CA bill AB 1410 –  a step backwards for HOA homeowner rights

In 2018, California Civil Code §4515 was a major step in restoring fundamental protections for free speech by members with respect to HOA governing issues.

“(a) It is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that members and residents of common interest developments have the ability to exercise their rights under law to peacefully assemble and freely communicate with one another and with others with respect to common interest development living or for social, political, or educational purposes.”

AND JUSTICE FOR ALL

Now, AB 1410 seeks to restrict these rights under the guise, it seems, that the HOA website is private and therefore it can adopt restrictive rules legally. In a typical “what you see is not what you get” maneuver, the bill would grant the HOA the power to moderate message content in strict opposition to legal holdings — that content based free speech is protected and any editing must be unbiased.

The bill sections start with §4515,

“(b)  The governing documents, including bylaws and operating line 4 rules, shall not prohibit a member or resident of a common interest line 5 development from doing any of the following:”

But watch out, what is granted is now removed under (b)(6) subparagraphs (B) and (C), and especially (D). In a “flip-flop,” designed in my view to confuse the average homeowner, it then informs the homeowner that he is still protected because the HOA must follow the rules it is attempting to circumvent. (pp. 93-94).

What’s the point? To make  it difficult for homeowners to understand the legislation and their rights all well knowing that those in power will only cite the pro-HOA points and omit the pro-homeowner protections.

GOTCHA AGAIN! Don’t fall for it!

This attempt by Rep. Rodriquez feels like an anti-slapp move if it were in the courts — an action to stifle free speech. Marjorie Murray presents 2 instances of where an anti-slapp motion can and should be used against the HOA. Contact Murray (info@calhomelaw.org) for more information.

Center for California HOA Law opposes the bill and urges Californians to contact their representatives and Judiciary Chair by phone. The committee will hear this bill this week.

AZ Supreme Court landmark HOA opinion

For the times they are a-changin’”[1]

The Arizona Supreme Court opinion in Kalway[2] is, in my view,  a landmark opinion supporting and protecting individual property rights of homeowners in HOAs that are subject to a broad, procedural CC&Rs amendment procedure.  The boilerplate CC&Rs in an intentional denial of fundamental property rights strip away eminent domain protections by ignoring the content of CC&Rs amendments —  anything and everything goes!

Referring to AZ statute 33-1817(A) that allows amendments solely based on a majority vote of the members, the Court stated:

“But § 33-1817(A) does not displace the common law, which  prohibits some amendments even if passed by a majority vote. The original declaration must give sufficient notice of the possibility of a future amendment; that is, amendments must be reasonable and foreseeable.”

The Court cited its 2010 opinion in Dreamland,[3]

“We agree that these cases tend to support the homeowners, in that each refuses enforcement of a new covenant that markedly changed the obligations of the implicated lot owners. . . . in those cases where courts disallowed the amendment of covenants, the impact upon the objecting lot owner was generally far more substantial and unforeseeable than the amendment at issue [in the case before it]

I had addressed these concerns  regarding the Dreamland decision in my 2009-2010 Commentaries that provide  details on these substantive issues.[4]

Although not stated were issues of due process, equal protection of the laws, and eminent domain takings — not raised in the initial complaint or appeal, so the courts  did not offer a direct opinion —  this  opinion strikes at HOA eminent domain takings of homeowner property rights.  It also dealt with the question of homeowner notice (due process) and unexpected and unreasonable modifications to the CC&Rs (lack of equal protection under CC&Rs private eminent domain rights).

* * * *

The above represents my perspective as a longtime 22-year homeowner rights advocate and activist.  CAI Arizona has a different perspective favoring HOAs and their decisionmakers, the board of directors.[5]. Its presentation starts with the overall court opinion.

“Based on this recent case law, CC&R amendments must be reasonable and foreseeable in order to be enforceable. In other words, community associations can no longer amend CC&Rs to create new obligations where the original CC&Rs did not provide owners notice that they may be subject to the new obligations.”

But then adds its spin and advertising appeal:

“Please note that these amendments are specific to Calabria Ranch and its CC&Rs. In other words, an amendment that the Arizona Supreme Court found invalid in the Calabria Ranch case may be found valid for a different community association. Again, we strongly recommend consulting with the CHDB team to analyze your community association’s specific CC&Rs and any proposed, or previously adopted, amendments.”

Looking at the tremendous value toward HOA reform, the Court’s opinion would apply to any instance where the broad conditions — no notice and unexpected and unreasonable — apply, above and beyond those specific amendments dealt with in Kalway.  I’ve found the most prevalent are unexpected and unreasonable amendment modifications, and a failure to provide notice to the homeowner that abounds in the CC&Rs. It falls into those discretionary areas where the CC&Rs are silent, which the Court has declared doesn’t give the BOD unlimited rights.

This opinion presents a powerful tool, a powerful argument before the courts and before state legislatures when seeking HOA substantive reforms.

Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

(Bob Dylan, Blowin’ In the Wind,  1963)

Notes


[1] Bob Dylan,  “For the times they are a-changin’”  (1964).  It’s interesting to note the coincidences of publication years for this song and The Homes Association Handbook.

[2] Kalway v. Calbria Ranch, CV-20-o152-PR (Ariz. March 22, 202).

[3] Dreamland Villa Community Club, Inc. v. Raimey, 224 Ariz. 42, 51 ¶ 38 (App. 2010).

[4] HOA principalities where there’s no ex post facto or eminent domain protections and AZ court ends open-ended “ex post facto” HOA amendments.

[5] “CC&R Amendment Update from the Arizona Supreme Court,” March 29, 2022 By Carpenter Hazlewood I News.

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).

Can HOA members expect justice in Arizona courts?

“HOA members in Arizona should not expect justice from the courts”

If you are a member of an Arizona HOA/condo, or soon plan to be one, you should pay heed to the above quote made in response to the Arizona Supreme Court’s denial to hear the Bendt appeal petition for review.[i]  In my Commentary, trying to understand the rationale for the denial,

“The homeowner, Bendt, is punished for speaking out, in admittedly harsh terms, [relating to issues of HOA governance]. Yet the judicial system stands by looking at a distance and allowing Trump and his followers to function as vexatious litigants; allowing them to  raise allegations, which are not only laughable but blatantly false under Rule 11, is shameful conduct.[ii]

What message is being sent by this disturbing decision? To the public? To the homeowners in HOAs seeking the equal protection of the laws under the Constitution? To the national lobbying trade group, CAI, who can breathe easy with respect to any challenges to the constitutionality of the HOA legal scheme that  contains denials of fundamental rights and privileges?

Professor Randy Barnett wrote, speaking of justice and judicial legitimacy,

A constitution that lacks adequate procedures to ensure the justice of valid laws is illegitimate even if it was consented to by a majority …. A law may be ‘valid’ because it was produced in accordance with all the procedures required by a particular lawmaking system, [the HOA amendment procedure, for example] but be ‘illegitimate’ because these procedures were inadequate to provide assurances that a law is just.[iii]  

And we must not ignore the effect of precedent on court opinions. Hansford and Spriggs found [that] the doctrine of stare decisis, itself, falls victim to the preferences of the judges. The closer the precedent was to the judges views, the more the precedent would be followed, and vice versa. Additionally, the research found that “the justices are more likely to negatively treat [modify or reject] a precedent they dislike on ideological grounds if that precedent is quite vital [how often cited in support]” by the judges (p. 75).[iv]  Bad HOA laws abound leading to favorable anti-homeowner decisions.

And still we see “Equal justice under the law” emblazoned on the façade of the US Supreme Court building. It contains a major defect, a misleading fallacy,  and a presumption of supreme court infallibility [without error].  Bad laws — unjust laws — will not produce justice for all!  And that is just what we face in the HOA-Land Nation.

I have argued (2009) for a judicial system that adhere to the following:

Before we can decide, we must examine some of the myths and realities of the American judicial system.  First, we have the concept of justice, the very foundation of any judicial system, although some have argued it is to uphold the law.  Philosophically, a judicial system cannot exist in a democracy if it does not uphold justice and correct the wrongs of the past.  In fact the people are told “Equal Justice Under Law”, the motto on the Supreme Court building; “to secure justice”, the commonplace stated purpose of court rules of procedure;   “to establish justice”, the opening purpose in the Preamble to the US Constitution; and we designate the members of the Supreme Court as “justices”. Notice that “to uphold the law” is not included in the above.  This is the argument, along with the insistence on precedent, used by those special interests who favor unjust laws.[v]

. . . .

So, in particular, what is wrong with the AZ  supreme court denial in Bendt?  A lot!

An amicus brief is submitted, and subject to approval by the Court and the parties, to advise the Justices in better understanding the conditions and factors relevant its opinion that it may not be aware of. The following is a summary of arguments presented in my amicus brief[vi] seeking the Court to review the petition in the name of justice for the homeowner, Bendt, and for all other citizens living n Arizona HOAs.

“The Hannaman 2002 study (NJ) was quite frank and revealing describing problems and complaint still in existence some 19 years later in spite of efforts by the self-proclaimed HOA experts and educators, national CAI. “

“[Referring to Nevada Supreme Court in Kosor v. Olympia Companies, 478 P.3d 390 (2020)]. Because we conclude that each of Kosor’s statements was “made in direct connection with an issue of public interest in a place open to the public or in a public forum,” we reverse the district court’s decision to the contrary and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

“As our [California] Supreme Court has recognized, owners of planned development units ” ‘comprise a little democratic subsociety . . . .’ ” (citations omitted).” (Damon v. Ocean Hills Journalism Club, 102 Cal. Rptr. 2d 205 (Ct. App. 2000) at “A. Public Forum”).

“Among its findings [South Carolina HOA study committee] were . . . While the Community Association Institute (CAI) and other private entities offer educational resources to homeowners and managers, state government cannot place the sole responsibility of educating homeowners and board members on a private entity.

