Restoring the lost Constitution to HOA-Land

Some 23% of Americans live in HOA-Land, that collection of fragmented independent principalities known, in general, as HOAs. Overwhelmingly their members swear by the HOA as the next best thing to Mom’s apple pie. It is hard to accept this undying loyalty to the HOA and its board of directors in view of the fact that their acceptance of HOAs is the result of an intentional indoctrination by national lobbying, business trade group that, in my mind, does not know how to spell “constitution.. Obviously then, those CAI surveys are suspect.

HOAs are separate, local private governments not subject to the constitution, and collectively constitute a nation within a defined geographical region known as the United States. “A nation consists of a distinct population of people that are bound together by a common culture, history, and tradition who are typically concentrated within a specific geographic region.”

“Public policy today rejects constitutional government for HOAs allowing them to operate outside the law of the land. The policy makers have failed to understand that the HOA CC&Rs have crossed over the line between purely property restrictions to establishing unregulated and authoritarian private governments.”

To provide the ignored but important and substantial aspects of the HOA legal scheme I have designated three books by StarMan Group under the collection, “Restoring the Lost Constitution to HOA-Land.” They are 1) HOA Common Sense: rejecting private government, a summary of 6 constitutional defects, 2) The HOA-Land Nation Within America, presenting the scope of outlaw private governments that deny constitutional protections to HOA members, and 3) The Plan to Restructure the Model of HOA Governance that advances a plan to restore the Constitution to HOAs while keeping the desired benefits of the “real estate package.” (All the above can be found on Amazon.com).

For a historical perspective of HOA-Land, see:

  • The Homes Associations Handbook (ULI, 1964). Not publicly available but I have a copy of the 434 page document).
  • Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government (1994), Evan McKenzie.
  • Community Associations: The Emergence and Acceptance of a Quiet Innovation in Housing (2000), Donald R. Stable. (ULI and CAI production).

(All the above, except for the Handbook,  can be found on Amazon.com).

Goldwater Institute ignores HOA unconstitutionality

Reading through the highly respected Christina Sandefur’s paper in the Harvard Law Journal,[1] I was deeply disturbed by the absence of any discussion of similar conduct by homeowners associations (HOAs). Her paper criticized city ordinance prohibitions on short-term home rentals. “These cities treat home sharing itself as the crime.” It is a dangerous proposition that government . . . [to] be able to criminalize violations of that judgment” [“on how to use their properties”].

Yet, in her one single sentence, Sanderfur holds HOAs harmless that, by means of the governing documents, use their “police powers” to prohibit short-term rentals and from criminalizing such acts by their members. While that may be the role of a homeowner association when people contract to determine to how to use their properties, a city government should not have that power.”

Sanderfur’s arguments against government statutory prohibitions, include in part,

  • “Cities look at this as a way to increase revenues” by imposition of fines,
  • “They get to outlaw the activity,”
  • Intimidate residents [of the city] into giving up their property rights”,
  • “This is not only abhorrent public policy, and
  • “It is also unconstitutional”.

It seems that these arguments apply to HOAs also, but it appears that nobody is listening. I do not understand and cannot understand this blindness to the constitutional issues surrounding HOAs, especially from the prestigious, defending the Constitution, public interest Goldwater Institute.

What is the rationale behind this blindness when there is substantial legal authority in support of unconstitutionality, from the basic outlaw government of independent principalities that reject the US Constitution,[2] to placing the doctrine of equitable servitudes property law over constitutional law and contract law;[3] to gross misrepresentation in the selling and marketing of HOAs that invalidate and thought of a bona fide consent to be bound.[4]

When will Goldwater question the constitutionality of the HOA model of government? Why is Goldwater viewing an HOA just as a real estate subdivision package of amenities, landscaping, homes and not as a distinct form of local government[5] functioning outside the laws of the land as an outlaw government.

The policy makers have failed to understand that the HOA CC&Rs have crossed over the line between purely property restrictions to establishing unregulated and authoritarian private governments.” (George K. Staropoli).

 CIDS [HOAs] currently engage in many activities that would be prohibited  if they were viewed  by the courts as the equivalent of local governments.[6]

There is no compelling and necessary justification for HOA special treatment. It’s time to end these outlaw private governments that violate even the most liberal home rule, self-governing provisions of state laws and constitutions.[7]

I do not see Goldwater’s name on the list of Arizona’s Request to Speak positions on SB 1412,[8] a bill prohibiting HOAs from restricting the political free speech rights of homeowners in regard to political issues within the HOA community. California just passed SB 323, a progressive bill supporting homeowner rights, and Florida has SB 623 in the works also seeking homeowner rights and freedoms within the HOA legal structure.[9] This a very good time for Goldwater to speak out on this bill and HOA member rights, freedoms and privileges and immunities as US citizens.

