“Private Metropolis” revisited

It is my strong belief that  the HOA legal model of local government played a part  in the demise of democracy in America[i] has been greatly assisted by the recent publication Private Metropolis.[ii]  In my prior post on Private Metropolis,[iii] I was very pleased by the opening Introductory paragraph,

The opening introductory segment encompasses a wide description of special  governmental units. It is loaded with constitutional issues and controversies that says it all quite plainly: “quasi-governments,” “shadow local states,” “the municipality is no longer the privileged seat of governance,” and “special purpose local governments” (including homeowner associations with some 27% of the population — according to CAI — as residents), that “became, in effect, shadow governments.” 

Unfortunately, these highly descriptive political concepts  used in this very broad study of local government failed to appropriately address the form of local government known as HOAs.  Scant attention is given to these associations by the authors. In the 312 pages “homeowner association” is mentioned just once and “CID” twice. But “shadow government” and “quasi-government” and “special districts” are tossed around quite frequently. Readers, having read the very enticing title, will be greatly disappointed by its failure to deal with the most direct affront to the eclipse of local democratic government: the HOA legal model of governance that has been supported by all state legislatures across this country.

HOAs, my generic term for community and homeowners associations, satisfy the fundamental definition of a political government.  Black’s Law Dictionary (7th Ed.) definition separates the men from the boys: “Modern states are territorial; their governments exercise control over persons and things within their frontiers.”  And that is the unique feature of political government that  distinguishes an HOA from  a business, a non-profit charity, a club, a union, etc. I believe that the decision to form HOA governance outside the domain of public government was intentional to avoid constitutional restrictions.[iv]

They are a de facto yet unrecognized form of local government — other forms being mayor-council, council-manager — born and created as private entities, and as such,  have escaped, for the most part, under the common defense prohibiting  any ”law impairing the obligation of contracts.” Although the other forms of public local government are subject and held to the Constitution and the laws of the land. HOAs meet every criteria set forth by the authors as indicated above and epitomize the eclipse of local democratic government. 

The authors appear to admit the failure of the  ivory tower “philosopher kings” (my terms) to actively participate in preventing the fall of local democracy: “Instead, even scholars who study local governments [only recently realized] the degree to which quasi-public institutions are insulated from the democratic process.”  That applies strongly to authoritarian HOA governments. 

Notes


[i] See in general, Whither goest local government? Restrictive HOAs or responsible public government (2009); CAI’s early awareness of HOA constitutionality, public mini-government (2021); HOAs are another form of local government (2021).

[ii] Private Metropolis: the Eclipse of Local Democratic Government,  Dennis R. Judd, Evan McKenzie, Alba Alexander, Global and Community Series, Vol. 32, Univ. of Minneapolis Press (June 22, 2021).

[iii]  Private Metropolis: explaining the demise of local public government.

[iv] CC&Rs are a devise for de facto HOA governments to escape constitutional government.

Reorienting the HOA board: business judgment rule

Mentoring: Reorienting HOA board – business judgment

consulting SIG image1HOAs love business judgment rule (BJR) that can be found in too many court opinions including, as a prime example, the infamous NJ Supreme court opinion in Twin Rivers.

First, the business judgment rule protects members from arbitrary decision-making. . . . Our Appellate Division has uniformly invoked the business judgment rule in cases involving homeowners’ associations.[1]

In CAI’s amicus brief in the above case, argued that “the settled legal principles” of the business judgment rule

permit community association trustees to fulfill their fiduciary duties and to exercise judgment in balancing the needs and obligations of the community as a whole with those of individual homeowners and residents, without undue judicial interference.[2]

As can be noted, the CAI brief equates the HOA interests with the members’ interests and that it is acting in the best interests of the members subject to “the needs and obligations of the community.” Sort of confusing doubletalk me thinks.

