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).

Colorado HOA act creates state actors?

I give credit to the Colorado Legislature for stating its intent, its position, on supporting HOAs, which is rarely found in other state statutes.  Section 38-33.3-102 reads (in part):

Legislative declaration

(1) The general assembly hereby finds, determines, and declares, as follows:

(a) That it is in the best interests of the state and its citizens to establish a clear, comprehensive, and uniform framework for the creation and operation of common interest communities;

(b) That the continuation of the economic prosperity of Colorado is dependent upon the strengthening of homeowner associations in common interest communities financially through the setting of budget guidelines, the creation of statutory assessment liens, the granting of six months’ lien priority, the facilitation of borrowing, and more certain powers in the association to sue on behalf of the owners and through enhancing the financial stability of associations by increasing the association’s powers to collect delinquent assessments, late charges, fines, and enforcement costs;

 

Subsections (c) – (e) contain basically the same theme — don’t let the HOA fail by providing the developer with certain financial protections and operating rules on good management.  In a bold, in your face statement the statute contains an annotation, which reads:

There is no support for the proposition that enactment of a legislative scheme governing the operation of homeowners’ association thereby transforms such homeowners’ association into cities or other governmental entities. Woodmoor Improvement Ass’n v. Brenner, 919 P.2d 928 (Colo. App. 1996).

This 1996 authority still holds true today.  State governments regulate people and entities by establishing laws, such as these HOA “acts” under its police powers “to promote the general welfare.”   That has come to mean to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the people.  The issue at hand, which has not been tested in the courts, is: when does and under what circumstances do these HOA acts create HOAs as state actors?[1]

It would seem that just from this Legislative Declaration of purpose there are reasonable grounds to suspect state cooperation (no penalties against HOA violations of state laws or the governing documents), coercion (foreclosure, pay or lose your home, etc.), and support for HOAs, a close nexus with daily operations (closely involved on HOA management) s symbiotic relationship (you help me, I help you), significant encouragement, either overtly or covertly.[2]  But no mention of any protections of due process and the equal protection of the laws as an objective of its involvement in HOA-Land.

Note that subsection 1(a) above speaks not of individual statutes, but of “a clear, comprehensive, and uniform framework” to support HOAs. Therefore, we must look at the overall picture of the HOA act and determine its broad impact on HOAs, and whether the legal scheme or structure establishes state actors.  And in 1(b) above the general assembly makes a case for establishing state actors when it states, “by increasing the association’s powers to collect delinquent assessments, late charges, fines, and enforcement costs.”  The details can be found within the act itself.

Please understand that in the statutes, both in Colorado and in other states, the statutes give the appearance of protecting the homeowner and his rights, but this is an illusion. What does the homeowner do if the board violates the law?  His ultimate recourse is to sue the HOA in civil court, but the statutes and governing documents (and court case history) are protective of the HOA as this Colorado section clearly demonstrates.

Where are the constitutional protections that would remove the HOA member as a second-class citizen?  To bring him back into the American Zone? They are nowhere to be found!  Why?  Because the state believes that the homebuyer has freely and with full knowledge agreed to be bound by the explicit and implied waivers in the governing documents.  But, have they?[3]

It would seem that the Colorado General Assembly has crossed the line and by its HOA statutes created HOAs as state actors.

References

[1] See, in general, HOA Common Sense, No. 9: HOA governments in fact.

[2] See Do state HOA Statutes Establish HOAs as State Actors?

[3] See HOA Common Sense, No. 4: Consent to be governed

The HOA Enlightenment Movement continues to spread: just legislation for homeowners

A review of new legislation being considered in many state legislatures clearly shows a growing trend toward justice and fair play for homeowners.  Substantive HOA reform bills can be found in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Texas to name those are known to me.

Arizona

SB 2292 seeks to end mandatory HOAs for new subdivisions.

SB 1278 reasserts local municipality control of public streets in HOAs.

Colorado.  HB 1276 seeks to restrict HOA foreclosures by setting forth strict procedures for HOAs to follow if they seek to foreclose on a homeowner that include restrictions on the sue of collection agencies, the adoption of a formal payment plan, notice to delinquent homeowners stating the exact amounts owed, and the procedures to resolve issue before any action can be taken..

Florida.

SB580 places restrictions on management firms.

SB 596 creates a powerful, bona fide state agency to regulate HOAs and that can make rules, to investigate complaints and to seek penalties and restitution in civil court.

North Carolina.  HB 175 is another foreclosure reform bill that prohibits assessment foreclosure, but allows HOAs to obtain court judgments for the assessments owed.  It requires a notice of a claim of lien to be served on the homeowner before any action can be taken.

Texas.  HB 3803 seeks state oversight by allowing the attorney general investigation of financial wrong-doing by the HOA, with penalties.

Much, much more legislation dealing with substantive HOA reforms is needed.  This legislation would deal with fair and just due process procedures in HOA disputes, foreclosure reforms, clean elections procedures, meaningful enforcement against HOA violators, and ending the “consent to agree” misrepresentation in the sale of a home in a HOA.

