HOA representative government and consent of the governed

George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address (1796), the Constitution “is the offspring of our choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles . . . .”  The Declaration of Independence asserted “that to secure these [inalienable] rights Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

These two quotes contain the fundamental principles of representative democracy adopted by means of a social contract, the Constitution, which are freedom of choice, ”just powers,” and “consent of the governed.” By virtue of these fundamental principles of democracy, HOAs cannot be considered as democratic governments. Period!

In his article explaining the meaning of the Constitution,[1] Edwin Meese III explains that “consent is the means whereby arbitrary power is thwarted. The natural standard for judging if a government is legitimate [and hence just] is whether that government rests on the consent of the governed.” 

In order for HOA governments to be just, legitimate and compatible with the Constitution these fundamental principles must be honored and supported. HOA “constitutions,” those CC&Rs, are not compatible with the US Constitution.

Meese further addresses the differences between “consent of the governed” and “will of the majority” that is a pro-HOA mantra. “The ‘consent of the governed’ describes a situation where the people are self-governing in their communities . . . into which the government may intrude only with the people’s consent.”

He explains that the “Will of the majority” is a political mechanism for decisions to be made by the government. In other words, the BOD makes decisions on behalf of the members based on its view of the majority will or some survey of the members. In short, in a representative democracy, like that attempted by the HOA legal structure, not all of the members are in agreement with or consent to the decisions of the BOD. It raises the issue of ‘the tyranny of the majority’ when the minority is not given due respect nor the ability to freely and equally speak out on HOA governmental issues.

Meese contends that the Founding Fathers[2] understood this weak point in a democratic government and the need to “insure domestic tranquility.”[3]

[A] government [must rest] not only on the consent of the governed, but also on a structure of government wherein the views of the people and their civic associations can be expressed and translated into public law and public policy. . . . Through deliberation, debate, and compromise, a public consensus is formed about what constitutes the public good. It is this consensus on fundamental principles that knits individuals into a community of citizens.

The structure of HOA governance is not based on and contradicts fundamental American principles and traditional values.  Furthermore, the CC&R are not even based on contract law 101 with its requirements for freely entered into, full disclosure, and explicit agreement to be bound,  but on the real estate doctrine of equitable servitudes.

To learn more about your loss of these rights and freedoms see The HOA-Land Nation Within America.

 

References

[1] Edwin Meese III, “What the Constitution Means,” The Heritage Guide to the Constitution (2005). Meese was the US Attorney General under Ronald Reagan.

[2] See in general, The Federalist Papers, #51, James Madison who explained, “Justice is the end [goal] of government. It is the end of civil society.”

[3] Preamble to the Constitution.

HOA-Land Nation publication to aid constitutionality

The important question of HOA constitutionality has generally been avoided and given token lip serve by all interested parties: homeowners, homeowner rights advocates, state legislators, real estate departments, attorney generals, nonprofit private entities proclaiming a defense of the Constitution, and the media at large.

Even the renowned Wayne Hyatt’s[1] statement in 1976 went ignored.

“One clearly sees the association as a quasi-government entity paralleling in almost every case the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a municipal government.   All of these functions are financed through assessments or taxes levied upon the members of the community, with powers vested in the board of directors, council of co-owners, board of managers, or other similar body clearly analogous to the governing body of a municipality.”[2]

Clearly challenging the constitutionality of the HOA model of local government and legal scheme is well beyond past due. To correct this horrific and inexcusable oversight I have published, The HOA-Land Nation Within America,[3] a white paper, an exposé of the HOA legal scheme violations of the Constitution. The eBook and paperback editions can be found on Amazon.

This task of constitutional HOA reforms may appear overwhelming and almost impossible to achieve, but constitutional HOA reforms can happen. It will take tremendous effort and perseverance, and a “never give up” mentality. David Cole passionately makes this point[4]

“If Americans now and in the coming years insist that . . . our most fundamental values, including equality, human dignity, fair process, privacy, and the rule of law, and if we organize and advocate in defense of those principles,” we will succeed in bringing about the necessary fundamental and constitutional reforms to the HOA legal scheme in existence since the HOA “bible” was released in 1964. In order to accomplish this important task, “it will take a persistent civil society, a vigilant media, brave insiders, and judges and other government officials who take seriously their responsibility to uphold the Constitution. But first and foremost, it will take an engaged citizenry.”

