Political free speech both without and within the HOA

I recently came across a post by a Massachusetts law firm , MEEB, that basically summarized my arguments and positions on unconstitutional HOA governments.  In particular, alleged waivers of constitutional rights and the prohibition against private contractual government  HOAs from restricting political public speech.  That applies to both in the public domain and within the HOA community domain.

In its 2012 post, “Court Decisions May Make it Harder to Restrict Free Speech Rights,” decisions in 3 court cases (VT and MA) are reviewed. In essence, these decisions challenge “an assumption long held and widely recognized by courts in many jurisdictions that the freedom of speech guaranteed in the U.S. Constitutions does not apply in condominium communities.”  The reason offered, as I’ve mentioned many times, “citizens, a community association is not a governmental entity, so its rules are not subject to the same strict constitutional tests.

In contrast to Twin Rivers,  in Mazdabrook “the court noted [political speech] ‘lies at the core’ of our constitutional free speech protectionsPolitical signs advancing a resident’s candidacy are not by their nature incompatible with a private development. They do not conflict with the purpose of the development.”  And the court concluded “that the sign policy in question violates the free speech clause of the State Constitution.”

 In regard to the alleged waiver of fundamental rights (my emphasis),

The New Jersey court expressed serious concerns about whether and how condominium owners can  voluntarily waive their constitutional rights. Such waivers, the court said, “must be knowing, intelligent, and voluntary…. [and] at the very least, [they] must be clear.  Mazdabrook’s rules did not specifically require Khan to waive his free speech rights, the court noted. Rather, “he was asked…to waive the right to post signs before getting board approval, without any idea about what standards would govern the approval process. That cannot constitute a knowing, intelligent, voluntary waiver of constitutional rights.”

 Mazdabrook’s rules did not specifically require Khan to waive his free speech rights, the court noted. Rather, “he was asked…to waive the right to post signs before getting board approval, without any idea about what standards would govern the approval process. That cannot constitute a knowing, intelligent, voluntary waiver of constitutional rights.”

In the Preu (MA) decision, the court addressed state actions by the HOA,

The court found that a law suit filed to enforce a community association’s rights under the state condominium statute constituted a “state action” that could subject association regulations to a constitutional test.

 The constitutional test would require strict scrutiny, which requires a necessary and compelling reason to restrict fundamental rights. Lesser loss of rights, say under state laws, would be subject to a lessor test, but more than the broader “a government’s general interest” that can easily be extended beyond justifiable logic.

In addition to the above rulings, California’s SB 1265 that states the HOA is a quasi-government faces a test in the legislature tomorrow. Let’s hope it passes.  The sponsor, Senator Wieckowski,  also managed to have SB 407 passed last year that broader prohibits restrictions on free speech regarding meeting rooms, assemblies, use of common areas, etc.

“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.” (New Civ. Code 4515(a).

Now members can even make use of the ‘house organ,’ the monthly online or hardcopy communication provided to the membership for equal access to the membership for campaigning or publicizing opposing views.

Is AZ ADRE violating 1st Amendment free speech on HOA public issues?

Regarding Arizona’s real estate department’s (ADRE) promotion of the HOA special interest organizations, CAI and AACM, in its Resources category on its HOA Due Process web page, there are no opposing homeowner rights views on HOA-Land.  Nada!

These pro-HOA groups sustain, and continue to offer and promote the same failed arguments and “solutions,” of the past 23 years in Arizona. They are on record opposing due process and the equal protection of the laws for HOA members. It seems that they have adopted the view that the goals and objectives of the state, meaning the HOA government, supersedes the individual rights of the people, the HOA members. (See CAI manifesto: CAI’s plan for HOA-Land in America, a commentary on CAI’s “white paper.”

At a meeting with ADRE I argued for ADRE to remove CAI and AACM from or to add references to opposing views, well supported by evidence, to its web page.  I suggested that my Constitutional Local Government or HOA Constitutional Government would provide a factual based view, and give the general public a “full disclosure” of life in HOA-Land.   Let’s be fair! Let the homeowner choose after he has all the facts and not those of self-interested private vendor groups.  This would be in keeping with ADRE’s mission “to protect the interests of the general public.”

If we are to make progress for HOA members, the policymakers move past what CAI and AACM have been saying in their voluminous promotional and marketing sayings — like its Factbook — and to what the CAI/AACM members are actually saying before state legislatures and the courts. The contradictions between the two are stark; one is talk, the other is action, as outlined in the materials presented to ADRE.

 

I am awaiting the decision of the ADRE Commissioner.  It has been a month — a reasonable time to make two line changes on their web page — since I first contacted ADRE with the above request to remove the vendor organizations, or to add homeowner rights websites as a balanced recommendation.  I hope that ADRE will act very quickly on this important request granting free speech to all sides of the controversial HOA issue.

The US Supreme Court decision in Con Ed v. Public Service Comm’n of NY (447 U.S. 530 (1980)) sheds some important light on ADRE’s unreasonable delay in acting on my request, which can only be interpreted as a denial.  In Con Ed a state agency prohibited the inclusion of political material by a public utility company in its monthly billing statements.  Among other things, the Court held: (my emphasis)

But when regulation is based on the content of speech, governmental action must be scrutinized more carefully to ensure that communication has not been prohibited merely because public officials disapprove the speaker’s views.” (Part III(A)).

As a general matter, “the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content. . ..  To allow a government the choice of permissible subjects for public debate would be to allow that government control over the search for political truth. (Part III(B)).

The denial of opposing homeowner rights website inclusion on its Resources web page would constitute a First Amendment violation.

Homeowners can play a significant role by speaking out.  Write about the quality of advice received from these organizations as to resolve problems with your HOA.  Was it helpful?  Were you satisfied? Please be sure to provide solid evidence – solid documentation – to support your request for help; no whining, no crying we was robbed.

Address these matters to Dan Gardner (dgardner@azre.gov), and send a copy to me at info@pvtgov.org with complete confidentiality.