 

The Goldwater Institute, including Sanderfur, has been on my distribution list for some time as well as Victor Riches, President & CEO, whom I met and discussed HOA problems as far back as the early 2000s when he was an Arizona legislative staff analyst. I also met with and discussed HOAs with Clint Bolick, now AZ Supreme Court Justice, who in 2013 accepted my request for legal assistance to sue the State of Arizona. He was preempted by Tim Hogan of ACLPI.[10] It was with Nick Dranias that I had a pleasant Arizona Capital Times exchange on HOA issues.[11] He offered, privately, some advice that I have incorporated into my Truth In HOAs position and Homeowner Declaration.

 

Notes

[1] Christina Sandefur, “Turning Entrepreneurs into Outlaws,” p. 45 et seq., Harv. J.L. & Policy, Winter 2020. Sanderfur is an Exec. VP, Goldwater Institute.

[2] See The HOA Principality (2005); HOA-Land: the product of the decline in democratic institutions in America. (2018).

[3] 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.” See CC&Rs are a devise for de facto HOA governments to escape constitutional government (2015).

[4] See HOA consent to agree vs. “the will of the majority”. (2019).

[5] The four recognized types of local government are : commission, and council-manager, the most prevalent. See in general, Roger L. Kemp, “Forms of Governance,” Managing America’s Cities: A Handbook for Local Government Productivity, McFarland & Co., (2007).

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

[7] See in general, HOAs violate local home rule doctrine and are outlaw governments, concluding paragraph. (2014).

[8] AZ RTS positions as of today, March 4, 2020.

[9] See Toward a democratic HOA subject to the Constitution (2020).

[10] See AZ Attorney General admits SB 1454 HOA to be invalid and without effect (2013).

[11] See Goldwater Institute: regulating HOAs “stands Constitution on its head” (2008).

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

 

References

[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.

AZ SB 1088 is an unconstitutional and selective impairment of a contract bill

Arizona’s SB 1088 bill seeks to invalidate CC&Rs that require approval by a homeowner to allow any visitor access to the homeowner.  It specifically deals with — and is only meaningful with respect to gated communities which are gated for a very good reason — not hindering process servers access to a homeowner defendant.  It is punitive with a $250 “civil penalty” for anyone violating this law.

Background 

Under our laws and judicial system a plaintiff must service notice of a lawsuit upon a defendant as required by the Constitution.[1]  It is well known that there are people who act to avoid being served notice, which stops any lawsuit from moving forward. However, the law does allow for posting the summons notice to the public notices page of a newspaper in the event the defendant cannot be personally contacted.[2]

Impairing the obligation of contracts

The proponents’ argument would be generally along the lines that “due process under the law” triumphs over any contract infringement violation as a matter of public policy and for the general good of the people. An HOA covenant cannot hinder constitutional due process of law and the equal application of the law to a person, not necessarily an HOA, who is suing a defendant in such an HOA.  It’s not fair they would cry, referring to the greater good served outside the HOA.

But, the bill seems to be unnecessary as there are other means to satisfy civil procedure process servers.  It would also not pass judicial scrutiny[3] required to deny constitutional rights under contract infringement.  The bill seems to be sponsored as a request from a constituent facing some problem that lacks merit, considering the alternative methods available for service notice by process servers.

Selective enforcement of the law

It is long held doctrine that a government cannot pick and choose what laws to enforce or to ignore, and still be seen as a legitimate government.  The entirety of the covenants in a declaration of CC&Rs — allegedly constituting the voice of the people in a private contract to not be bound by the Constitution and the laws of the land — contains many, many covenants that violate the protected rights of the people.

Yet the state stands idly by and does nothing to end these private contractual violations of the constitution’s requirement for the equal protection of the law.  The CC&Rs are a mockery of due process protections, of fair elections, of eminent domain protections, of cruel and unusual punishment by foreclosure rights, of contract law misrepresentation and full disclosure violations, of the failure to provide civil penalties against HOA violations of the law, etc.

They are either ignored or have the “blessings” of the legislature as a result of laws that coerce compliance with the HOA, cooperate with the HOA, or closely interact with the day-to-day operations of the HOA. Any of which would make the HOA a state actor subject to the Constitution.

SB 1088 is a selective impairment of contract obligations while other infringements of the laws are allowed to stand. Adopting this bill would be a mockery of the law.

 

References

[1] 14th Amendment, “Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

[2] Ariz. R. Civ. P., 4.1(n). “Where the person being served . . . has avoided service of process . . . then service may be by publication  . . . . “ Also, Rule 4.1(m) allows for “alternative or substituted service.”

[3] Judicial scrutiny relating to constitutional rights requires a compelling and necessary government interest, not a general government interest, to deny protected rights.  See, in general, Arizona’s HB 2382 is an unconstitutional violation of eminent domain law.

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.