The defense of liberty depends . . . on citizens engaging collectively to fight for the values they believe in. . . . The preservation of liberty through a written constitution . . . has survived . . . because ‘we the people’ have consistently taken up the charge to define, defend, and develop liberty in our own image, so that it reflects our deepest commitment , not just those of a privileged elite who do not represent us.”

It falls upon the homeowners in HOAs, as has always, to advance constitutional arguments that are valid and credible.    And that takes knowledge and understanding of the issues.  The HOA-Land Nation, and other of my publications and Commentaries, as well as those of others, provide the “ammunition” that will pass the valid and credible challenges to be expected from CAI and other lawyers, provided the arguments do not get bogged down in irrelevant arguments from the opposition.

CAI cannot handle a broad Bill of Rights challenge. Period!  I have never been challenged  by CAI because they well know that they are defending the defenseless.

Read the book, paperback or eBook, and spread the word.  Use it in those many HOA violations where state statutes support the HOA.  Work to hold seminars and conferences to openly discuss the issues raised in The HOA-Land Nation.  Expose their defense of HOAs, now!

 Notes

[1] Wayne Hyatt was a prominent figure in the promotion of HOA-Land as well as an important person in creating CAI in 1973, serving as its second president.

[2] I have extensively quoted Wayne Hyatt’s 1976 statement on HOAs as mini-governments, as cited in the 1983 California case, Cohen v. Kite Hill.

[3] I have concluded that there exists an HOA-Land Nation within America that is comprised of fragmented and local HOA governments across the country and have designated them collectively as “HOA-Land.”  The commonality of their declarations of CC&Rs, flowing from the 1964 Homes Association Handbook (ULI publication), their shared beliefs, values, traditions, and institutions qualify HOA-Land as a nation.

[4] David Cole, National Legal Director of the ACLU, Engines of Liberty, Basic Books (2016).

AZ SB 1088 is an unconstitutional and selective impairment of a contract bill

Arizona’s SB 1088 bill seeks to invalidate CC&Rs that require approval by a homeowner to allow any visitor access to the homeowner.  It specifically deals with — and is only meaningful with respect to gated communities which are gated for a very good reason — not hindering process servers access to a homeowner defendant.  It is punitive with a $250 “civil penalty” for anyone violating this law.

Background 

Under our laws and judicial system a plaintiff must service notice of a lawsuit upon a defendant as required by the Constitution.[1]  It is well known that there are people who act to avoid being served notice, which stops any lawsuit from moving forward. However, the law does allow for posting the summons notice to the public notices page of a newspaper in the event the defendant cannot be personally contacted.[2]

Impairing the obligation of contracts

The proponents’ argument would be generally along the lines that “due process under the law” triumphs over any contract infringement violation as a matter of public policy and for the general good of the people. An HOA covenant cannot hinder constitutional due process of law and the equal application of the law to a person, not necessarily an HOA, who is suing a defendant in such an HOA.  It’s not fair they would cry, referring to the greater good served outside the HOA.

But, the bill seems to be unnecessary as there are other means to satisfy civil procedure process servers.  It would also not pass judicial scrutiny[3] required to deny constitutional rights under contract infringement.  The bill seems to be sponsored as a request from a constituent facing some problem that lacks merit, considering the alternative methods available for service notice by process servers.

Selective enforcement of the law

It is long held doctrine that a government cannot pick and choose what laws to enforce or to ignore, and still be seen as a legitimate government.  The entirety of the covenants in a declaration of CC&Rs — allegedly constituting the voice of the people in a private contract to not be bound by the Constitution and the laws of the land — contains many, many covenants that violate the protected rights of the people.

