Court requires constitutional due process in HOA foreclosures

The enlightenment and awareness that the US Constitution and its due process requirement extends to private government HOAs is gaining momentum. ”The writing is on the wall.”

In the recent Colorado appellate decision in Hummel (C&C Investments v. Hummel, 022COA42, April 14, 2022)  concerning proper notice of homeowner foreclosure by the HOA, the court surprisingly acted sua sponte —in the name of justice. The courts have repeatedly failed to invoke, in the pursuit of justice as it claims to be its fundamental purpose, its right to act sua ponte — on its own — raising discussions of issues not raised by either party.  

In Hummel the question arose as to whether or not the homeowner was given notice of impending foreclosure action by the HOA.  The HOA send a processor server who said he posted the notice in the newspaper, which is allowed under certain circumstances. She discovered her plight only when an eviction notice was pinned to her door. The question be determined was, What is proper, legal service?

While court rules require that the HOA serve notice, the court held that it “must also meet the mandates of due process before foreclosing on an individual’s property” and that,

[I]t is not unreasonable to require a homeowners association to make a good faith, rather than a highly technical, effort to effectuate actual notice to a fellow neighbor before foreclosing on their property.”

In support of its opinion, the Court referenced the Colorado appellate court’s court view:

“Although an association is not the government, it serves “quasi-governmental functions” when enforcing covenants and must abide by the due process requirements of the United States and Colorado Constitutions.

“[T]he United States Supreme Court has long held that when foreclosing a lien against an individual’s home, due process requires “notice [that is] reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.”

The appellate court found that the trial court failed to adhere to these principles before ordering a default judgment.

Support CO 22-1137 for HOA due process justice

Another HOA enlightenment bill has been proposed in Colorado, 22-1137, joining California’s and Arizona’s legislation to restore homeowner fundamental rights and freedoms.  Reading the bill as introduced, it addresses a number of issues designed to provide meaningful due process, to good extent, allowing for small claims adjudication and restrictions, limitations on the HOA’s right to fine, interest charges, late payments, work-out plan before foreclosure, and limits on the amount of collection to just 3 times amount owed (avoids unusual and cruel punishment charges). 

What more can a homeowner ask for to obtain justice and fairness within the HOA government? Go for the bill! Support it!  Get what you can before the evil empire strikes back and whittles the bill down!  Yet, to my disappointment, a homeowner advocacy group has found problems with this bill, all relating to how it would cost the HOA more money. 

What is needed, as I’ve repeatedly argued, is strong support for the sponsor, Rep. Naquetta Ricks, and an outpouring of emails to the legislators, especially to the committee members who will hear the bill.  If there is a Request To Speak option at the legislature, sign up and use it!

Related issues

In a broader view of HOAs as private, separate local governments keep in mind what has been ignored and bypassed by state legislatures across the country, including Colorado. Why are there private HOA governments when there are public home rule, charter governments?   

All the states have a version of home rule that varies in the degree of independence granted to a local governments and under what terms.   Given this existing legal mechanism for strong, independent  local control, why was there a need for the creation and approval of, and the support for, private government HOAs?

 (See America’s homeland: HOA law vs. Home rule law; Colorado Constitution, Art. XX, §6, Home rule for cities and towns).

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 .

Colorado HB 1200 needs your active support

Colorado’s HB 1200,[i] brought to my attention by journalist Ruthy Wexler, is an outstanding bill that provides for the long ignored, not my job, state oversight of HOA violations. It is a measure that provides the constitutional protections against depriving “a person of property without due process of law” and against denying “the equal protection of the laws.” These protections have been denied by the HOA “constitution,” its CC&Rs. Although a private contract, these protections cannot be waived.

HB 1200 is a much more protective bill of homeowner rights and freedoms as was introduced in Arizona in 2006 and adopted in the face of stringent opposition by CAI. CAI then proceeded in 3 court cases over 4 years to have the statute declared unconstitutional and have the ruling applied to all Arizona HOAs. It almost won but the Arizona Supreme Court denied it precedent value and in 2011 the statute was amended to handle CAI’s claims of unconstitutionality. It is in operation today under Arizona’s real estate department.

I was actively involved in the creation of this Office of Admin. Hearings adjudication of HOA disputes and in the defense of its constitutionality.[ii]

The role of CAI, as presented above, should not be taken lightly. Strong and active homeowner support will be necessary to carry this bill to law. I commented on former Colorado Senate President Morgan Carroll’s book:

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.[iii]

Take heed Coloradans and get behind the sponsors today!

Notes

[i] HB 1200.

[ii] See AZ Supreme Court accepts advocate’s amicus brief in challenge to HOA statute.

[iii] See Why HOA reform advocates fail at legislative reforms (2011).

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).