Illinois appellate court awards punitive damages for reckless indifference by condo

Note:  This case is based on Illinois laws and case history precedent with respect to punitive damages and the business judgment rule.  (Normally, punitive damages are not awarded for breach of contract claims, but this case was a breach of fiduciary claim). I believe other states have similar laws and case history that would make this opinion valid in the respective states.  However, the decision is not for publication or use as binding precedent.

It reflects a common sense approach to justice under the law and not a decision to uphold the view that the HOA can do nothing wrong; and that the HOA always acts in the best interest of the HOA’s obligation to all the members.

Plaintiff must ask for punitive damages.


The issue:  Over a 2-year period, condo ignored homeowner’s repeated requests for assistance in addressing water damage, forcing homeowner to incur expenses to make repairs and to hire an attorney to seek condo reimbursement.  Punitive damages against the condo were sought.

The Laws:  Condo board’s breach of fiduciary duty;   punitive damages award for willful or evil motive or reckless indifference to rights of others; business judgment rule.

Decision:   Affirmed trial court decision against condo for breach of fiduciary duty to homeowner, and the award of punitive damages amounting to $22,000 above the damages of $5,497.

Discussion by the Court: 

“The purpose of punitive damages is not compensation, but punishment of the offender and deterrence of the wrongdoer and others. Punitive damages may be awarded ‘where the defendant’s conduct is willful or outrageous due to evil motive or a reckless indifference to the rights of others.’ “The parties agree that a trial court may award punitive damages in a breach of fiduciary duty case.

“[The trial court] found the Association ‘acted with reckless indifference to the rights and needs of [plaintiff] who was forced to use her own funds to repair an apartment and then hire a lawyer to help her recover her reasonable cost.’”

[Business judgment rule opinion].

“We note here that the Association urges us to find an abuse of discretion [judge overstepped his authority] because the award conflicts with its business judgment. ‘Under the business judgment rule [. . .] absent evidence of bad faith, fraud, illegality, or gross overreaching, courts are not at liberty to interfere with the exercise of business judgment by corporate directors.’

“The rule protects directors who have been careful and diligent in performing their duties from being subjected to liability for honest mistakes of judgment. . . . That is not what occurred in this case, where the Association was neither diligent nor careful in performing its duties, but instead chose to ignore the plight of  [plaintiff].”

Comment:  Punitive damages are the only realistic method whereby homeowner’s can impose a meaningful detriment to continued board abuse, as state laws do not punish the HOA board for violations of state laws or the governing documents.


Case:   Shuh v. Plaza Des Plaines Condominium Assn, No. 1-13-1999 (IL App. 1st  Dist. July 24, 201) (Thanks to HOA Member Services, “This website is designed to provide people with all the information they need to understand and enhance their experience of working with or living in a common interest development that is governed by a homeowners association.”)



HOA Common Sense, No. 9: HOA governments in fact

HOA Governments in fact, No. 9

I believe all HOAs should be required to have a sign at the main entrances to the subdivision that clearly states: “You are now leaving the American Zone.”[1]

De facto governments.

Is the HOA a mini or quasi government?  Is it a state actor? Or is it just another business with special privileges?  I believe we all can agree that the status of HOAs is that they are de facto – they exist — governments, not recognized by the state under municipality statutes just as Cuba is a de facto government not recognized by the US. 

What is the uniquely defining attribute of a government that distinguishes it from a business or non-profit charity?  Understand that all the functions that the CAI lawyers claim to make the HOA a business can also be used to claim that businesses are governments. Think about it.  Yes, they share the same functions – taxes/assessments, fines/penalties, courts/hearings, ordinance/rules and regs, etc. But the basic criterion is that “modern states are territorial, their governing body exercise control over the persons and things within their frontiers.[2]  This alone singles distinguishes a government from a business or charity.

Black’s Law[3] attempts to clarify what is commonly accepted as a political government: A government is “The principles and rules determining how a state is regulated.”  A nation is “a community of people inhabiting a defined territory and organized under an independent government; a sovereign political state.” And politics is “The science of the organization and administration of the state.” The general understanding uses the terms ‘people,’ ‘territory’, ‘regulation,’ and ‘state/nation’. 

Now, I know the above may be confusing, but the skilled HOA attorneys will do their parsing and word game analysis (depends on what the meaning of ‘is,’ is) of these definitions seeking to create reasonable doubt as to what the people know to mean as “government.”  You know, such as the argumentative asinine statement that, is the owner of a football stadium that regulates the people in the stadium a government?  

I prefer the simpler, down to earth answer given by Justice Stewart regarding what is pornography,

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it . . . .”[4]

It is interesting to note that David Wolfe, a founder of CAI back in 1973, had the following to say in 1978 when CAI debated the status of HOAs as a government.