 

For more information . . .

the age of HOA enlightenment is coming?

And the HOA Enlightenment Movement grows . . .

Court decisions: HOA Enlightenment Movement vs. the Dark Ages

Why HOA reform advocates fail at legislative reforms

This Commnetary is in response to a comment to my book review of Colorado Senator Morgan Carroll’s, Colorado senator’s guide to effective HOA legislation.

Your comment is understandably emotional and angry, because of failed attempts at HOA reforms.  I assume you have read my commentaries on the basic theme that state legislatures are not friendly toward HOA reforms. But the book shows you how to throw it back at Carroll and the dysfunctional legislatures and hypocritical legislators.  Just take it from the mouth of the “enemy” and use it against her.  Show her as a hypocrite, if that’s what you believe.  I do it all the time with the Arizona Legislature, and a new strongly worded critique is on the way.

You are mistaken in stating that I praise Carroll as a friend of HOA reforms.  I praise her because the book shows the way to reforms, and similar advice has been provided by legislators in other states.  The problem has always been the failure of homeowner advocates to recognize the fact that this is power politics, just like you see on TV, and they must learn to play the game.  And Carroll tells you how.

Yes, the book implies that all upright and good standing representatives will come to the aid and do right by the people, if they speak out loud enough and in large numbers.  Carroll does not say “right is might,” because the laws do not deal with justice.   Legislators, except for a very small minority in isolated cases, do not take up the “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” cause of the people that this ain’t right. Wake up guys! 

While small groups have spoken out in many states, they are not organized or powerful enough to overcome the paid lobbyists with their credentials.  But, over the years nobody really wants to organize a national HOA reform advocacy to counter the CAI propaganda.

Yes, there have been champions of HOA reform, but advocates fail to realize that these legislators must buck the powers that be at the legislature and win over the votes of a majority of other legislators. And this takes outcries by many people, not with gripes of “I wuz wronged!” but with valid arguments as to why HOAs are wrong for the state and the general public well-being.  And how to fix  these wrongs.  

This must be understood. The legislature does not get involved in your personal gripes! You must raise your issue to a general issue, a fundamental rights issue, before any legislature will get excited.

Learn from the book and take it to Carroll and show her “dual personality” in public, where it counts, and not here among others who know but do nothing.

Colorado senator’s guide to effective HOA legislation

An excellent guide for citizens seeking to effectively lobby their legislature to bring about desired change. 

 Take-backThe author, Morgan Carroll, is an eight year Colorado legislator and is currently the Colorado Senate Majority Leader.  Take Back Your Government sends a strong message to citizens to get involved in the legislative process if they sincerely seek change, otherwise the paid, special interest hired-hand lobbyists will strongly influence the legislators. And set the tone for new laws and changes to existing laws.

Carroll’s opening chapter contains advice, such as, “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.  And she reminds her readers that, “Democracy only works when citizens participate, engage and become informed voters.”  And that is why democracy is a farce in the authoritarian HOA private governments where apathy abounds for numerous reasons.

Part II, Advocacy for Beginners, is chock full of “dos and don’ts”  in contacting and dealing with bill sponsors, and how to draft and understand the wording and format of bills. The author provides advice for citizens such as, to “suggest a solution,” make your request “shorter and simpler,” and “summarize prior attempts to fix the problem.”   Her concern for the people include warnings that, “every right [permitted by law] should come with a remedy or an enforcement mechanism, or it’s an empty law.”  And there’s the commonly found use of “shall” and “may,” clarifying that “may” means “is permitted to” or “is authorized to,” both of which mean making the act legal.

And there is much, much more on how to get heard, how to contact legislators, how to testify, creating fact sheets to support your position, etc.  Definitely applicable, but not tailored just for HOA reforms. This book is must reading for advocates, especially HOA reform advocates who have faced a solid wall of indifference when seeking legislative change and who have been unsuccessful in the past. 

Thank you Senator Carroll.

 

Take Back Your Government; A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Change, Morgan Carroll (Fulcrum Publishing 2011).

Review by George K. Staropoli, a nationally recognized advocate for HOA reform legislation.

HOA foreclosure: an unconstitutional punishment

Writing on the Hindman-Sanchez blog (Colorado) in 2011, attorney Sanchez asks, Is Foreclosure the Right Option?”  She offers 3 options: 1) just lien the property and wait, 2) get a money judgment on the debt owed and garnish money source, and 3) foreclose. Sanchez answers that option 1 is not quick; option 2 will not work if there is no cash available; so that leaves option 3, foreclose on the house.

However, working on behalf of the HOA and its supposed survival concerns, Sanchez fails to address the practical matter of 1) not enough equity in the home to for the HOA to collect its debt after the mortgage is paid off, or assumed, and 2) the moral and ethical question of a discriminatory, unethical, and inequitable option that amounts to a cruel and unusual punishment. It affects only those who have paid their mortgage and assessments obligations over many years. 