Yet the state stands idly by and does nothing to end these private contractual violations of the constitution’s requirement for the equal protection of the law.  The CC&Rs are a mockery of due process protections, of fair elections, of eminent domain protections, of cruel and unusual punishment by foreclosure rights, of contract law misrepresentation and full disclosure violations, of the failure to provide civil penalties against HOA violations of the law, etc.

They are either ignored or have the “blessings” of the legislature as a result of laws that coerce compliance with the HOA, cooperate with the HOA, or closely interact with the day-to-day operations of the HOA. Any of which would make the HOA a state actor subject to the Constitution.

SB 1088 is a selective impairment of contract obligations while other infringements of the laws are allowed to stand. Adopting this bill would be a mockery of the law.

 

References

[1] 14th Amendment, “Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

[2] Ariz. R. Civ. P., 4.1(n). “Where the person being served . . . has avoided service of process . . . then service may be by publication  . . . . “ Also, Rule 4.1(m) allows for “alternative or substituted service.”

[3] Judicial scrutiny relating to constitutional rights requires a compelling and necessary government interest, not a general government interest, to deny protected rights.  See, in general, Arizona’s HB 2382 is an unconstitutional violation of eminent domain law.

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.

Can the HOA legal scheme survive constitutional due process?

Bob Frank, a Commissioner on the Nevada Commission for Common Interest Communities and Condominium Hotels, asked in the LinkedIn group, Condo Association (and HOA) Network, Should States Pass “Due Process Regulations” Along The lines of The Following Draft?

My comment follows:

Bob, an excellent in depth presentation of HOA due process procedures. Allow me to provide the authority for your proposal. Judge Henry Friendly in his well-regarded article, “Some Kind of Hearing,”[1] generated a list that remains highly influential, as to both content and relative priority (my emphasis):

  • An unbiased tribunal;
  • Notice and grounds for the proposed action;
  • An opportunity to show why the proposed action should not be taken;
  • The right to call witnesses;
  • The right to know opposing evidence;
  • The right to have the decision based only on the evidence presented;
  • The opportunity to be represented by counsel;
  • A record of the proceeding;
  • A statement of reasons;
  • Public attendance; and
  • Availability of judicial review.

 

As you will note, the first listed item above requires “an unbiased tribunal.” What would you add to your proposal to further protect the integrity of your HOA due process procedures? Obviously some sort of code of conduct for those sitting on the “hearing tribunal” is in order. Following are the four Canons taken from the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct[2].

CANON 1

A judge shall uphold and promote the, independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

CANON 2

A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.

CANON 3

A judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.

CANON 4

A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.

I would think that third-parties with some legal background would be the way to go, but this would run into the dogmatic “the HOA members shall judge their ‘peers.’” But, then again, is that possible?

You have touched upon one of my 5 HOA substantive reforms arguments, “Fair and Just Hearings,[3] the absence of which is a clear indication of the oppressive and authoritarian nature of the HOA legal scheme.  If it is possible to obtain fair and just hearings, would this move toward democratic reforms cause the HOA legal scheme as it exists today to collapse, or can the real estate package governed by an HOA government survive governed by a true democracy?[4]

References

[1] Judge Henry Friendly, “Friendly, Some Kind of Hearing,” 123 U. PA. L. Rev. 1267, 1279-1295 (1975).

[2] American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/ professional_responsibility/publications/model_code_of_judicial_conduct.html).

[3] See “HOA Common Sense, No. 6, Fair and Just Hearings”.

[4] See “Would the HOA legal scheme collapse under a democratic form of government?

 

Illinois appellate court awards punitive damages for reckless indifference by condo

Note:  This case is based on Illinois laws and case history precedent with respect to punitive damages and the business judgment rule.  (Normally, punitive damages are not awarded for breach of contract claims, but this case was a breach of fiduciary claim). I believe other states have similar laws and case history that would make this opinion valid in the respective states.  However, the decision is not for publication or use as binding precedent.

