HOAs are not a club; they are legally binding agreements

HOAs are not a club.  They are legally binding adhesion agreements in favor of the HOA government, the BOD, and seriously detrimental to homeowner property interests and member fundamental rights.   Members are at risk because the private “contractual” CC&Rs have been held superior to the US Constitution by the courts.  The facts are there in the public records and state HOA statutes known as “Acts.”

It is in the best interest of the members not to obediently agree to all the BOD says they should, but to get educated and discover the truth for themselves. If they can handle the truth. Discover for yourselves.

My seminal book, The HOA-Land Nation Within America  describes the collection of HOAs throughout America as “HOA-Land.” It identifies HOA-Land as a nation within America based on its culture, beliefs, values, and commonality of contractual CC&Rs acting as its constitution.

My sequel to HOA-Land Nation, A Plan Toward Restructuring the HOA Model of Governance, another seminal work,  presents the case for the restructuring of the HOA model of governance. It seeks to bring the private government HOA into compliance with and subject to the Constitution as required of all local governments.

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For important information, please see HOA board education in constitutionality

Restoring the lost Constitution to HOA-Land

Some 23% of Americans live in HOA-Land, that collection of fragmented independent principalities known, in general, as HOAs. Overwhelmingly their members swear by the HOA as the next best thing to Mom’s apple pie. It is hard to accept this undying loyalty to the HOA and its board of directors in view of the fact that their acceptance of HOAs is the result of an intentional indoctrination by national lobbying, business trade group that, in my mind, does not know how to spell “constitution.. Obviously then, those CAI surveys are suspect.

HOAs are separate, local private governments not subject to the constitution, and collectively constitute a nation within a defined geographical region known as the United States. “A nation consists of a distinct population of people that are bound together by a common culture, history, and tradition who are typically concentrated within a specific geographic region.”

“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.”

To provide the ignored but important and substantial aspects of the HOA legal scheme I have designated three books by StarMan Group under the collection, “Restoring the Lost Constitution to HOA-Land.” They are 1) HOA Common Sense: rejecting private government, a summary of 6 constitutional defects, 2) The HOA-Land Nation Within America, presenting the scope of outlaw private governments that deny constitutional protections to HOA members, and 3) The Plan to Restructure the Model of HOA Governance that advances a plan to restore the Constitution to HOAs while keeping the desired benefits of the “real estate package.” (All the above can be found on Amazon.com).

For a historical perspective of HOA-Land, see:

  • The Homes Associations Handbook (ULI, 1964). Not publicly available but I have a copy of the 434 page document).
  • Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government (1994), Evan McKenzie.
  • Community Associations: The Emergence and Acceptance of a Quiet Innovation in Housing (2000), Donald R. Stable. (ULI and CAI production).

(All the above, except for the Handbook,  can be found on Amazon.com).

The future form of HOA-Land

A little earlier I had commented that HOAs are here to stay, but face strong reforms. It was an appeal for all to get their voices heard and take the HOA-Public Attitude Survey. Allow me to clarify my position.

“HOA” has 2 common connotations: as a model of authoritarian private local government or as the real estate “package” of amenities, landscaping, and certain infrastructure. I have long maintained that the real estate package represents the end but the HOA government model is not the best means to achieve that end. And that state legislators have treated HOAs as independent principalities with their pro-HOA laws and support of de facto governments devoid of constitutional protections for HOA members.

The overwhelming reform legislation across the country presumes and accepts the validity of the governing documents and state laws. This is a loser position!

It implies the acceptance of the legitimacy of legal arguments supporting the governing documents and pro-HOA statutes. Advocates should be denying their validity and constitutionality; by failing to oppose these defensive arguments homeowners have put themselves in the weaker position of, Please sir, can I have some more justice? An example of reform legislation that challenges fundamental wrongs has been summarized in HOA Common Sense and the HOA-Land culture is presented in The HOA-Land Nation Within America .

Example: not only demanding the licensing HOA managers but holding them to the same statutes and rules   –  not CAI’s standards — as required of city/town manager; holding the BOD to the same standards as city/town councilmen. The constitutional arguments to use include: a violation of the equal protection of the law, holding the HOA as a state actor, or an unconstitutional special “franchise” of the state relating to these real estate “packages.” (“franchise: an authorization granted by a government or company to an individual or group enabling them to carry out specified commercial activities, e.g., providing a broadcasting service or acting as an agent for a company’s products.”

