HOA boards are not required to uphold member fundamental rights

Folks, time for a reality check. You know I’ve repeatedly argued for constitutional protections and getting only slip-service.  As Prof. Evan McKenzie wrote in 1994 (Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government,

“CIDS [HOAs] currently engage in many activities that would be prohibited  if they were viewed  by the courts as the equivalent of local governments.” 

Many of your complaints, here and on other websites, reflect this reality of an authoritarian government that coerces consent.  HOA boards are not required to uphold member fundamental rights; neither are they obligated to be fair, just, understanding, or compassionate. HOAs are NOT public governments with these implied obligations.  It does not have to be that way! 

See HOA Common Sense and The HOA-Land Nation Within America.

Common Sense

An HOA is the governing body of a condominium or planned unit development (PUD) functioning for all intents and purposes as a de facto local political community government, but not recognized as such by state governments.

“Without fair elections procedures that contain enforcement against HOA board wrongful acts, including retaliatory acts and intimidation by the board, voting in an HOA is a mockery of democracy.  Is this HOA government better than public government?  Common sense tells us no!”

HOA-Land Nation

“Your HOA board (BOD) is unaccountable under state laws with trivial, if any, penalties or punishments for violations of state laws or the governing documents?  Without meaningful enforcement to hold BODs accountable and to serve as a detriment to continued violations, you are forced to sue just to get compliance.

 “The much touted HOAs are democratic because members can vote is utterly without merit?  Fair elections protections, as compared with those in the public arena, do not exist under a corporation law.  Members do not have equal access to HOA newsletters, website, member lists, and use of common amenity meetings rooms, among other denials.” 

DEMAND CONSTITUTIONAL AND FUNDAMENTAL PROTECTIONS!  Demand your legislators support such a bill as proposed HOA constitutionality bill.

Fair HOA voting at risk in CA – SB 391

In April of this year I urged support (CCHAL in Calif. stands up to CAI) for CCHAL’s (Center for California Homeowner Association Law) opposition to California’s SB 391 that would allow online vote counting with no meaningful homeowner oversight. Another defeat of fair elections as expected in a community claiming to be democratic. At that time, Marjorie Murray CCHAL President, wrote:

“’The Community Associations Institute (CAI) and the property managers (CACM) are still “stretching the truth’ about SB391 (to put it politely.) CAI and CACM keep publishing ads saying  ‘SB391 gives HOAs the right to hold teleconference meetings during an emergency.’ This is FALSE.”

Yesterday Murray wrote in her urgent call to action email,

“SB391 is a dangerous bill – it’s being marketed by the association industry as one that “engages homeowners in governance” when what it really does is strip owners of the right to transparency and accountability in elections.

“SB391 IS NOW ON THE SENATE FLOOR AND WILL BE VOTED ON NEXT WEEK.  BE READY TO PHONE YOUR SENATOR TO URGE ‘NO ON SB391/MIN!”  Please PHONE, don’t email.”

Get with it Californians! Your voice is needed as legislators pay attention to the widespread  voice of homeowners affected by the bill.

AZ Senate protects HOA misconduct rejecting HB 2052

The Arizona Senate is still sitting on HB 2052 since a month ago, March 1st,  a bill providing for member participation in HOA governance.  The bill  explicitly states, since the CC&Rs is seen as a contract, what the HOA cannot do and must allow for fair elections and meaningful  participation in HOA governance.

In the past I’ve addressed this constitutional question of fair elections in the HOA model of an authoritarian,  business form of governance.  I’ve provided examples of incidents and court cases reflecting this denial of fair elections, which exist in the public domain, as if the HOA is afraid of the democratic voice of its members.

In this writing I will call to your attention how an upscale, over 1,000 member HOA board — as a representative example of such HOAs — refuses to accept the facts laid before it that provide valid cause to conduct a due diligence examination; and to validate its positions in regard to its fiduciary obligations of good faith conduct and obedience to the governing documents.

Below I’ve copied parts of its application package provided to all candidates for  a director’s position. The package material clearly shows the BOD’s awareness of its fiduciary obligations and its required treatment with respect to the membership.

