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.

On stopping HOA bullies and rediscovering lost values

Excerpts of guest blogs by George Staropoli on Ward Lucas’ blog, Neighbors at War!

 

Rediscovering Values

For a society, a community, to function in an orderly manner there must be not only rules, but a firm belief in the need to enforce just and fair rules and laws. Political philosophy says that where laws are unjust and unfair, then the democratic government is not legitimate, cause the reason for forming a social contract and surrendering freedoms is just that.

On Stopping Bullies

Proposed HOA reforms must include necessary and sufficient detriments to put an end to HOA bullying and abuse. People do not become angels when they become a board member, like our astute, politically savvy legislatures would like you to believe.

 If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.  James Madison, The Federalist Papers, # 51.

 

 

Getting the Feds involved in HOA reforms

As apparent from the Illinois Supreme Court opinion[i] favoring HOAs, the Feds need to get involved. However, the Feds, like state attorney generals, have no specific authority to get involved – HOA/condo states are state laws, except for those federal laws like the American Disabilities Act and Fair Housing.

A broader approach is necessary in order to wake up the Feds, and that can come about by an appellate or US Supreme Court case decision on 1) violations of a homeowner’s constitutional rights, or 2) a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause brought under federal law § 42 U.S.C. 1983, Civil action for deprivation of rights. This approach would be similar to the whistle blower law suits of Erin Brockovich or Jeffrey Wigand (tobacco nicotine is addictive).

Read the paper at constitutional rights . . . .

 

[i] See IL Supreme Court holds HOAs “are a creature of statute,” and not contractual.

IL Supreme Court holds HOAs “are a creature of statute,” and not contractual

Last month the IL Supreme Court opinion in Spanish Court[1] reversed the right of an owner to withhold assessments in view of the HOA’s failure to fix and maintain.[2] In its argument, frequently making use of pro-HOA activist and CAI CCAL attorney in Florida, Gary Poliakoff, the Court stated,

 

Although contract principles have sometimes been applied to the relationship between a condominium association and its unit owners based on the condominium’s declaration, bylaws, and rules and regulations . . . the relationship is largely a creature of statute, defined by the provisions of the Condominium Act. . . . Although these duties may also be reflected in the condominium declaration and bylaws, as they are in this case, they are imposed by statute and exist independent of the association’s governing documents. Accordingly, a unit owner’s obligation to pay assessments is not akin to a tenant’s purely contractual obligation to pay rent, which may be excused or nullified because the other party failed to perform. ¶ 21.

So much for the sanctity of the CC&Rs contract! The Court, guided not only by Poliakoff, but by a CAI amicus curiae brief,[3] rolls with the punches and chooses when and when not to uphold the contractual nature of the governing documents.

The Court avoided dealing with the equitable aspects of withholding assessments just like withholding rent, rejecting the favorable appellate decision that held,

[T]he obligation to pay assessments, and the obligation to repair and maintain the common elements, as mutually exchanged promises, and concluded that under principles of contract law, a material breach of the repair obligation could warrant nonpayment of assessments. ¶ 7.

Adding fuel to the fire, the Illinois Supreme Court followed the CAI propaganda that the HOA’s survival depends on assessments being paid immediately and without question.

This section [of the IL condo act] was adopted to provide a constitutionally permissible, quick method for collection of assessment arrearages. . . . The necessity of a “quick method” for collection of past due assessments, unencumbered by extraneous matters, is manifest when we consider the manner in which condominium associations operate . . . . the condominium form of property ownership only works if each unit owner faithfully pays his or her share of the common expenses. When a unit owner defaults in the payment of his or her assessments, the resulting forcible entry and detainer action is thus brought “for the benefit of all the other unit owners.” ¶¶ 29 -30.

Permitting a unit owner’s duty to pay assessments to be nullified would thus threaten the financial stability of condominium associations throughout this state. . . . For the same reason that taxpayers may not lawfully decline to pay lawfully assessed taxes because of some grievance or claim against the taxing governmental unit, a condominium unit owner may not decline to pay lawful assessments. Trustees of the Prince Condominium Trust v. Prosser, 592 N.E.2d 1301.” ¶ 32.

 

Here we have the alleged dicta [non-supported court opinions], and becoming part of the Illinois public policy, that the survival of the HOA/condo is first and foremost. The HOA rises to the same level as a public entity, with the questionable governing documents now having contractual validity and court support to deny homeowner rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities.

 

Welcome to the New America of HOA-Land.

References

 

[1] http://www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2014/115342.pdf.

[2] See appellate decision Court decisions: HOA Enlightenment Movement vs. the Dark Ages.

[3]Spanish Court Condominium Association II vs. Carlson (Illinois),” CAI Amicus Curiae Activity 2013.

Defending the Constitution: VA, yes; AZ, no

With the removal of the statutory imposed right of an HOA to fine members from Virginia’s  HB 791, the VA legislature demonstrated that it stood behind the separation of powers doctrine of the US and VA constitutions.

I had written VA Rep. Suorvell and Senator Petersen, who opposed the bill as it was written, about the Virginia Supreme Court’s findings in Gillman v. Unit Owners, which said HOA fines were unconstitutional.

In Gillman the Virginia Supreme Court held,

We do not agree that it was ever the intent of the General Assembly of Virginia that the owners of units in a condominium be a completely autonomous body, or that such would be permitted under the federal and state constitutions. Admittedly, the Act is designed to and does permit the exercise of wide powers by an association of unit owners. However, these powers are limited by general law and by the Condominium Act itself.

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. . . . We think it clear that the Gillmans were being punished, not assessed, and hold the action of the Association to have been impermissible.

 And very importantly from a constitutional point of view (my emphasis), “A condominium restriction or limitation, reasonably related to a legitimate purpose, does not inherently violate a fundamental right and may be enforced if it serves a legitimate purpose and is reasonably applied.”

Sadly, the Arizona Legislature is still trying to pass for a 4th and 5th time (two versions of last year’s trice defeated HB 2371/SB 1454).  It would allow unlicensed and untrained HOA property managers to represent HOAs in small claims court and in administrative hearings;  but not allow the homeowner a third-party representative, violating the equal application of the laws and no special laws for special groups provisions of the US and AZ  constitutions.

What is the legitimate AZ government purpose to selectively deny homeowner equal representation?  Does it reasonably promote good public policy?

Published in: on March 7, 2014 at 3:35 pm  Comments (8)  
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