Rigged HOA elections create a false democracy

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).

[v] Id.

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.



[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.

Getting the Feds involved in HOA reforms

As apparent from the Illinois Supreme Court opinion[i] favoring HOAs, the Feds need to get involved. However, the Feds, like state attorney generals, have no specific authority to get involved – HOA/condo states are state laws, except for those federal laws like the American Disabilities Act and Fair Housing.

A broader approach is necessary in order to wake up the Feds, and that can come about by an appellate or US Supreme Court case decision on 1) violations of a homeowner’s constitutional rights, or 2) a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause brought under federal law § 42 U.S.C. 1983, Civil action for deprivation of rights. This approach would be similar to the whistle blower law suits of Erin Brockovich or Jeffrey Wigand (tobacco nicotine is addictive).

Read the paper at constitutional rights . . . .


[i] See IL Supreme Court holds HOAs “are a creature of statute,” and not contractual.

HOA Common Sense, No. 9: HOA governments in fact

HOA Governments in fact, No. 9

I believe all HOAs should be required to have a sign at the main entrances to the subdivision that clearly states: “You are now leaving the American Zone.”[1]

De facto governments.

Is the HOA a mini or quasi government?  Is it a state actor? Or is it just another business with special privileges?  I believe we all can agree that the status of HOAs is that they are de facto – they exist — governments, not recognized by the state under municipality statutes just as Cuba is a de facto government not recognized by the US. 

What is the uniquely defining attribute of a government that distinguishes it from a business or non-profit charity?  Understand that all the functions that the CAI lawyers claim to make the HOA a business can also be used to claim that businesses are governments. Think about it.  Yes, they share the same functions – taxes/assessments, fines/penalties, courts/hearings, ordinance/rules and regs, etc. But the basic criterion is that “modern states are territorial, their governing body exercise control over the persons and things within their frontiers.[2]  This alone singles distinguishes a government from a business or charity.

Black’s Law[3] attempts to clarify what is commonly accepted as a political government: A government is “The principles and rules determining how a state is regulated.”  A nation is “a community of people inhabiting a defined territory and organized under an independent government; a sovereign political state.” And politics is “The science of the organization and administration of the state.” The general understanding uses the terms ‘people,’ ‘territory’, ‘regulation,’ and ‘state/nation’. 

Now, I know the above may be confusing, but the skilled HOA attorneys will do their parsing and word game analysis (depends on what the meaning of ‘is,’ is) of these definitions seeking to create reasonable doubt as to what the people know to mean as “government.”  You know, such as the argumentative asinine statement that, is the owner of a football stadium that regulates the people in the stadium a government?  

I prefer the simpler, down to earth answer given by Justice Stewart regarding what is pornography,

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it . . . .”[4]

It is interesting to note that David Wolfe, a founder of CAI back in 1973, had the following to say in 1978 when CAI debated the status of HOAs as a government.

One legal opinion offered in support of construing CAs [HOAs] as a government noted that the Supreme Court had required constitutional procedures in a ‘company town’ and with ‘political parties’; from this view CA actions were ‘public’ in a constitutional sense. . . . Wolfe concluded that a new definition of a CA as a government was needed to bring about Lewis Mumford’s vision of a democracy.[5]

And long ago in 1994 Prof. 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.[6]

The defective legal scheme

Please understand that all substantive (as opposed to changes to laws affecting HOA operating methods and procedures) reform legislation is an attempt to restore your rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities as citizens.  They were taken away by the HOA biased laws that granted the HOA power to deny or did not prohibit the HOA from denying your constitutional rights.  Yet, even the most independent local control over people found in a state’s home rule statutes requires allegiance to the US and state constitutions.[7]  Why do HOAs get special laws?  Why are they exempt from the Constitution?  It doesn’t add up!

You may ask, What for?  The answer is obvious: for the survival and acceptance of a defective legal scheme that seeks to impose authoritarian governments on unsuspecting people. If boards and officers are to be held accountable, who would volunteer?  Well, why not pay them a salary so accountability can be demanded?  WHAT!!!  If they are going to be paid and held accountable, then members have a right to demand qualified board members and not any ole body who would like to be on the board.

Wait!  Wait! I can see readers recoiling in horror.  “The horror . . . the horror . . .” (from the movie Apocalypse Now!).   So, boards are generally not paid and are volunteers, without any special training.  At least the legislature and city councils have tradition and long established rules and procedures with staff to assist the law makers, but HOAs are “on the fly” – on the job,  decide as you go.  No wonder we have all these problems with capable governance.  And the volunteers and the special interests lament, “but we are volunteers helping to make a better community. You can’t hold us responsible and accountable. We need a free reign.”  Yeah!  Right!  Free to create havoc!

All because the mass merchandising of the HOA concept could not be sold under such conditions that demanded prudent accountability.

And, the concept could not fly without mandatory members and compulsory dues.  The founders of the HOA scheme who wrote the HOA “bible” in 1964 well knew this. And in order for the HOA to legally bind subsequent home owners the founders had to resort to servitudes running with the land, or equitable servitudes/covenants.[8]  

But, the equitable servitudes doctrine brought a host of ills detrimental to the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which very disappointedly the courts have held superior to the supreme law of the land.[9]  They have allowed for the establishment of the New America of HOA-Land with communities governed by de facto authoritarian, private government regimes known as HOAs.

