA] –were open to the public and constituted “public forums.” Additionally, because each of the allegedly defamatory statements concerned [*11] the manner in which a large residential community would be governed, they concerned “issue[s] of public interest.”  (Damon).

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).”  (Damon).

My quick survey of state anti-SLAPP laws shows AZ, IL, HI, GA and MD as having strict laws relating to only issues before the legislature or a law, as petitioning rights.  A host of other states contain the much broader right to file an anti-SLAPP suit for issues of public interest. They are: CA, FL (as of 7/2015), IN, LA, OR, RI, TX, VT, and WA.  Check current status.

Case references:

  1. Santa Barbara Beach Club HOA v. Freeman, 2d Civil No. B212972 (Cal. App. 2nd 2010)
  2. Ruiz v. Harbor View CA, 37 Cal.Rptr.3d 133 (2005)
  3. Damon v. Ocean Hills [an HOA], 102 Cal.Rptr.2d 205 (2000)

CAI concerned about growing strength of advocate arguments for HOA reforms?

Please understand that the proactive efforts by advocates across the country, especially the new reform legislation, are making CAI very nervous.  Look what CAI has done to get more $$$ to fight advocate legislation.

Issues Advancement Fund (IAF) 

What is the Issues Advancement Fund? CAI’s Board of Trustees established the Issues Advancement Fund to help support and advance CAI’s legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy efforts and programs. It was established to provide a resource base to enable CAI to respond to challenges, which, if unmet, could undermine community associations, their residents and member professionals. The Issues Advancement Fund works to support efforts at both the state and federal levels.

Who can contribute to the IAF? The Issues Advancement Fund accepts voluntary contributions from individuals, associations and businesses that wish to directly support CAI’s government affairs initiatives.

The very powerful CAI California LAC (CLAC) admits to the need for its top-line – CAI’s view – lawyers in CCAL to defend the HOA legal concept that flies in the face of our constitutional system of government (my emphasis).

How CLAC Benefits from CCAL Attorneys

“CCAL attorneys have played a significant role in CAI-CLAC and provided countless volunteer hours and dedication since the formation of this organization,” says current CLAC Chair Darren Bevan. “These attorneys offer their expertise and real world experiences as this organization works towards smart legislation that preserves community.

CCAL lawyers commit themselves to raising the bar of professional and ethical conduct in representing community associations in such areas as education, advocacy, governance, and career mentorship.

Being recognized as a CCAL Fellow is the pinnacle of the legal profession for the community association lawyer.”

(http://www.caionline.org/govt/advocacy/Pages/IssuesAdvancementFund%28IAF%29.aspx).

Earlier this year in Arizona, 2013 CCAL President Scott Carpenter hit the nail on its head when he cautioned his audience in Top 10 For 2015 (Arizona Carpenter Hazlewood online seminar).

“What we are seeing is that the [homeowner] attorneys are becoming more sophisticated and making more sophisticated arguments, and the litigation is becoming more and more challenging in the sense they are raising arguments that are harder for us to beat back . . . .” (7:31 – 8:10)

CAI can be beat easily with fundamental constitutional arguments and avoiding CAI’s narrow real property approach to community government. CAI still speaks of community associations while arguing HOAs are businesses. Doesn’t make common sense, does it?  Just demand CAI answer this obvious contradiction, reminding them that advocates are not stupid.