SB 1008, Virginia’s ‘HOA Bill of Rights': an illusion of justice

The Virginia Legislation passed SB 1008 that modified the Code of Virginia adding a “Statement of Lot/Unit Owner Rights,” sections 55-79.72:3 and 55-509.3:1.  It sounds like a Bill of Rights, but the 5 items merely repeat existing law without meaningful and effective enforcement.

Consider that Virginia has a constitutional Bill of Rights, Article 1, that contains section 14,

Government should be uniform. That the people have a right to uniform government; and, therefore, that no government separate from, or independent of, the government of Virginia, ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof. 

It seems that HOA private governments violate Virginia’s Constitution.

Furthermore, take the first 2 clauses of Section 11, “That no person shall be deprived of his life, liberty, or property without due process of law; that the General Assembly shall not pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts.”  Compare the “fine print” of SB 1008 that adds, “the right of due process in the conduct of that hearing(my emphasis), referring to the section on enforcement of rules, (Sec. 55-513 or 55-79.80:2).  The enforcement section specifies the hearing in accordance with the [governing] documents, the member shall be given an opportunity to be heard and to be represented by counsel before the board of directors or other tribunal specified in the documents.”  Does that mean that the counsel is restricted to seeing that the homeowner is allowed to be heard, or is there more?

I have not come across a governing document that calls for hearings that allow presentation of documents and witnesses and the questioning of this evidence, or that the tribunal be an independent body. My point is, What does due process meaning in the context of SB 1008?  Is it under the constitutional bill of rights meaning, or constrained by the CC&Rs and bylaws private contracts?  Sounds like same ol’, same ol’.

Legislation without effective enforcement through monetary penalties is merely a recommendation that relies on the good faith of the parties, namely the board and its attorney and manager advisors.  But, we know all about the good faith acts of many of these responsible parties, especially those of rogue boards that ignore the laws and governing documents or knowingly violate them with impunity.

It would have been so much simpler to have these details spelled out in this one page bill if, indeed, justice for homeowners was sought.

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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CC&Rs are a devise for de facto HOA governments to escape constitutional government

This commentary takes a long look at the validity of HOA covenants and the need for judicial enforcement in order to invoke state action with respect to fundamental rights and freedoms.   It informs the reader that such enforcement depends upon the member’s voluntary agreement to be bound by the declaration, and raises issues of the lack of genuine agreement.  The agreement requirement is not analyzed under contract law, but under HOA law that has been designed to protect the HOA and position the declaration as the supreme law of the HOA community.

Long ago in 1994 Professor McKenzie wrote, “HOAs currently engage in many activities that would be prohibited if they were viewed by the courts as the equivalent of local governments.[i]

Two years after Marsh v. Alabama[ii] — the 1946 Supreme Court opinion setting the misguided “public functions” test for a municipality — the Court specifically dealt with the question of the constitutionality of restrictive covenants.  The issue in Shelly v. Kraemer[iii] was “that judicial enforcement of the restrictive agreements in these cases has violated rights guaranteed to petitioners by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

With respect to restrictive covenant enforcement the Shelly court said:  “That the action of state courts and of judicial officers in their official capacities is to be regarded as action of the State [‘state action’] within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, is a proposition which has long been established by decisions of this Court. . . . The federal guaranty of due process extends to state action through its judicial as well as through its legislative, executive, or administrative branch of government.”   The Court held “that in granting judicial enforcement of the restrictive agreements in these cases, the States have denied petitioners the equal protection of the laws and that, therefore, the action of the state courts cannot stand” (my emphasis).

Unfortunately, the Court chose a narrow view of this issue limiting it to that involving racial discrimination.  A more expansive application of the 14th Amendment can easily be applied to any covenant that violates a member’s rights, freedoms or privileges and immunities as a citizen, but that has not been the case.

The 1976 Florida case, Brock v. Watergate Mobile Home,[iv] directly addressed the question of an HOA declaration and its actions under the Declaration.  It used the Marsh “public functions” test and the additional “close nexus” test (HOA action is closely resembles government action). No state action was found.  The HOA was not like a company town and the state’s involvement, as occurred in the limited context of the case, was not a close nexus.

Please understand that CC&RS and covenants are not automatically invalid or unconstitutional.  It requires a court to declare them so, at the expense of a homeowner lawsuit.  

Also, it is important to note that the court question was not about the validity of a restrictive covenant itself, but the court enforcement of that covenant. (This requires a lawsuit in which the court upholds the covenant and a subsequent lawsuit charging a violation of the 14th Amendment.)  The Shelly court’s view was that as the 14th Amendment applied “only to governmental action, as contrasted to action of private individuals, there was no showing that the covenants, which were simply agreements between private property owners, were invalid.”   Furthermore, “[The 14th] Amendment erects no shield against merely private conduct, however discriminatory or wrongful” (my emphasis).  In Arizona, today, the appellate court is to decide whether a CAI attorney amendment to Terravita’s CC&Rs that directly contradicts state law will be held valid.[v]  Behold the power of private contracts!