And remember, the HOA has not advanced any hard cash as a bank or lender to warrant a special foreclosure law, but is functioning as a state entity collecting on the failure to pay taxes.  Nor has it performed any services to warrant special treatment under a mechanics lien analogy.  Its services have been performed on behalf of the fictional but legal and separate person, the HOA.

From a broader aspect on the nature of the “contract” between the homeowner and the HOA, the homeowner was not told that buying into the HOA corporation is like buying into a closely held business that has limited marketability (ease of selling out, which amounts to selling his home), and whose source of additional funds is very, very limited – increased assessments, special assessments, and obtaining a bank loan if possible.  That’s the bargain the homeowner made when he bought his home.  That is the hidden downside of HOA corporations kept hidden by the HOA, the developer, the real estate agent and the consumer protection agency, if any. 

The use of foreclosure focuses the members’ attention to the other guy and not on the nature of the contract.  It is an irrational attempt by an HOA attorney to “get blood from a turnip,” which after all, is just what one would expect when dealing with “deadbeats.”  It serves to intimidate and punish homeowners by taking away the homeowner’s home, leaving him nothing. 

Sanchez ignores the reality of the present economic situation, which she admits to. She speaks, however, of foreclosure as a “necessary tool” to punish and to intimidate.

While associations have other options available, foreclosure is a powerful and necessary tool in the association’s collection efforts arsenal. People take notice when there [sic] property is being foreclosed. Foreclosure may motivate those who have not been making assessments to bring their account current. More often than not once a delinquent homeowner gets notice of a pending foreclosure on their property, they make some type of payment arrangement or refinance.

If HOA covenants and statutes that allow the HOA to take a member’s home or money based on an HOA fine was held to be an unconstitutional punishment or penalty[i], so must foreclosure statutes be held as an unconstitutional preemption of government power.  The argument that foreclosure is just a legal collection method and not a punishment falsely states reality.

(Loura Sanchez and Hindman are Colorado attorney members of CAI  and members of its College of Community Associations Lawyers (CCAL)). 


[i]In  Unit Owners Association v. Gilman, 292 S.E.2d 378 (1982), the Virginia Supreme Court heldthat a fine was  “A pecuniary punishment imposed by lawful tribunal upon person convicted of crime or misdemeanor. A pecuniary penalty. It may include a forfeiture . . .” and that “The imposition of a fine is a governmental power. The sovereign cannot be preempted of this power, and the power cannot be delegated or exercised other than in accordance with the provisions of the Constitutions of the United States and of Virginia. Neither can a fine be imposed disguised as an assessment.”  

Findings of the 2011 Colorado HOA problem report

The findings of the Colorado HOA problem identification report are as follows, and substantiate the fact that HOA democratic governance is sorely lacking:

 

What we discovered was that the complaints we received primarily involved the board of director’s failure to follow corporate governance rules and procedures of the HOA; the transparency of the board of directors, particularly as it related to the finances of the HOA; and harassment and bullying of homeowners by the board of directors and management company by arbitrary fining, preclusion from providing input into the associations’ affairs, and verbal harassment. These complaint types were much more serious than the aforementioned three P’s because they substantially interfered with a homeowner’s ability to enjoy his property and to have avenues of democratic participation in the HOA to remedy their issues.

An additional and perhaps one of the more troubling complaint types the Office heard was that the HOA board or manager was harassing, discriminating or retaliating against homeowners. Many homeowners felt that their boards had singled them out and were arbitrarily fining them for violations, when they were not in violation; engaging in selective enforcement of covenants; and precluding them from participating in meetings. . . . A frequent complaint heard was that older board members were discriminating against younger homeowners or where older homeowners felt they were discriminated against by younger board members.

 Another troubling subset of complaints involved diversion, fraud, and theft. . . .  The most frequent complaint types filed against managers mirrored those pertaining to HOAs, including access to records, transparency and communications, not communicating with homeowners, harassment and selective enforcement of covenants

 

And the report makes the following, not unexpected, observation, which can apply to all HOA legislation in all states (emphasis added).

 

The drafters of SB-100 and SB-89 obviously understood the need for statutory protections to homeowners, but the issue homeowners are having is not that the law does not address their specific issues, rather the law does not provide a realistic or economic means to seek redress.

 

 The lack of such realistic means for redress can be found in the public policy of each state to support and protect the HOA even against unjust and unconstitutional denials of homeowner rights and freedoms.  One very effective and proven means is to provide for effective penalties against HOA violations of the laws and governing documents in the name of the people.  That means sufficient fines and even misdemeanor charges as warranted, especially when considering such penalties are imposed for wrongdoing by a government official or agency.

 References

1.       Colorado report on HOA problems needs to be corrected.

2.       “Hannaman Report”, (Similar report in NJ, 2002).

3.       The StarManPub  videos on the Florida House HOA hearings (2008).