It reflects a common sense approach to justice under the law and not a decision to uphold the view that the HOA can do nothing wrong; and that the HOA always acts in the best interest of the HOA’s obligation to all the members.

Plaintiff must ask for punitive damages.

 

The issue:  Over a 2-year period, condo ignored homeowner’s repeated requests for assistance in addressing water damage, forcing homeowner to incur expenses to make repairs and to hire an attorney to seek condo reimbursement.  Punitive damages against the condo were sought.

The Laws:  Condo board’s breach of fiduciary duty;   punitive damages award for willful or evil motive or reckless indifference to rights of others; business judgment rule.

Decision:   Affirmed trial court decision against condo for breach of fiduciary duty to homeowner, and the award of punitive damages amounting to $22,000 above the damages of $5,497.

Discussion by the Court: 

“The purpose of punitive damages is not compensation, but punishment of the offender and deterrence of the wrongdoer and others. Punitive damages may be awarded ‘where the defendant’s conduct is willful or outrageous due to evil motive or a reckless indifference to the rights of others.’ “The parties agree that a trial court may award punitive damages in a breach of fiduciary duty case.

“[The trial court] found the Association ‘acted with reckless indifference to the rights and needs of [plaintiff] who was forced to use her own funds to repair an apartment and then hire a lawyer to help her recover her reasonable cost.’”

[Business judgment rule opinion].

“We note here that the Association urges us to find an abuse of discretion [judge overstepped his authority] because the award conflicts with its business judgment. ‘Under the business judgment rule [. . .] absent evidence of bad faith, fraud, illegality, or gross overreaching, courts are not at liberty to interfere with the exercise of business judgment by corporate directors.’

“The rule protects directors who have been careful and diligent in performing their duties from being subjected to liability for honest mistakes of judgment. . . . That is not what occurred in this case, where the Association was neither diligent nor careful in performing its duties, but instead chose to ignore the plight of  [plaintiff].”

Comment:  Punitive damages are the only realistic method whereby homeowner’s can impose a meaningful detriment to continued board abuse, as state laws do not punish the HOA board for violations of state laws or the governing documents.

 

Case:   Shuh v. Plaza Des Plaines Condominium Assn, No. 1-13-1999 (IL App. 1st  Dist. July 24, 201) (Thanks to HOA Member Services, “This website is designed to provide people with all the information they need to understand and enhance their experience of working with or living in a common interest development that is governed by a homeowners association.”)

 

 

The unclean hands of the HOA

I have spoken of the unclean hands of the HOA in “HOA Common Sense No.4, Consent to be governed” and in “No.8, Draconian punishment and intimidation.”  Unclean hands is a legal doctrine that denies a plaintiff’s (HOA) complaint if the plaintiff has done anything wrongful or unfair relating to the issue at hand. If a defendant (homeowner) can show the plaintiff had “unclean hands,” the plaintiff’s complaint will be dismissed or the plaintiff will be denied judgment.

In his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v US  (1928)[1] Justice Brandeis wrote (my emphasis),

The governing principle has long been settled. It is that a court will not redress a wrong when he who invokes its aid has unclean hands. The maxim of unclean hands comes from courts of equity. But the principle prevails also in courts of law. Its common application is in civil actions between private parties. Where the government is the actor, the reasons for applying it are even more persuasive.

The court’s aid is denied only when he who seeks it has violated the law in connection with the very transaction as to which he seeks legal redress. Then aid is denied despite the defendant’s wrong. It is denied in order to maintain respect for law; in order to promote confidence in the administration of justice; in order to preserve the judicial process from contamination.

This doctrine also applies to the government at all levels.  As Brandeis continued in his dissent,

In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.

And it also applies to HOA private governments, because it’s an equitable protection.  We all know that HOA boards have, in all too many instances, grossly dirty unclean hands.  We see the anarchy with 50 different state laws and the 324,000, more or less, independent CC&Rs “constitutions.”

 

Note

[1] Olmstead v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438 (1928).  This case involved federal wiretapping, which back in 1928, the SC found no violation of the Constitution.