Wayne Hyatt is quoted (p. 9) that the business judgment rule

defends the procedure under which the board has acted and the right of the board to be the sole arbiter of the issue involved. The result is that if the procedure is valid, the court will not second guess the substance of a board’s action. Consequently, the court upholds the decision without subjecting the wisdom of the board’s action to judicial scrutiny.[3]

In California’s Lamden v. La Jolla,

[A] hallmark of the business judgment rule is that, when the rule’s requirements are met, a court will not substitute its judgment for that of the corporation’s board of directors. . . . [A]nyone who buys a unit in a common interest development with knowledge of its owners association’s discretionary power accepts ‘the risk that the power may be used in a way that benefits the commonality but harms the individual.’ “[4]

I cannot overstate the profound damaging effect by the courts as they continue to ignore HOAs as de facto governments and treat them as a pure real estate corporation. The School has performed an excellent job in creating a supportive mindset. Their demonstrable ignorance can only stem from the thorough indoctrination by the CAI School of HOA Governance that flows from the HOA “bible,” The Homes Association Handbook (cover page link).[5]

The BJR serves to protect the BOD from member lawsuits where the issues center on the BOD’s broad discretionary powers. Essentially the basis of BJR presumes that the BOD knows better about managing the HOA than the judge and, after all, the members chose the directors. In a cop-out not me attitude the judge simply goes along with the BOD’s position. YOU LOSE!

It is a very effective argument, tactic, because the homeowner and his attorney do not challenge this view that the BOD knows best. There is no rebuttal arguing that the BOD is practicing bad management, or is acting inconsistent with their obligation to act in members best interest – not in the best interest of the HOA. There is the presumption that the members’ interests are totally found in the governing documents and none other exist. It is an attitude in contrast to our Bill of Rights, Amendments 9 (enumeration clause) and 10 (rights delegated to the people).   Under the HOA “constitution,” any non- specified prohibitions or rights belong to the HOA and not its members.

Once again I’m touching upon a defect in the HOA legal scheme. Under corporation law the BOD is responsible to the HOA association. True! But the CC&Rs override that law. Why?  Let’s not forget that we have a PRIVATE contract agreed to by the members requiring the BOD to function in the best interest of the members.[6]  The private contract defense works for the members and not the BOD What’s fair is fair! Right?

In order to move past many of the persistent HOA problems and issues the BOD, as well as the legislators and courts, must adjust their views and mindset with respect to the HOA scheme. To restore equality before the law HOAs must be viewed as another form of local public government. The reorientation of the BOD comes first. There are ample materials, courses, seminars and public education, a substantial precedents and history on how to function as a public government and still protect and retain the private nature HOA community.

Notes

[1] CBTR v. Twin Rivers, 929 A.2d 1060, II, (N.J. 2007).

[2] CAI amicus brief, CBTR v. Twin Rivers (N.J. Super. App. Div. Docket C-121-00 2004).

[3] Id.

[4] Lamden v. La Jolla, 980 P.2d 940, Calif. 1999).

[5] The Homes Association Handbook, MARYJO CORNISH, Editor, Urban Land Institute, TB#50 (1964). Its Foreword omits any concern about the homeowners or constitutional government. See cover pages that provide evidence of lack of local government concern as part of the purpose of TB50. See Analysis of The Homes Association Handbook.

[6] See “HOA contractual mission” in Restructuring HOAs – intents and purposes.

HOA vs public government

Ever wonder what would happen if your town/city council did not have enough public minded citizens to run for office?  You know, like what we see in many HOAs?

While I’m not sure, several scenarios are possible.  A small clique would soon dominate the council and the shortage of councilmen ignored.  Or, the state would be asked to get involved either by citizens unhappy with the ruling click, or vendors concerned about the legitimacy of contracts would seek protection.

In HOA-Land who would be able to step in and restore order and a just government?  Not the state since the HOA is not a state subdivision.   Could be the vendors who are mainly the lawyers and managers.  Not likely. After all, it is they who control the HOAS “council.” They like it just this way, because, as we see in the governing documents and state laws, they are a privileged class. Not the board composed of the clique and perhaps “conscripted” directors – those bodies urged to become a director to satisfy the CC&R and who remain silent and acquiesce to the president’s wishes.

I hope readers begin to realize that the dogmatic cry of “no government interference” got just what they asked for – complete independence and on their own. HOA-Land private government requires a higher degree of public involvement than found in the nation as a whole – an insurmountable barrier.