“Although not presented by the Appellant where three plaintiffs who] are lawyers, and based on claims of false and inexcusable character assassination against Tarter . . . this Court has reasonable suspicion to remand the case for a determination the validity of an anti-slapp motion.

“This Court, or any court, cannot allow a group of individuals or organizations to create a devise in order to escape constitutional protections and enter into a contract, constitutionally valid in all other aspects, to form private local governments whose members remain citizens of this country as well as of their respective states. It, as it stands in regard to HOAs, makes a mockery of the Constitution and our principles of a democratic society.

“The free speech issues of limited-purpose public figure and of HOAs and social media as public forums with respect to political HOA governance issues have been raised and need to be addressed.

“As with Brown [v. Bd of Educ.], America’s culture and environment has changed dramatically from 1964’s Homes Association Handbook and the formation in 1973 of Community Associations Institute (CAI) to deal with rising HOA problems and constitutional concerns after only 9 years. In 1992 CAI dropped its 501(c)3 educational status for 501(c)6 trade organization so it could lobby state legislators.”

I cannot understand the Supreme Court’s denial of Bendt’s petition and the opportunity to rule or to further investigate these issues, by orders or by request to the Legislature — as it has so ordered in the past —  and thereby fulfilling its obligation to defend the Arizona and US Constitutions.  Instead, it seems that the Justices have allowed their opinions to be guided by the prevailing public policy favoring private government HOAs that are independent of the two Constitutions.[vii]

References


[i] See AZ supreme court denies hearing HOA case raising limited-purpose public figure doctrine.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Randy Barnett, Restoring the Lost Constitution, Princeton Univ. Press, (2004).

[iv] Hansford and Spriggs, The Politics of Precedent on the U.S. Supreme Court, Princeton Univ. Press (2006).

[v] See in general,  HOAs, justice, and judicial myth and precedent.

[vi] Staropoli Amicus brief Tarter  v. Bendt

[vii] See in general, The HOA-Land Nation Within America and Establishing the New America of Independent HOA Principalities.

Will AZ Supreme Court address broad HOA issues of constitutionality?

As we approach an October 5th decision to decide to hear the Tarter v. Bendt defamation case[i] that raises free speech and limited- purpose public figure issues, I am hoping that the Court will address the real-world widespread misinformation regarding conditions and the legal status of homeowner associations statutes. This investigation by the Court is essential for a just and fair decision in the defamation lawsuit by an HOA president and attorney. Questions of failing to act in good faith and an abuse of the law by the plaintiff attorney with respect to filing a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) was raised in my amicus brief.

This is not an ordinary defamation lawsuit but one involving the actions and conduct by the plaintiff in his capacity as the HOA president  and in the context of matters of HOA governance. In the recent Nevada Supreme Court opinion in Kosor,[ii] the Court held that “HOAs as public forums and the president as a limited-purpose public figure” and further held that an HOA “is a quasi-government entity ‘paralleling in almost every case the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a municipal government.’”

The decision by the Arizona Court will have widespread repercussions and consequences not only for Arizona, but for HOAs  nationwide affecting  statutes in every state. The legitimacy of a democratic country rests on just and fair laws for the people, as Professor Randy Barnett wrote,

A constitution that lacks adequate procedures to ensure the justice of valid laws is illegitimate even if it was consented to by a majority …. A law may be ‘valid’ because it was produced in accordance with all the procedures required by a particular lawmaking system, [the HOA amendment procedure, for example] but be ‘illegitimate’ because these procedures were inadequate to provide assurances that a law is just.[iii]

Since the context of the lawsuit relates to the legal status  and constitutionality of the HOA model of government, and to the statutes and CC&Rs “constitution” creating private contractual governments, did Bendt receive justice with a $500,000 award for the HOA president’s “pain and suffering? As applied to HOA statutes and Acts, will this Court heed US Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s dissent on the failure to uphold the Constitution?[iv]

“Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny . . . . Because the Court’s failure to act rewards tactics designed to avoid judicial review . . . . 

“To circumvent it [the Constitution], the [Texas] Legislature took the extraordinary step of enlisting private citizens to do what the State could not . . . .  It cannot be the case that a State can evade federal judicial scrutiny by outsourcing the enforcement of unconstitutional laws to its citizenry . . . .”

This case must be remanded to the trial court for consideration of the impact of HOA bias on the decision against Bendt.

Notes


[i] See HOA limited-purpose public directors and officers; The continuing saga of Bendt and public speech in HOAs; Pro Se Bendt amicus brief accepted by AZ Supreme Court.

[ii]  Kosor v. Olympia Companies, NV No, 75669 (Dec. 31, 2020).

[iii]  Randy Barnett, Restoring the Lost Constitution, Princeton Univ. Press, (2004).

[iv]  Whole Woman’s v. Austion Reeve Jackson, 594 U. S. ____ (2021) Sotomayor R, J., dissenting, Supreme Court of the United States, No. 21A24 [September 1, 2021]. (Abortion case).