Obligations  and liabilities of directors

“Directors have a fiduciary duty to the Association and to each member.

“The duty of loyalty requires that:   Directors act in good faith  pursuant to a free, honest exercise of judgment not influenced by considerations other than the best interest of the Association.

“Failure to discharge the fiduciary duty can subject the Association to liability and subject the Director to personal liability. A Director can also be liable for illegal or tortuous acts of the Board of the Association if he/she participates in the decision to authorize the acts or knowingly fails to take steps to avoid the action. “[Emphasis added].

HOA control of the candidate process and campaigning

Getting down to the specific application of HB 2052, the relevant HOA’s candidacy procedures follow, with the opening line stating: “The Campaign and Election Policies have been carefully developed to provide a fair and clean process for candidates and all members.

While the specific policies are not clearly stated as whether prohibited or permitted, the overall tone is definitely of a prohibitive nature. The 14 points are shown as Exhibit 1 below. In sum, they include not using email listings; association facilities or agencies, clubs, etc. websites; no right to hold Q & A sessions independent of HOA;  no right to campaign through social media —  Facebook, Instagram, etc.; all advertising must be HOA approved; distributing flyers outside restaurants, presumably those within the HOA, or on common areas.

The policies of this HOA, and many other large-scale HOA are similar but not so detailed, demonstrate the failure of the board directors to act in good faith and as a fiduciary for the members.  For the HOA to argue that “The ends justify the means and we determine what’s good for the members, but the HOA entity comes first” is unsatisfactory and irrelevant. These policies reflect an authoritarian government that accepts the rejection of fundamental member democratic rights and privileges because they can hide behind the questionable legality of the CC&Rs.

There can be no excuse for HOA directors not being aware of the voluminous materials available for conducting their due diligence with respect to democratic, fair elections and member participation in HOA governance. They have been given plenty of notice, which subjects them to personal liabilities and prevents them from hiding behind “my attorney said it was OK,” or from acts of omission – doing nothing. 

This representative HOA’s policy so informs them of their liability. Yet, nothing is done to correct these violations of good faith. And still the directors, officers, and managers all demand respect! It’s shameless!

What is going on, you may ask?  Well, the board is setting policy for the acceptance of candidates without a vote of the membership. In other words, unless the proposed candidates are accepted by the BOD, the members have lost a candidate of their choosing. They have lost a meaningful participation in the governing of the HOA; they cannot disagree with the establishment!  So, if you thought your HOA was democratic, forget about it! 

Also, the BOD controls how candidates acceptable to them can campaign, placing severe restrictions not found in the fair public elections procedures.  See Exhibit 1 below. Again, members have lost their right to fair and free elections in HOA matters.

AZ Senate’s rejection of HB 2052

It is easily seen that  the AZ Senate supports these undemocratic polices as represented by this HOA’s practices. 

I have maintained that,

“Public policy today rejects constitutional government for HOAs allowing them to operate outside the law of the land. The policy makers have failed to understand that the HOA CC&Rs have crossed over the line between purely property restrictions to establishing unregulated and authoritarian private governments.”

See, CC&Rs are a devise for de facto HOA governments to escape Constitutional government; Reorienting the HOA board – fair elections; HOA Common Sense, No. 6: Fair and just hearings

And furthermore, “CIDS [HOAs] currently engage in many activities that would be prohibited  if they were viewed  by the courts as the equivalent of local federal amd Arizona governments.”  … Privatopia (1994), Evan McKenzie.

It is not too late for the Senators to meet their obligations to uphold the federal and Arizona Constitutions by passing HB 2052 into law.

Exhibit 1. HOA BOD campaign policies.

