AZ GOV committee hears the voice of HOA members

The Arizona GOV committee meeting on HB 2158 yesterday heard the voice ot the HOA homeowners  — the HOA citizens — on the need for HOA regulation and control of rogue boards. The members heard the horror stories, and were made awareof lack of free political speech as enjoyed by non-HOA members.

The bill passed 7 – 0 with 131 owners submitting their support for the bill, using the RTS (Request to Speak) procedure, while just 3 RTS submissions were against the bill.  This procedure allows the public to submit a short statement for or against a bill, with the option of speaking at the meeting.  All submissions become part of the public record and are accessible by the public.

Here is a sample of the FOR submissions at both  the earlier House (195 FOR; 31 Against) and Senate hearings, by the owners themselves and not just board members:

  • This bill is necessary to prevent the abuse of fundamental rights or free speech and assembly. Please support it.(WD)
  • Homeowners should be able to use all the facilities of the HOA to express their concerns and ideas abou8t HOA business.  Please support this bill. (PF)
  • Please protect homeowners rights to voice their opinions without fear of retribution (KHW)
  • This bill seeks to protect homeowner’s ability to participate in the governance of their communities and to express their support or opposition for board candidates or community ballot measures in an attempt to influence the outcome. (D Legere)
  • It is criminal how HOA Boards are allowed to infringe upon one’s right to assemble/speak and impose their beliefs. (LN)
  • HB2158 will allow homeowners to engage each other over concerns for the betterment of their communities. (SP)
  • Please vote to protect the homeowners right to show support or opposition to HOA Board candidates.  The suppressive measures that our board takes is board line criminal.   (RW)
  • This bill will help empower homeowners to fight against overbearing board of directors. (KC)
  • We need to pass this legislation to protect the right of assembly and to redress the government for those who live in HOAs.  Vote yes for this bill.  (JR)
  • HOA’s should not be allowed to restrict a home owner’s freedom to assembly or free speech. Regardless of which side of the ballot the home owner votes on. (LS)
  • Homeowners are handicapped from effective political participation in HOA governance and fair elections will make a difference. (yours truly)
  • It prohibits HOAs from infringing on Constitutional rights of owners during HOA elections.  Two thumbs up!  (CS)

Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head Pretending he just doesn’t see?

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

Do you stand behind the US Constitution or your HOA ‘constitution’?

Many courts have referred to the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) as the HOA constitution.

Arizona’s HB 2158 is a second try (Arizona HB 2052 restores homeowner constitutional speech protections ) to prohibit restrictions on HOA members’ freedom of political speech with respect to HOA governance issues and matters.  It has passed put of committee and Caucus.

This important bill has been sitting for an extended 2 week time awaiting the House leadership to schedule it for a full House vote of all the members. NOT A GOOD SIGN!  My years of experience lead me to believe it does not have the support of the leadershp that has the right, under House Rules,  to withhold bills from further votes.

HB 2158 (2022). You can read the bill at the legislature’s website. Read the important amendments below. This is your chance to stand up for constitutional protections against the CAI lobbyists, many whose members have been or are SCG directors – conflict of interest!

L. Notwithstanding any provision in the community documents, an associociation [sic] may not prohibit or unreasonably restrict a member’s ability to peacefully assemble and use private or common areas of the planned community . . . . An individual member or group of members may organize to discuss or address planned community business, including board elections or recalls, potential or actual ballot issues or revisions to the community documents . . . . The association shall not restrict posting notices of these informal member meetings on physical or electronic bulletin boards used by the association for posting notices for the association’s or board of director’s official meetings.”

This bill has support from the Nevada Supreme Court opinion in Kosor (NV supreme court upholds HOAs as public forums (re: Kosor 2021)) that contained several California opinions serving as legal precedent.

 “[A] unit owner’s association or a planned community association (association) may not prohibit a unit owner or member (member) from peacefully assembling and using private or common elements of the community . . . legitimate and valid criticisms of your HOA and its president and board are protected from HOA lawsuits of defamation and libel.”

“Nextdoor.com post qualifies as a public forum for the purposes of anti-SLAPP protections. . . .these steps [Kosor’s statements] do not seem to differ significantly from that which might be required to view posts on Facebook; that is, a post on Nextdoor.com is as compatible with expressive activity as one on the other platform, which we have already held can support a public forum.”

“The HOA here is no less of ‘a quasi-government entity’

* * * *

The following is an excerpt from a lengthy email sent to me by a long time AZ homeowner rights advocate, Dennis Legere. It and his email are made public with Dennis’ permisssion.  It  reveals the obstacles an hostiity he faces trying the get HOA reform legislation to restore lost rights and freedoms. It contains his comments on the heavy opposition  from CAI and AACM (AZ managers association, CAI trained).

The ridiculous nature and hidden motivation of the HOA trade groups [CAI and AACM] is what makes any HOA meaningful legislation so difficult to get introduced or protected from demands from the trade groups for provisions that benefit them only.”

Take back controll of your HOA!  Write your Representative in support of this bill. Also write the sponsor, Jack Kavanagh (jkavanagh@azleg.gov) and the House leaders in support of this bill urging that it be submitted for a hearing by all the House members. Do it today!