However, some disgruntled member can file a request to the court to appoint a receiver who will manage the HOA – and get paid for it — as it is quite evident that the members are incapable of governing their HOA. Now, he would have his orders from the court and that would not include the irrational lament promoted by the CAI lawyers and managers that it ain’t fair to the “good” members.  Well, it is fair in terms of the fact that it is the failure of the members to participate that makes them guilty of the failure to manage their HOA.  Oh, you thought you were just buying a home and management of the HOA was someone else’s problem.  SURPRISE!

In my opinion, HOAs as a state entity bring more protection than the private and adhesive CC&Rs “contract.”  Understand that turning to the 42 year-old national educational entity, as several states and towns have, that has failed all these years to fix HOA problems is irresponsible and lunacy pure and simple.  As a state entity you have bodies of statutes and common law, and traditions and precedent that serve to protect citizens as opposed to the Johnny come lately, make new law on the fly by courts. New laws that interpret your “contract” in many unexpected ways that do not serve individual rights and interests because the HOA is a private entity.

NJ Supreme Court upholds constitution against HOA free speech electioneering violations

Those familiar with rogue HOAs have seen this occur time after time – board control of the electioneering process.   In, Dublirer, a NJ Supreme Court case, [1]

The [condo] Board, citing a ‘House Rule’ that barred soliciting and distributing any written materials, denied the request. On prior occasions, though, the Board had distributed written ‘updates’ under apartment doors throughout the building, which criticized the Board’s opponents. The resident filed a lawsuit and claimed that the House Rule was unconstitutional.”

Finally, a state supreme court said enough is enough and free speech in elections for members dominates the governing documents, and the state constitution prevails (This case was not filed under federal laws).

Under that approach, we find that the Board’s policy violates the free speech clause of the State Constitution. The important right of residents to speak about the governance of their community, which presents a minimal intrusion when a leaflet is placed under a neighbor’s apartment door, outweighs the Board’s concerns. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division.

The panel [appellate decision] noted that Dublirer’s expressional activity was ‘political-like speech’ because it related to the management and governance of the common-interest community. The panel found that the restriction left Dublirer without reasonable alternative means to convey his message.”

Thus, even though Dublirer did not run for public office, his message was akin to and should be treated as political speech, which is entitled to the highest level of protection in our society. . . . If anything, speech about matters of public interest, and about the qualifications of people who hold positions of trust, lies at the heart of our societal values.

Essentially, members – and speaking with respect to member-owners — must be given equal access to the membership as long as the campaign does not excessively disrupt the “tranquility” of the community. Suitable means must be given to members to allow for free speech expressions. The HOA had argued, beyond technicalities that were dismissed, that members had no free speech rights.  Imagine that!  CAI’s description of HOAs as democracies was just contradicted!

The Court held,

“On balance, we find that the restriction on Dublirer’s right to disseminate his written materials to neighbors is unreasonable. Dublirer’s right to promote his candidacy, and to communicate his views about the governance of the community in which he lives, outweigh the minor interference that neighbors will face from a leaflet under their door. In short, Dublirer’s right to free speech outweighs the Board’s concerns about the use of the apartment building. We therefore find that the Board’s House Rule violates the free speech guarantee in New Jersey’s Constitution.”

It appears that this Court believes that HOAs are akin to public governments and the election of board members is tantamount to a local public election and must be constitutionally protected.  To ensure that local community government works for the member-owners, don’t due process protections and the equal protection of the laws under the 14th Amendment require judicial enforcement against HOA violations?  And that these rights deserve supremacy over privately drafted contracts that have as their objective the dismissal of constitutional protections?  I think so!  So should state legislators!

As for CAI’s amicus brief, it denied free speech rights to homeowners, declared HOAs are businesses and members are like stockholders during board elections, and other non-constitutional methods were available so forget about applying constitutional law.  Sounds like a belief that HOAs are indeed independent principalities (See Establishing the New America: a new book).

CAI cannot allow HOAs to be treated as equivalent to state entities.  See Commentary posted here.

Note 1.  “BRIEF OF PUTATIVE AMICUS CURIAE COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS INSTITUTE – NEW JERSEY CHAPTER,” Michael S. Karpoff, Jan. 3, 2013 (Dublirer v. 2000 Linwood Avenue Owners Assn, N.J. Docket 069154 (2014)).