  1. Using email listings, electronic or websites of Neighborhood Representatives and Alternates, Charter Clubs, Interest Groups, community and specialty groups.
  2. Addressing a formal . . . Group (e.g., Neighborhood Representative, Charter Club, Interest Group, specialty group meetings, sports venues, etc.). However, a person’s right to free speech in casual conversations shall not be restrained.
  3. Participating in formal Q&A sessions and programs other than those sponsored by the . . . Election Team.
  4. Using Association facilities for campaign events for individual candidates.
  5. Removing other candidates’ campaign flyers from approved locations.
  6. Using the official . . . website, Facebook or Instagram social media accounts to promote your campaign or to use your personal social media accounts to defame or incite defamation of candidates, engaging in unkind innuendoes / slander / harassment at any time or in any setting.
  7. Posting campaign flyers on street signs, trees, light poles, motor vehicles, golf cars, lawns, windows, auto windshields, or in commercial buildings.
  8. Defacing approved campaign flyers.
  9. Using balloons, buttons, t-shirts, marked-up election ballot, etc. as campaign tools.
  10. Using advertising of any type (other than approved campaign statement and/or approved personal correspondence).
  11. Using multiple versions of campaign flyers at the same time.
  12. Placing flyers in mailboxes (against the law).
  13. Distributing campaign flyers outside the entrance of or in the restaurants.
  14. Distributing campaign flyers in common areas except as noted.

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.

Reorienting the HOA board – fair elections

Mentoring: Reorienting the HOA board – fair elections

I cannot overstate the profound damaging effect of the boilerplate CC&Rs covenants – the HOA-Land fair elections doctrine — that define the highly inadequate process and procedures alleged to be fair elections and approved by the member. In a democracy, the fair elections doctrine is the means for the expression of the will of the people and the consent to be governed by the HOA’s members. It is the fundamental basis for a valid consent to be governed. Unjust BOD biased election procedures deny the legitimacy of the HOA-Land doctrine.

In Dublirer the NJ Supreme Court held,

Dublirer’s expressional activity was ‘political-like speech’ because it related to the management and governance of the common-interest community. . . . [Dublirer’s] 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. . . . We therefore find that the Board’s House Rule violates the free speech guarantee in New Jersey’s Constitution.[1]

In California the appellate court held,

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).”[2]

Democracy Web[3] clarifies the importance of fair elections in a democracy.[4]

If consent of the governed is the most fundamental concept of democracy, its most essential right is that of citizens to choose their leaders in free, fair, and regular elections. Other rights are necessary to democracy; elections by themselves are insufficient. Yet the right to freely elect one’s representatives and to influence the political direction of one’s government is democracy’s indispensable political foundation.

Without free elections, there is neither the possibility for citizens to express their will nor the opportunity for citizens to change their leaders, approve policies for the country, address wrongs, or protest the limitation of their rights. Elections establish the citizenry’s and the individual’s political rights. They are the ongoing representation of the consent of the governed

As it stands HOAs cannot be described as a democracy, or a democratic business as CAI’s Tom Skiba(CEO) alleged,[5] so long as the current fair elections doctrine remains in place.

Community associations are not governments — many years of legislation and court rulings have established that fact beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet they are clearly democratic in their operations, electing their leadership from among the homeowners on a periodic basis.

In an unbelievable doubletalk and excellent example of the pot calling the kettle black and Orwell’s DoubleSpeak, Skiba asserts,[6]

The solution to that problem is not to replace democracy with tyranny, royalty, or some other form of government, but to work to make the democratic process better and to hold those elected accountable. . . .

I for one prefer the democratic principles that have served this country for more than 230 years, as frustrating as the process can sometimes be, rather than the various failed alternatives washed up on history’s shores.

In addition, while the appellate court upheld California’s HOA fair elections statutes,[7] the California CAI Legislative Action Committee opposed the decision in support of democratic functions in HOAs.[8]  And not unexpectedly, this “front-line” position is in conflict with the CAI policy:

Community associations are one of the most representative and responsive forms of democracy in America today. Residents of a community freely elect neighbors to serve on the board of directors of the community. Numerous other owners or residents  serve on committees and help with special tasks as they arise.”[9]

Simply unbelievable! Believable!

State legislation to reform HOA fair elections

I am well aware, and you may raise the fact, that state laws and CC&Rs vary quite a bit in regard to voting and director elections. Some say very little except quorum requirements and secret or mail-in ballots; some require independent elections committees and vote counters, or the right to view the ballots, etc. but they all hold true to the Handbook that places strong control within the hands of the BOD. This is especially true when the BOD must approve candidates or propose amendments or rules without real member participation and voice.