In view of the above we can ask, what makes a valid agreement?  Fortunately, a condition was attached to this view, which is never ever mentioned by pro-HOA supporters including those renowned CAI attorneys: “So long as the purposes of those agreements are effectuated by voluntary adherence to their terms. Sadly the courts have unquestionably accepted the validity of the CC&Rs as a voluntary agreement and this consent to be bound has become legal doctrine. For example, in Midlake v. Cappuccio the PA appellate court upheld a valid consent to agree by the buyer at time of purchase: “The Cappuccios contractually agreed to abide by the provisions in the Declaration at the time of purchase, thereby relinquishing their freedom of speech concerns regarding placing signs on this property.”[vi]   There have been numerous other cases where the court has upheld a valid consent to agree per se and a waiver/surrender of constitutional rights under said holding.

But, is there a genuine consent to agree?  I have written several commentaries about the lack of a genuine consent to agree as a result of misrepresentation, fraud, half-truths and hidden factors not fully disclosed to homebuyers.[vii]  Certainly not according to contract law 101 with its requirements for full disclosure, a meeting of the minds, and absence of fraud.

Unfortunately, once again, HOA declarations and covenants are seen as a law unto themselves that is based on a cutting and pasting of various laws, including constitutionality law, to provide for the protection and survival of HOAs.  We have pro-HOA statutes in every state and a Restatement of Servitudes[viii] (covenants) that was written to promote and protect HOAs. “Therefore this Restatement is enabling toward private government, so long as there is full disclosure[ix] (my emphasis).

The Restatement advises judges — and is regarded as precedent — that its collection of laws known as HOA law dominates all others.   Section 6.13, comment a, states: “The question whether a servitude unreasonably burdens a fundamental constitutional right is determined as a matter of property law, and not constitutional law”. Section 3.1, comment h, states: “in the event of a conflict between servitudes law and the law applicable to the association form, servitudes law should control.”

And we have CAI, the national HOA lobbying organization, repeatedly making it clear that the HOA is a city-state, an independent principality, and the decisions of the HOA are the supreme law of the community.[x]  It is easily concluded why CAI has vehemently denied and opposed any reference or declaration that HOAs are de facto governments — mini or quasi-governments — and argue that HOAs remain free from constitutional restrictions on government entities.

HOAs have been institutionalized under this state of affairs, this public policy, and unquestionably accepted as this is the way it is.  Nothing will improve the conditions to which HOA residents are subject unless HOA public policy changes. Public policy today rejects constitutional government for HOAs and allows HOAs to operate outside the law of the land.

The policy makers fail to understand that the terms and conditions of the HOA CC&Rs cross over the line between purely property restrictions to establishing unregulated and authoritarian private governments.

 

References

[i] Evan McKenzie, Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Governments, Yale Univ. Press, 1994.

[ii] Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946). The holding was that a company town was no different from a municipal town.

[iii] Shelly v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948).

[iv] Brock v. Watergate Mobile Home, 502 So. 2d 1380 (Fla. 4th Dist. App. 1987). This case was a civil rights violations case based on 42 US 1983 as a result of various acts by the HOA.

[v] Brown v. Terravita, 1 CA-CV 14-455. See Will Arizona allow HOA covenants to dominate state laws? and  Does the Constitution support the will of the HOA no matter what?

[vi] Midlake  v. Cappuccio, 673 A.2d 340 (Pa.Super. 1996) (PA appellate court). .

[vii] See “Consent to be governed, No. 4,HOA Common Sense: rejecting private governmentProposed “consent to be governed” statute, the “Truth in HOAs” bill; and court examines consent and surrender of rights in HOA CC&Rs.

[viii] Restatement Third, Property: Servitudes (American Law Institute 2000).

[ix] Id., From the Forward: “Professor Susan French [Reporter (chief editor/contributor) for this Restatement] begins with the assumption . . . that we are willing to pay for private government because we believe it is more efficient than [public] government  . . . . Therefore this Restatement is enabling toward private government, so long as there is full disclosure . . . .”

[x] See CAI: the HOA form of government is independent of the US Constitution;  Misrepresentation: CAI comes with unclean hands and Will the real CAI standup: its contradictory beliefs, pronouncements and goals.

Will Arizona allow HOA covenants to dominate state laws?

