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.

 

References

[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.

Should CAI’s public policy embrace “Duty, Honor, Country”?

The CEO of Starbucks visited West Point, the US Military Academy, where he saw three words over and over again: Duty, Honor, Country.   He told Meet The Press this morning that if Congress and the White House adopted these principles America would be a better America.  I believe if CAI adopted these principles as it public policy America would be a better America. I believe by adopting these principles the alleged purpose as advertised by CAI to build vibrant and healthy communities could be achieved.

Unfortunately we live in a society where there is widespread adoption of the principle of political correctness, not ethical or moral correctness, but political correctness; where activist Supreme Courts redefine the traditional and long held meaning of words and concepts like, “public use”  replaced by “public purpose” and corporations are real people and not ficticous people; and where strict interpretations of the law serve the special interests over the intent and purpose of the Constitution, like HOAs are not governments.  I agree with Starbuck’s CEO – Congress and the White House must return to these three basic principles to make a better America.

Afterthought

Over the years West Point produced such notable military leaders as Ulysses S. Grant (Pres. of US), Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing (WWI), Douglas MacArthur (received Medal of Honor, as did his father; “American Caesar” of postwar Japan), George C. Marshall (Army Chief of Staff and FDR’s chief military advisor was denied by FDR to lead European invasion as FDR needed him in Washington; later Secretary of State; Marshall Plan for European recovery after WWII), Dwight D. Eisenhower Pres. of US), George C Patton, Omar Bradley and many others.

Where are the statesmen of this caliber today? Nowhere to be found!

Published in: on November 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm  Comments (5)  
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HOA laws that fail to protect the people from harm

I have written many times about the loss in the protections of individual rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities that continues in our country.  I wrote about the presumption that all laws passed by the legislature are constitutional, because, apparently, the sovereign can do no wrong.  After all, the legislature is the voice of the people, isn’t it?

BUT, this false analogy to the king can do no wrong ignores the fact that the king was not bound by any constitution or charter, and was free to do as he pleased.  But, we have, or are supposed to have, a constitution with restrictions on government.  We also have the doctrine of judicial review of legislation, subjecting the laws to pass judicial scrutiny.

Of the three levels now part of the doctrine of judicial scrutiny, the peoples’ rights fall into one of three categories. The least protective is a legitimate, rational government interest (basically anything the government says is important to the people goes); the strictest is a compelling and necessary interest, reserved for explicit fundamental rights violations.

I have always been bothered about many HOA laws purported to be in the best interest of the people, yet deprive or deny a category of people, those living in HOAs, of their constitutional rights (free speech in many forms, due process protections) and the equal protection of the laws. In Arizona, for example, the horrendous SB 1482 omnibus (read ‘ominous’) bill did just that: granted special rights to HOA managers and left homeowners with unequal legal representation; rejected a private agreement to prevent crimes to allow real estate agents to be able to rent homes in HOAs, a long time frowned upon right.

In the recent Arizona appellate opinion in Vong v. Aune (non-HOA case that explains judicial scrutiny), the court held that, “Courts have found a legitimate purpose lacking where a regulation fails to protect the public from harm.” ¶ 18.  Did I miss something?  Did the Rules Committee that has the duty to check for constitutionality miss something?

Of course the game is still in favor of the government where the burden is put on the homeowner challenger.  He must show that the alleged good for the community is overwhelmingly overridden by the damage to the HOA homeowner public class, and is contrary to public policy. It raises the question of one class of people losing constitutional protections so that others may . . . . may what?

Sadly, public policy as shaped by court and legislative decisions seems to be on the side of the HOA.

When do majority CC&R amendments trample minority rights?

 

The generally accepted legal doctrine upheld by the courts in many states is that any CC&Rs amendment validly passed by the amendment procedures in the CC&Rs is binding on non-consenting homeowners.  This doctrine ignores the content and relevancy of the amendment to the intent and purposes of the drafters, the developer.

The questionable word game involved in this issue deals with the meaning and use of ‘modify’ or ‘change’ as compared to ‘new.’  Does your CC&RS say modify or change, or does it also include the words add or new?  Some courts make no distinction and thereby unconstitutionally modify the CC&Rs contract by depriving non-consenting homeowners of their property rights that they believed they possessed at the time of purchase.

(In general, the dictionaries define ‘modify’ as a change, and ‘change’ to mean ‘to make different,’ but excluding any reference to ‘new.’)

With this presumption in favor of the HOA, these courts fail to determine if this is what the unsuspecting home buyer understands, and that he has been given appropriate notice. Is he aware that ‘change’ also means ‘new’ or ‘add’?  Simply said, we are dealing the ex post facto CC&Rs amendments that deprive a homeowner of his rights without his consent and without any compensation.

In the April 2014, the Washington State Supreme Court opinion in Wilkinson v. Chiwawa,[i] said, wait a minute with respect to rentals.  ‘Change’ or ‘modify’ does not mean ‘add’ or ‘new.’  It held that,

While Chiwawa homeowners knew that existing restrictive covenants could be changed by majority vote so long as the changes were consistent with the general plan, they did not buy into the creation of new restrictions unrelated to existing ones. . . . When the governing covenants authorize a majority of homeowners to create new restrictions unrelated to existing ones, majority rule prevails “provided that such power is exercised in a reasonable manner consistent with the general plan of the development.”

This rule protects the reasonable, settled expectation of landowners by giving them the power to block “`new covenants which have no relation to existing ones'” and deprive them of their property rights.

The Association could not adopt the restriction without unanimous consent. This is the contract into which the parties bought and the expectation that we must uphold.

One of the most notorious examples of this type of amendment occurred in OSCA[ii] where mobile homeowners were forced to pay dues for a country club, owned by the developer and not owned by the HOA, and open to the public on a fee basis.  It helped increase the value of the HOA, was the justification for the amendment.

What does your CC&Rs say?  Watch for those CAI attorney rewrites that sneak these words into your CC&Rs without proper notice, as for example, Arizona requires.

And remember, who writes these state laws?   The  HOA stakeholders that do not include the homeowners!

References

[i] Wilkinson v. Chiwawa, Wn.  No.86870-1, p. 6,7 (April 17, 2014). The issue was an amendment that prohibited short-term rentals when the CC&Rs were silent on duration.  Was it a new covenant or a modification to the one that simple said renting was allowed.

[ii] OSCA Development v. Blehm, No. E320843 (Cal. App. Dist. 4 1999).

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.

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