One legal opinion offered in support of construing CAs [HOAs] as a government noted that the Supreme Court had required constitutional procedures in a ‘company town’ and with ‘political parties’; from this view CA actions were ‘public’ in a constitutional sense. . . . Wolfe concluded that a new definition of a CA as a government was needed to bring about Lewis Mumford’s vision of a democracy.[5]

And long ago in 1994 Prof. 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.[6]

The defective legal scheme

Please understand that all substantive (as opposed to changes to laws affecting HOA operating methods and procedures) reform legislation is an attempt to restore your rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities as citizens.  They were taken away by the HOA biased laws that granted the HOA power to deny or did not prohibit the HOA from denying your constitutional rights.  Yet, even the most independent local control over people found in a state’s home rule statutes requires allegiance to the US and state constitutions.[7]  Why do HOAs get special laws?  Why are they exempt from the Constitution?  It doesn’t add up!

You may ask, What for?  The answer is obvious: for the survival and acceptance of a defective legal scheme that seeks to impose authoritarian governments on unsuspecting people. If boards and officers are to be held accountable, who would volunteer?  Well, why not pay them a salary so accountability can be demanded?  WHAT!!!  If they are going to be paid and held accountable, then members have a right to demand qualified board members and not any ole body who would like to be on the board.

Wait!  Wait! I can see readers recoiling in horror.  “The horror . . . the horror . . .” (from the movie Apocalypse Now!).   So, boards are generally not paid and are volunteers, without any special training.  At least the legislature and city councils have tradition and long established rules and procedures with staff to assist the law makers, but HOAs are “on the fly” – on the job,  decide as you go.  No wonder we have all these problems with capable governance.  And the volunteers and the special interests lament, “but we are volunteers helping to make a better community. You can’t hold us responsible and accountable. We need a free reign.”  Yeah!  Right!  Free to create havoc!

All because the mass merchandising of the HOA concept could not be sold under such conditions that demanded prudent accountability.

And, the concept could not fly without mandatory members and compulsory dues.  The founders of the HOA scheme who wrote the HOA “bible” in 1964 well knew this. And in order for the HOA to legally bind subsequent home owners the founders had to resort to servitudes running with the land, or equitable servitudes/covenants.[8]  

But, the equitable servitudes doctrine brought a host of ills detrimental to the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which very disappointedly the courts have held superior to the supreme law of the land.[9]  They have allowed for the establishment of the New America of HOA-Land with communities governed by de facto authoritarian, private government regimes known as HOAs.

HOA member Declaration of US and State citizenship

All that is needed to have HOAs rejoin the Union is for state legislatures to pass a bill that states:

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the governing documents, or other laws to the contrary,

Wherefore, the members of the association, having not waived or surrendered their rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities as citizens of the United States under Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and as citizens of the state within which they reside, the CC&Rs or Declaration for any planned community, condominium association or homeowners association shall state, or be amended to comply, that, “The association hereby waives and surrenders any rights or claims it may have under law and herewith unconditionally and irrevocably agrees 1) to be bound by the US and State Constitutions, and laws of the State within which it is located as if it were a subdivision of the state and a local public government entity, and 2) that constitutional law shall prevail as the supreme law of the land including over conflicting laws and legal doctrines of equitable servitudes.

PS.  I apologize for the intrusion by WordPress to have added underlines to certain words.


[1] As contained on the On The Commons website, Shu Bartholomew, Producer and Host (

[2] “State”, Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th Ed.

[3] Id.

[4] Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 US 184 (1964).

[5] Quoted in Community Associations: The Emergence and Acceptance of a Quiet Innovation in Housing, Donald R. Stabile (Greenwood Press, 2000), pp. 164 -167. Lewis Mumford was a 1920s utopian community promoter.

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

[7] A legislature’s grant of autonomy for local government to act without legislative approval on acceptance of certain terms (Blacks’ Law Dictionary, 7th Ed.); “as long as they obey the state and federal constitutions” (Home Rule, Wikipedia (

[8] The Homes Association Handbook, Urban Land Institute Technical Bulletin #50 (1964); See my analysis at Analysis of The Homes Association Handbook.

[9] Most notable are: Inwood v. Harris, 736 S.W.2d 632 (Tex. 1987) (Texas Constitution overridden by covenants running with the land); Villa de Las Palmas v. Terifaj, 90 P.3d 1223 (CAL. 2004) (amended restrictions are binding on all in violation of ex post facto prohibition doctrine); Committee for a Better Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers, 929 A.2d 1060 (NJ 2007) (fundamental rights denied and business judgment rule is sufficient protection of homeowner rights).




new HOA book — Neighbors At War! by Ward Lucas

Amazon review By George K. Staropoli

This review is from: Neighbors At War! The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association (Paperback)

Neighbors at War! is a refreshing description of what living in an HOA (homeowners association, property owners association, common-interest community or condo association) that the average person can understand. It is not another legal treatise, or academic journal or book, but the writing of an experienced and award winning investigative reporter.

It is a long needed book for prospective buyers of HOA controlled homes or those already living in an HOA. All those state mandated documents do not tell it all, as state legislators are pro-HOA and accept the denials of homeowner rights contained in HOA adhesion contracts.