Jan. 3, 2015 Dear Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs,

You have always been a firm supporter of OAH adjudication of HOA disputes, and I find myself asking, once again, for your support to maintain the integrity of the Office of Administrative Hearings.  The opposition of CAI (“The Community Associations Institute (CAI) is OPPOSED to [the 2014] Senate Bill 1334 (HOAs; hearings; attorney fees).)” to this bill is appalling and unconscionable since the bill attempted to prevent HOAs from taking a giant step toward the status of an independent principality not subject to state laws. (See Establishing the New America of Independent HOA Principalities, 2008)

In its effort to silence Bill Brown, an outspoken critic of his Teravitta HOA government’s policies and actions, CAI attorney firm Ekmark & Ekmark redrafted the CC&Rs in disregard to state law and judicial holdings, as I believe he so informed you.  As occurred with the 2006 OAH enabling act, which was repeatedly attacked by the CAI member firm of Carpenter, Hazelwood, CAI has taken the position that a private contract can override state laws. I am not talking about a surrender or waiver of rights and privileges, but state law!  This is a slippery slope to a more firm status of HOAs independent principalities indeed, without any government oversight.

Such an audacious slap at Arizona’s constitutional system of government cannot be allowed to stand! It is an act violating the constitution as the supreme law of the land. Today, the courts have allowed HOAs to modify municipal ordinances without any state oversight and approval. It is long held doctrine that HOA covenants that are unconstitutional or violate public policy, or that are unreasonable or arbitrary and capricious are invalid and notwithstanding (See Sec. 3.1, Restatement of Property: Servitudes). Now, this doctrine has been intentionally and deliberately challenged and ignored by attorneys of the business trade entity, CAI. This brazen act, placing Arizona on a dangerous slippery slope, is in defiance of the Arizona Constitution and state laws and cannot be allowed to stand.

 The bill can be resubmitted as is with a small change to the last paragraph.

 “41-2198.01.

“J. NOTWITHSTANDING ANY PROVISION IN THE CONDOMINIUM DOCUMENTS AS  DEFINED IN SECTION 33-1202 OR THE PLANNED COMMUNITY DOCUMENTS AS DEFINED IN SECTION 33-1802, THE ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING OFFICER AND THE DEPARTMENT MAY NOT MAKE AN AWARD OF ATTORNEY FEES TO THE ASSOCIATION  ANY PARTY IN ANY MATTER FILED7 PURSUANT TO SUBSECTION B OF THIS SECTION.”

(Link to SB 1334 (2014): http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/51leg/2r/bills/sb1334s.pdf.)

FYI, I provide the following links to materials and supporting documents of CAI’s hypocrisy, saying one thing to the policy makers and another to the public.  Please read them, for they reveal CAI’s policy that HOAs should be treated as independent principalities while seeking legislative support for this secession from the State of Arizona.

  1. CAI: the HOA form of government is independent of the US Constitution
  2. Will the real CAI standup: its contradictory beliefs, pronouncements and goals
  3. Misrepresentation: CAI comes with unclean hands

Please sponsor this modified SB 1334 in the name of justice and the Constitution of the State of Arizona. I thank you for your earlier support of HOA reform bills. Respectfully, George K. Staropoli

Published in: on January 4, 2015 at 11:14 am  Comments (3)  
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NJ Supreme Court upholds constitution against HOA free speech electioneering violations

Those familiar with rogue HOAs have seen this occur time after time – board control of the electioneering process.   In, Dublirer, a NJ Supreme Court case, [1]

The [condo] Board, citing a ‘House Rule’ that barred soliciting and distributing any written materials, denied the request. On prior occasions, though, the Board had distributed written ‘updates’ under apartment doors throughout the building, which criticized the Board’s opponents. The resident filed a lawsuit and claimed that the House Rule was unconstitutional.”

Finally, a state supreme court said enough is enough and free speech in elections for members dominates the governing documents, and the state constitution prevails (This case was not filed under federal laws).

Under that approach, we find that the Board’s policy violates the free speech clause of the State Constitution. The important right of residents to speak about the governance of their community, which presents a minimal intrusion when a leaflet is placed under a neighbor’s apartment door, outweighs the Board’s concerns. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division.

The panel [appellate decision] noted that Dublirer’s expressional activity was ‘political-like speech’ because it related to the management and governance of the common-interest community. The panel found that the restriction left Dublirer without reasonable alternative means to convey his message.”

Thus, even though Dublirer did not run for public office, his message was akin to and should be treated as political speech, which is entitled to the highest level of protection in our society. . . . If anything, speech about matters of public interest, and about the qualifications of people who hold positions of trust, lies at the heart of our societal values.

Essentially, members – and speaking with respect to member-owners — must be given equal access to the membership as long as the campaign does not excessively disrupt the “tranquility” of the community. Suitable means must be given to members to allow for free speech expressions. The HOA had argued, beyond technicalities that were dismissed, that members had no free speech rights.  Imagine that!  CAI’s description of HOAs as democracies was just contradicted!