HOA member Declaration of US and State citizenship

All that is needed to have HOAs rejoin the Union is for state legislatures to pass a bill that states:

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the governing documents, or other laws to the contrary,

Wherefore, the members of the association, having not waived or surrendered their rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities as citizens of the United States under Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and as citizens of the state within which they reside, the CC&Rs or Declaration for any planned community, condominium association or homeowners association shall state, or be amended to comply, that, “The association hereby waives and surrenders any rights or claims it may have under law and herewith unconditionally and irrevocably agrees 1) to be bound by the US and State Constitutions, and laws of the State within which it is located as if it were a subdivision of the state and a local public government entity, and 2) that constitutional law shall prevail as the supreme law of the land including over conflicting laws and legal doctrines of equitable servitudes.

PS.  I apologize for the intrusion by WordPress to have added underlines to certain words.


[1] As contained on the On The Commons website, Shu Bartholomew, Producer and Host (http://onthecommons.us).

[2] “State”, Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th Ed.

[3] Id.

[4] Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 US 184 (1964).

[5] Quoted in Community Associations: The Emergence and Acceptance of a Quiet Innovation in Housing, Donald R. Stabile (Greenwood Press, 2000), pp. 164 -167. Lewis Mumford was a 1920s utopian community promoter.

[6] Evan McKenzie, Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Governments, Yale Univ. Press, 1994.

[7] A legislature’s grant of autonomy for local government to act without legislative approval on acceptance of certain terms (Blacks’ Law Dictionary, 7th Ed.); “as long as they obey the state and federal constitutions” (Home Rule, Wikipedia (http://tinyurl.com/nyqpd2a).

[8] The Homes Association Handbook, Urban Land Institute Technical Bulletin #50 (1964); See my analysis at Analysis of The Homes Association Handbook.

[9] Most notable are: Inwood v. Harris, 736 S.W.2d 632 (Tex. 1987) (Texas Constitution overridden by covenants running with the land); Villa de Las Palmas v. Terifaj, 90 P.3d 1223 (CAL. 2004) (amended restrictions are binding on all in violation of ex post facto prohibition doctrine); Committee for a Better Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers, 929 A.2d 1060 (NJ 2007) (fundamental rights denied and business judgment rule is sufficient protection of homeowner rights).




AZ Rep. explains failure of HOA reform legislation

I feel that my Footnote 1 from an upcoming commentary on SB 1454 should stand by itself. Here’s the paragraph and the Footnote.

Rep. Ugenti stated that each year there was “a plethora of personal HOA legislation” and tried “to spare the [committee] members the constant agony of many personal pieces of HOA legislation,” as contrasted to the industry legislation.

 Footnote 1.  I digress. My emphasis reflects, to good extent, homeowners failing to see the broader picture beyond their HOA problem, such as raising substantive issues of constitutionality. Ugenti is saying that homeowners don’t really understand the problems with HOAs, which only the HOA industry special interests can solve. It is evident that this is the view held by all state legislatures across the country. Homeowners have failed to deal with this reality.

A good part of this failure must be laid on the leaders of the homeowner rights advocacy movement. The leaders who appear, while paying lip service to constitutionality issues, to have failed to provide the necessary and adequate guidance and direction to accomplish HOA reform legislation.  Instead, take for example the recent SB 1454 post and comments on the Privatopia Papers where portions of just one news article are quoted. The quotes indicate that the plaintiffs had “done wrong to homeowners” by winning their constitutionality challenge. The challenge was against certain actions taken by a rogue legislator with respect to an HOA bill. The balancing and explanatory parts of the article were not quoted.

Fred Pilot, a long term participant in HOA reform issues commented about “So does this mean local governments can continue to utilize CID mandates?”, which is totally irrelevant and non-applicable to the victorious lawsuit.  Or to his biased quote from the article.  “What has “CID mandates” got to do with the article?  And attempts to clarify the matter as to the implied, “the plaintiffs have harmed the homeowners when they won”, resulted in their non-publication by the owner, Evan McKenzie.

Yet, McKenzie wrote that it was a fair question deserving an answer, but apparently not as a comment on Privatopia Papers. He wrote “my understanding is that SB 1454 . . . prohibited municipalities and planning and zoning commissions from requiring developers to create HOAs.”  McKenzie lacks the understanding that these provisions were twice killed in this legislative session; and that Ugenti had to underhandedly get the bill passed in the wee hours of the morning on the last day of the session.  But, I guess that has no bearing in this matter. It was only us evil plaintiffs who done homeowners in, under the principle that the end justifies the means.

 Not a word about how this lawsuit sent a message to pro-HOA legislators and lobbyists that they can’t get away with such flagrant abuse of the laws. Not a word. But the charges stand, unanswered on the Privatopia Papers.

 Unless the leaders get their act together, the arguments and implications of Ugenti’s quote above will continue to dominate attempts at HOA reforms.