House leaders:

Rbowers@azleg.gov – Speaker (R)

tgrantham@azleg.gov – Speaker Pro Temp (R)

btoma@azleg.gov – Majority Leader (R)

lbiasiucci@azleg.gov – Majority Whip (R)

rbolding@azleg.gov – Minority Leader (D)

ddegrazia@azleg.gov – Minority Whip (D)

jlongdon@azleg.gov – Asst Minortiy Whip (D)

Media’s inexcusable silence on  reporting HOA legal issues

This writing  addresses the failure of the Arizona media, and in general all news media across this country,  to report in-depth on HOA legal developments. In particular, as an example, its failure to cover the Arizona Supreme Court Petition for Review, Tarter v. Bendt (denied).

It was a defamation case brought  by an HOA president dealing with matters of HOA governance. It resulted in a shocking $1,500,000 in damages against a homeowner who criticized the President.  The homeowner raised the issue of the HOA president as a “limited-purpose public figure.” An amicus brief informed the Justices on the larger picture of protected speech in the recognized HOA public forum on matters of HOA governance.

If it were not an HOA case, it surely would have made widespread news.

Most of you probably ever heard of Edward R. Murrow (1940s-60s) newscaster that, the Radio Television Digital News Association has annually awarded the Edward R. Murrow Award to individuals who make outstanding achievements in electronic journalism. Award recipients have included Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel,  Bryant Gumbel, Brian Williams, Katie Couric, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw.

Here are memorable quotes quite meaningful for today’s media who have been silent on reporting HOA reality news.

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.”

In 2017 I posted a Commentary that focused on the failure of today’s media to uphold its obligation under the 1st Amendment to inform the people. This protected freedom of speech was granted for the above important purpose, a purpose that the media seemed to have forgotten.

“The media of today, especially the local news media . . . seem to be oblivious to important HOA bills before state legislatures. Bills that would affect some 20% [now estimated to be 24% or more] of the people  across the country.

“There have been no in-depth analyses or debates of the HOA legal concept even at the national level, as the spread of HOA-Land is nationwide. The Sunday news talk shows, or by 20-20 and Dateline, are silent. There have been no discussions on whether HOAs, as de facto governments, should by made a government entity. Or whether state legislatures should continue to allow equitable servitude law to supersede contract and constitutional law. Or the lack of debate on the absence of “truth in HOAs” disclosures, similar to truth in lending and truth in advertising.

“Or what is the legitimate government interest to allow private governments to deny the equal application of the laws. Or to allow constructive notice – just take your deed — to bind unsuspecting home buyers to the CC&Rs sight unseen. Apparently there is no need to inform buyers at closing

But the media, with respect to HOA-Land, was silent and did not acknowledge its justification for its silence.  For more information, see my 2017 Commentary at Good night and very good luck – the unspoken media HOA alliance and Can HOA members expect justice in Arizona courts?

 . . . .

 Relevant to this Commentary, Maria Ressa (Filipino-American) just won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021. The Nobel Committee announcement spoke to the role of journalism and its affect on democracy.

 “Ms. Ressa and Rappler [her internet news site] have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse. . . . The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public,”

She is also author of How to Stand Up to a Dictator, a story of “how democracy dies by a thousand cuts” (to be released in July 2022).

AZ supreme court denies hearing HOA case raising limited-purpose public figure doctrine

The Arizona Supreme Court has denied hearing the Tarter v. Bendt (CV21-0049-PR), a defamation lawsuit brought by an HOA president and attorney.  In general, the Court does not provide any reasons or justifications for its decision and did not provide one. The attorney for Bendt, Lori Voepel, while addressing the legalities of the decisions, raised the  question that Tarter, the HOA president, was a limited-purpose public figure entitling Bendt to additional free speech protections. It is my understanding that Sonia Bendt will be pursing a US Supreme Court appeal.

In my amicus brief I informed the Justices about the real-world functioning and operations of HOAs, and about the biased public policy resulting from the dominance of the national lobbying organization, CAI, and its agenda. I included aspects of public policy  set forth  by the Arizona pro-HOA legislature, judges in their decisions and opinions, and the silence of the media to inform the public as to this reality.  I had hoped that the case would be remanded for consideration of the role of the HOA president, since the complaint concerned acts and conduct by Tarter in his capacity as HOA president.

In my amicus brief (an advisory filing as a “friend of the court”) I painted a broad picture of HOAs as public forums with protected free speech concerning questions of HOA governance. A favorable decision would have prohibited HOA boards of directors from restricting member criticisms and allowing “opposition parties” equal access to the same means and vehicles that the BOD uses; namely, the HOA magazine, email distribution, use of facilities for meetings and “townhalls,” to name a few.

I am very disappointed in the Arizona Justices.  Permitting an outlandish financial damages and adding  punitive damages of $1,000,000 and $500,000 in compensatory damages is outrageous and not warranted by the evidence or by the HOA legal scheme. An opportunity to protect citizens living in HOAs from second class citizenship was ignored! Have they forgotten the 8th Amendment prohibitions: “nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”? OH, HOAS are not public bodies!

The homeowner, Bendt, is punished for speaking out in admittedly harsh terms. 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.  “No negatives about HOAs shall be allowed” seems to be the Court’s policy.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” No, something is rotten in the state of Arizona!

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).