The Court held,

“On balance, we find that the restriction on Dublirer’s right to disseminate his written materials to neighbors is unreasonable. Dublirer’s right to promote his candidacy, and to communicate his views about the governance of the community in which he lives, outweigh the minor interference that neighbors will face from a leaflet under their door. In short, Dublirer’s right to free speech outweighs the Board’s concerns about the use of the apartment building. We therefore find that the Board’s House Rule violates the free speech guarantee in New Jersey’s Constitution.”

It appears that this Court believes that HOAs are akin to public governments and the election of board members is tantamount to a local public election and must be constitutionally protected.  To ensure that local community government works for the member-owners, don’t due process protections and the equal protection of the laws under the 14th Amendment require judicial enforcement against HOA violations?  And that these rights deserve supremacy over privately drafted contracts that have as their objective the dismissal of constitutional protections?  I think so!  So should state legislators!

As for CAI’s amicus brief, it denied free speech rights to homeowners, declared HOAs are businesses and members are like stockholders during board elections, and other non-constitutional methods were available so forget about applying constitutional law.  Sounds like a belief that HOAs are indeed independent principalities (See Establishing the New America: a new book).

CAI cannot allow HOAs to be treated as equivalent to state entities.  See Commentary posted here.

Note 1.  “BRIEF OF PUTATIVE AMICUS CURIAE COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS INSTITUTE – NEW JERSEY CHAPTER,” Michael S. Karpoff, Jan. 3, 2013 (Dublirer v. 2000 Linwood Avenue Owners Assn, N.J. Docket 069154 (2014)).

CAI: the HOA form of government is independent of the US Constitution

In its amicus brief in the NJ Supreme Court Dublirer case [1] involving free speech in an HOA election campaign, CAI clearly makes the point that HOAs are not subject to constitutional protections and elections processes are covered solely by the HOA governing documents.

These rights of members do not arise from the State Constitution but rather from statutes, contract, the association’s and governing board’s fiduciary duties, public policy and fundamental fairness.

In light of these statutory, contractual and common law standards protecting the interests of community association members, they need not claim constitutional protection from the conduct of governing boards to exercise their rights with respect to the associations.

What CAI is saying is that the pro-HOA statutes that it helped write and the adhesion contracts executed under misrepresentation [2] supersede the protections of constitutional law.

Furthermore, CAI attempts a strenuous argument of “the sky is falling” if free speech was allowed in private HOA communities, which would doom the essential private nature of HOAs.

CAI-NJ’s concern is the attempt to convert private communities into constitutional actors and to open such communities to access not only to speakers from within the community but also to the public, while ignoring contractual agreements and non-constitutional protections.

This case did not deal with outside speakers, but a member running for office and seeking equal access to the membership. CAI then raises another of its favorite “cause celebres” — HOAs are businesses.  Read this fantastic argument:

The relationship between the plaintiff and the defendants here is that of a business corporation and so is similar to that involved in any other business corporation. A shareholder who wishes to run for a position on a corporate board has no right to post campaign signs on the corporation’s property. Moreover, if such a shareholder wishes to distribute campaign literature to the other shareholders before the issuance of the corporation’s annual meeting announcement and proxy, such shareholder must do so at his own expense. Dublirer’s position vis a vis the cooperative here is no different. He has no constitutional right to distribute his campaign materials within the cooperative’s property simply because mailing them to the other tenant/shareholders may cost him money”.

This in the trenches argument stands in stark contrast to CAI’s propaganda statements made for public consumption that HOAs are democratic and represent the best town hall democracy in America.  If HOAs are businesses, why is the term ‘community” used rather than “cooperative”? For example, like “building vibrant, harmonious, competent cooperatives.”

And finally, CAI makes its last ditch appeal that there are other non-constitutional protections for HOA members so the court need not introduce the Constitution into HOA-Land.  Let them remain independent principalities where hired-hand stakeholders like CAI can control and dominate.

This is CAI’s most fearful event of all, that the courts will hold HOAs as constitutional actors or state entities and subject HOAs to the 14th Amendment protections.  This state of affairs would be the death knell not of HOAs, but of the need for CAI itself.  And CAI well knows and fears this eventual outcome.

These views by CAI before the courts and not propaganda for public consumption must be made known to the media and to all state legislatures and legislators.  Then the legislators must be asked where they stand? Behind the Constitution or behind CAI?

Notes

  1. BRIEF OF PUTATIVE AMICUS CURIAE COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS INSTITUTE – NEW JERSEY CHAPTER,” Michael S. Karpoff, Jan. 3, 2013 (Dublirer v. 2000 Linwood Avenue Owners Assn, N.J. Docket 069154 (2014)).
  2. Misrepresentation: CAI comes with unclean hands.
Published in: on December 10, 2014 at 12:08 pm  Comments (4)  
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