Attempts to correct these injustices are found in many states. I am pleased to see that 2 legislators (Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land) in the NJ Assembly understand HOA constitutional issues and have sponsored a bill, A-3163 (2013), accordingly. The Cape May County Herald[10] reports,

Homeowner’s Associations must operate under similar rules and procedures as other governing bodies,” Andrzejczak said.  “A resident’s interest and right to approve and elect board members must be preserved. And setting clearer, more fair and unified set of rules for board elections and a clarifying a resident’s ability to recall will help to do just that.

Homeowners living in developments are still consumers and must be protected under the law,” said Land. “Ensuring their right to fair elections and protecting their right to choose board members, who will make decisions on their behalf, is a measure of consumer protection that they simply deserve as property owners.

California’s SB 323 (2019) fair elections bill was made law stating, in part,

A member of an association may bring a civil action for declaratory or equitable relief for a violation of this article by the association. . . . Section (b) is modified to read, “A member who prevails in a civil action to enforce the member’s rights . . . the court may impose a civil penalty of up to five hundred dollars ($500) for each violation.”

Arizona’s SB 1412, making progress at the legislature, also seeks political content protections in HOA politics. It seeks to prohibit HOAs and condos from restricting political free speech. Members are permitted to associate, meet, discuss, show signs regarding political activity.  Key wording:

“AN INDIVIDUAL MEMBER OR GROUP OF MEMBERS MAY ORGANIZE TO DISCUSS OR ADDRESS PLANNED COMMUNITY BUSINESS, INCLUDING BOARD ELECTIONS OR RECALLS, POTENTIAL OR ACTUAL BALLOT ISSUES . . . .”

Why are these unjust and unconstitutional covenants, conditions and restrictions allowed to stand?   The misguided mission and vision statements meant to deceive; the failure to act in the interest of the members; the failure to reject the business judgment rule[11] that serves to protect the BODs over the rights of the members; and the employment of the inequitable HOA fair elections doctrine that deny a genuine consent of the governed.

The answer is obvious to those willing and able to handle the truth. The vast majority of the members have lost their freedom of mind.[12] They appear to be RWA followers[13] of the authoritarian[14] BOD. They have been thoroughly indoctrinated into the teachings of the CAI School of HOA Governance[15] where real estate attorneys provide advice on how to run the HOA and what’s good for the community.

All the more reason for this seminal position paper, Restructuring the HOA Model of Governance. All the more reason for a restructuring of the HOA model and a reorienting of HOA directors and officers to return lost constitutional principles.

 

Notes

[1] Dublirer v. 2000 Linwood Avenue Owners NO. 2011 069154 (N.J. 2014).

[2] Damon v. Ocean Hills, 102 Cal.Rptr.2d 205 (2000).

[3] Democracy Web emerged from the longstanding effort of the Albert Shanker Institute (ASI) and its founding organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), to foster education for democracy in America’s schools. (Scroll down to About).

[4] Democracy Web,  scroll down to Essential Principles.

[5] Tom Skiba, Community Associations Institute Blog, Ungated, April 2, 2008.

[6] Id.

[7] Wittenberg v. Beachwalk HOA,  NO. G046891 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. June 26, 2013).

[8]Appeals Court Ensures Equal Access During Elections”, Blog of the Community Associations Institute California Legislative Action Committee, July 9, 2013.

[9] Section 8 in An Introduction to Community Association Living (2006),

[10] Herald.com (Cape May County NJ, Dec. 8, 2016).

[11] See Reorienting the HOA board: business judgment rule in the Plan.

[12] See “Cultural Dynamics of HOA-Land,” The HOA-Land Nation Within America (2019); HOA Social Dynamics — Freedom of mind pt. 1 (2020) George K. Staropoli.

[13] Robert Altemeyer, The Authoritarians, (2007).

[14] See HOA political dynamics: totalitarian democracy, George K. Staropoli (2019). “Followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want–which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal.” See survey on HOA authorianism,

[15] 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.