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] There is no better example of HOA independence than prejudiced HOA election procedures. In 2013 I wrote,
“HOA members have been repeatedly told that they can change things in their HOA by voting for board members and even by changing the governing documents; that HOAs are democratic because members can vote to make these changes happen. . . . 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.[ii]
CAI, on the other hand, maintains in its Public Policy statement that,
“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.[iii]“
Let me give a prime example of far these pro-HOA procedures can go to deny members a fair and just voting process, one that subtly favors the HOA Board. In this large scale HOA in Arizona with over 9,000 homes and some $20 million in revenues, amendments to the CC&RS and bylaws are needed to be approved by 67% of the membership.
The governing documents have an unusual, non-standard voting procedure that allows for “consent” by the members, in addition to an actual vote, which constituts a vote and are counted in the approval requirement. Members just have to fill out a form and submit it. Surprisingly, in contrast to the public voting procedures, this procedure contains
- no mention of a “cutoff date,” the date that the Consent Form needed to be received by the election committee. A start date, date form first distributed, is mentioned and currently is 5 months ago.
- no opportunity for a “no” vote, just the wording that not submitting the form would be seen as choosing “ not to consenting to the documents.”
- A biased, pro-HOA “advertising” on the form itself without any mention of opposing views. “ Moving Forward to the Future.” Other advocacy by the Board is prominent.
- An annual membership meeting scheduled some 6 months after the ability to submit a Consent Form, but the agenda was silent on actual voting for these amendments instead of submitting a Consent Form, or announcing the results of the “vote.”
This method of voting by the HOA would not pass muster in the public realm. So much for democracy in action. This election process is rigged in favor of approval, is unjust and negates any choice by the members who may wish to submit a NO vote. It’s a no-lose approach for the Board since the Form does not allow for NO votes! It would never fly under the public realm’s fair elections requirements.
In Wittenburg v. Beachwalk HOA,[iv] the California appellate court held that a board is engaged in advocacy when it supported and urged an approval vote in its materials and communications. The Court’s view was that opposing parties must be given equal opportunity to advocate against the proposition, which is being denied in the above instance, by not allowing a no vote and the open-ended voting process of form submissions with only YES votes.
The Court held that the relevant statute was in the public interest and it sought to
“provide substantial new voting protections” to members of homeowner associations designed to “guarantee that basic democratic principles are in place during elections,” which had previously been “contaminated by manipulation, oppression and intimidation of members, as well as outright fraud.”[v]
Yet, overwhelmingly, according to the CAI surveys, HOA members standby their HOA even though it operates outside of constitutional protections and the laws of the land. They seem to believe that, like a King, their board can do no wrong; that, contrary to James Madison’s view that “If angels were to gvern men, neither internal nor external controls on government would be necessary,” their board must consist of angels.
The HOA legal scheme as set forth in the governing documents and pro-HOA state laws, does not contain a fundamental principle of our constitutional system of government: checks and balances. The HOA board basically has, for all practical purposes, a free hand to function as an authoritarian government.
By: George K. Staropoli
[i] Evan McKenzie, Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Governments, Yale Univ. Press, 1994.
[ii] “Democratic Elections No. 5,” George K. Staropoli, HOA Common Sense: rejecting private government.
[iii] Section 8 in An Introduction to Community Association Living (2006).
[iv] Wittenburg v. Beachwalk HOA, 217 Cal.App.4th 654 (2013).