Ward Lucas ranges far and wide, from questions of constitutionality and denials of bill of rights protections to more down-to-earth issues of HOA procedures and operations. Foreclosure, no fair elections, and kangaroo hearings on violations are examples of the cases and issues that are discussed in easy to understand terms.

I’ve been repeatedly told by legislators that complaining homeowners are trying to get out of a contract, should have read the CC&Rs, and should have gotten a lawyer. And not a word about misrepresentation and fraud.

Do not fall into the trap of Buyer Beware! Read this excellent book and discover what you are not being told by the special interest national lobbying organization formed to protect, not your rights, but the HOA status quo. Neighbors at War! is a must read for informed homeowners and state legislators

HOA foreclosure ratio of 36 times violates the 14th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment

Matt Tomsic wrote an important article in the Charleston Region Business Review on HOA foreclosures with some revealing statistics.  SPECIAL REPORT: YOUR HOME, THEIR RULESFor example, 68% of the foreclosures were for $5,000 or less in Charleston County, SC.

I wrote the author for some additional statistics. What he had available was just median values for debt owed the HOA and home value, which were $4,500 and $160,000, respectively.


That amounts to a punishment of 36 times the debt owed. The US Supreme Court in State Farm v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003) set criteria of punitive damages exceeding 10 times actual damages constitutes a violation of the 14th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. In the jargon of today, HOA foreclosure is the iconic instance of cruel and unusual punishment. And the HOA did not advance any hard cash like a bank to justify foreclosure rights.


BUT, your elected representatives see no evil and continue to support the real estate industry’s business interests, with the people being the pawns and “marks” in the con game.

HOA foreclosure: an unconstitutional punishment

Writing on the Hindman-Sanchez blog (Colorado) in 2011, attorney Sanchez asks, Is Foreclosure the Right Option?”  She offers 3 options: 1) just lien the property and wait, 2) get a money judgment on the debt owed and garnish money source, and 3) foreclose. Sanchez answers that option 1 is not quick; option 2 will not work if there is no cash available; so that leaves option 3, foreclose on the house.

However, working on behalf of the HOA and its supposed survival concerns, Sanchez fails to address the practical matter of 1) not enough equity in the home to for the HOA to collect its debt after the mortgage is paid off, or assumed, and 2) the moral and ethical question of a discriminatory, unethical, and inequitable option that amounts to a cruel and unusual punishment. It affects only those who have paid their mortgage and assessments obligations over many years. 

And remember, the HOA has not advanced any hard cash as a bank or lender to warrant a special foreclosure law, but is functioning as a state entity collecting on the failure to pay taxes.  Nor has it performed any services to warrant special treatment under a mechanics lien analogy.  Its services have been performed on behalf of the fictional but legal and separate person, the HOA.

From a broader aspect on the nature of the “contract” between the homeowner and the HOA, the homeowner was not told that buying into the HOA corporation is like buying into a closely held business that has limited marketability (ease of selling out, which amounts to selling his home), and whose source of additional funds is very, very limited – increased assessments, special assessments, and obtaining a bank loan if possible.  That’s the bargain the homeowner made when he bought his home.  That is the hidden downside of HOA corporations kept hidden by the HOA, the developer, the real estate agent and the consumer protection agency, if any. 

The use of foreclosure focuses the members’ attention to the other guy and not on the nature of the contract.  It is an irrational attempt by an HOA attorney to “get blood from a turnip,” which after all, is just what one would expect when dealing with “deadbeats.”  It serves to intimidate and punish homeowners by taking away the homeowner’s home, leaving him nothing. 

Sanchez ignores the reality of the present economic situation, which she admits to. She speaks, however, of foreclosure as a “necessary tool” to punish and to intimidate.

While associations have other options available, foreclosure is a powerful and necessary tool in the association’s collection efforts arsenal. People take notice when there [sic] property is being foreclosed. Foreclosure may motivate those who have not been making assessments to bring their account current. More often than not once a delinquent homeowner gets notice of a pending foreclosure on their property, they make some type of payment arrangement or refinance.

If HOA covenants and statutes that allow the HOA to take a member’s home or money based on an HOA fine was held to be an unconstitutional punishment or penalty[i], so must foreclosure statutes be held as an unconstitutional preemption of government power.  The argument that foreclosure is just a legal collection method and not a punishment falsely states reality.

(Loura Sanchez and Hindman are Colorado attorney members of CAI  and members of its College of Community Associations Lawyers (CCAL)). 

[i]In  Unit Owners Association v. Gilman, 292 S.E.2d 378 (1982), the Virginia Supreme Court heldthat a fine was  “A pecuniary punishment imposed by lawful tribunal upon person convicted of crime or misdemeanor. A pecuniary penalty. It may include a forfeiture . . .” and that “The imposition of a fine is a governmental power. The sovereign cannot be preempted of this power, and the power cannot be delegated or exercised other than in accordance with the provisions of the Constitutions of the United States and of Virginia. Neither can a fine be imposed disguised as an assessment.”