Advocates must not ignore these broad, constitutional arguments but educate themselves to understand them. I am urging advocates and homeowners to follow the path of the Founding Fathers who stopped toying with the Articles of Confederation as unworkable. Rather than continue to make the Articles work, they did away with them and created the Constitution of the United States.

HOA-Land will still be here but which form will it take? Spend another 30 years as before or go for fundamental reforms?

CAI maintains HOAs are protected by and do not violate the Constitution — not so!

Much to my surprise and astonishment I stumbled upon CAI’s press release on its website.[1] It informs the reader that all is well with the HOA legal scheme and there are no waivers of constitutional rights or other constitutionality problems. In fact, CAI claims that the Constitution protects the CC&Rs’ contract.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Americans do not waive their constitutional rights when they move into a community association. In fact, courts have found that community association residents, by enacting reasonable rules for their own communities, are actually exercising their constitutional rights of association, contract, expression and assembly. . . . By purchasing homes in association-governed communities, buyers enter into constitutionally protected agreements with their neighbors.

The U.S. Constitution gives community association residents the right to govern their own communities without the need to get government’s permission to adopt rules. This prerogative is at the core of individual property rights and is a tradition that dates to the very founding of our nation.

I am not surprised at CAI’s failure to mention yours truly by name, the only outspoken advocate on HOA constitutional violations[2] that emphatically objects to and challenges CAI’s simplified arguments that misrepresent the law.

 

First paragraph fallacies:

Apparently agreeing to  free speech restrictions on displaying signs or flying the flag and due process protections are not considered a waiver or surrender of rights by CAI. CAI’s position that the right to associate and to enter into private contracts is protected by the Constitution is a false and naïve argument. Can you and I privately agree to violate the Constitution, and to associate in community where its government is not subject to the same restrictions as public government?

There are conditions for a voluntary waiver and surrender of constitutional rights that the CC&Rs agreement fails to meet, especially when it comes to implied waivers — those not specifically stated. But somehow the courts enforce the CC&Rs as if they met the requirements for constitutional waivers, like the Twin Rivers[3] case that CAI is relying on. CAI doesn’t mention its amicus curiae that argued In the context of community associations, the unwise extension of constitutional rights to the use of private property by members (as opposed to the public) raises the likelihood that judicial intervention will become the norm . . . .” If no rights were waived, why then is CAI so concerned about restoring them?

I have raised the valid argument of misrepresentation in the selling process and that the buyer was misled and not fully informed as to the consequences of his entering HOA-Land. No one, who firmly believes that HOAs are good for America, has stepped forward and publically signed the Homeowner Association Consent to be Governed Agreement: A Model Act[4] that a sign-off of explicit waivers and surrenders of constitutional rights (in paragraph 3), including a waiver of the equal protection of the laws.

Second paragraph fallacies

I explain in “HOAs violate local home rule doctrine” (see note 2 below) that HOAs are allowed operate far beyond state laws relating to home rule statutes, granting HOAs independent political government powers are denied to legitimate home rule communities. Consequently, HOAs are being treated with special laws for special entities in violation of the Constitution, federal and state.

The question that I have raised, and ignored by CAI in its release and in other communications, is summed up in the following statement: “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.” In essence, HOAs have been allowed to operate outside the Constitution as authoritarian independent principalities, violating the fundamental principles and values underlying our American way of life.

While CAI publicizes its claims to be working for productive, healthy and desirable communities, it is apparent that these communities are not part the American system of democratic government. It advertises that it is an educational organization, yet conducts surveys to promote its view of what is good for HOA-Land.

References

[1] https://www.caionline.org/PressReleases/_layouts/15/WopiFrame.aspx? sourcedoc=/PressReleases/Media%20Statements/Homeowners%20and%20Constitutional%20Rights.doc&action=default. October 7, 2015. (I don’t know how long this has been there, but CAI has revised its website recently.)

[2] See in general, CC&Rs are a devise for de facto HOA governments to escape constitutional government; Unconstitutional delegation of power to HOAs; HOAs violate local home rule doctrine and are outlaw governments.

[3] CBTW v. Twin Rivers, 929 A.2d 1060 (2007).

[4] An example: “d). I understand that the association, as a private entity and not an arm of the state, is not subject to the restrictions and prohibitions of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution that otherwise protects the rights of the people against actions by public government entities; (g) that there are no equivalent clean or fair elections procedures to protect the integrity of the HOA election process as found in public government elections.http://pvtgov.org/pvtgov/agree-disclose-license.pdf.

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.