Are HOA state actors created by statutory use of shall/may?

The use of the words “shall” and “may” have generally accepted meanings in state laws and statutes.[1]  Their use in bills and laws relating to HOA-Land raises the highly controversial question of: Are HOAs state actors?  Wayne Hyatt — former CAI president – wrote in 1976 that HOAs were mini-governments.[2]  In general, a state actor is an entity that is functioning as “an arm of the state” or “in place of the state.”[3]  Does the use of “shall” that is defined as “mandatory” make the HOA an arm of the state?

In sum, the US Supreme Court criteria for classification of a state actor can be found in Brentwood:[4]

  1.  From the State’s exercise of “coercive power,”
  2. when the State provides “significant encouragement, either overt or covert,”
  3. when a private actor operates as a “willful participant in joint activity with the State or its agents
  4. when it is controlled by an “agency of the State,”
  5. when it has been delegated a public function by the State
  6. when it is “entwined with governmental policies,” or
  7. when government is “entwined in [its] management or control.”

In regard to the institutionalization of HOAs, or as I refer to it, HOA-Land, the above tests 1 – 3, and 5 -6 would provide clear and convincing evidence that the policies of state legislatures, as demonstrated by the enacted pro-HOA laws, have created HOAs as state actors who willingly undertake state actions.  Review your state laws for the use of “shall” and the consequences of that mandate on your individual property rights.

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The pro-HOA laws enacted by state legislators, aside from other constitutional concerns with respect to the 14th Amendment protections of the equal protection of the law and valid due process, use “may” and “shall” that are permissive and mandatory obligations upon HOAs (and condos).  “May” is commonly found as “the board may set the time of the annual meeting,” or “may charge . . .”  The overlooked impact and consequence of this word is to legalize activities and actions that were all-to-fore not legal rights granted to the HOA.

They are now made a legal activity, if your BOD so chooses.   Prior to a statute using “may” the action or activity had to be granted by the governing documents.  If so, by including it in a statute lends “officialness” to the action, and a very difficult process to declare the statute invalid.  It protects the governing documents if so permitted.

The right granted by the use of “may” to HOA boards (BOD) to fine or monetarily penalize members and filing a lien with the right to foreclose, for example, makes it a legal action not granted to other nonprofit organizations.  Can you imagine PBS or United Fund placing a lien on your failure to not pay your pledge to support their existence? No way!  Why allow HOAs this legal right?  Which of the above criteria does it violate?

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Now the heart of the matter focuses on the use of “shall” that is a mandatory order to the HOA to act on behalf of the state —  fine those members and collect costs including attorney fees, etc. Not only is it a legal requirement for the HOA to act as ordered, the BOD has no choice, no discretion to do otherwise, nor can the members reject a potential amendment or rule change. So much for democracy at work in HOA-Land!  Which of the above SC criteria does it violate?

It is well beyond the time for those public interest nonprofits touting their support for the Constitution and democratic values to get involved and stop this disgraceful and unconscionable legislation.  Stop the legislation that coerces, encourages, and supports private government, authoritarian HOAs.  Legislation that advances the view that the HOA “constitution” is a better deal than the 232-year-old US Constitution.  Shameful!

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The American experiment in democracy, as the youthful America was described by Alexis de Tocqueville[5], is being subverted by the HOA legal scheme supported by elected officials and academics parading as the nouveau Philosopher-Kings preaching to the elected government leadership.  In 2009 I commented:

“I explore this failure of the American Experiment and the rise of independent HOA principalities in Establishing the New America of independent HOA principalities (see New America).”

Notes

[1] See “Legislative shall,” paper with quotes from Yale Law Journal and the Arizona bill drafting manual as a specific example.

[2] Read his 1976 statement in To be or not to be a mini or quasi government? Hyatt said ‘yes’. (2015). Wayne Hyatt was a prominent figure in the promotion of HOA-Land as well as an important person in creating CAI in 1973, serving as its second president. I believe he had strong influence in drafting the Del Webb Declarations still in use today.

[3] In general. see arguments for state actors: HOA Case History: state actors or mini/quasi government (2011); Do state HOA Statutes Establish HOAs as State Actors? (2012); Judicial error regarding HOAs as mini-governments and state actors (2015), “This commentary, somewhat technical at times, demonstrates the failure of the courts to address the fundamental issues that HOAs are mini-governments, and that by the collective functions and actions of HOAs there is clear and convincing evidence to make the case that they are indeed state actors. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

[4] Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Ass’n, 531 U.S. 288 (2001).

[5] Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (Vol. 1, 1832; Vol. 2 1840). Printed by Alfred A. Knopf (1972).

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.

Judicial error regarding HOAs as mini-governments and state actors

Two cases directly dealing with HOAs as mini or quasi governments by means of state actions tests have come to my attention: Brock v. Watergate and Westphal v. Lake Lotawana.[1] (The question of an HOA being a state actor is not raised, but that a specific act of the HOA is a state action. The questions are fundamentally different.) The decisions were based on the public functions (company town) test and one of the US Supreme Court criteria, the “close nexus” test.[2]

Here the question of an HOA being a municipality is linked to showing a comparison with company towns (established by corporations to provide housing for their employees) under the public functions test, which was held to be a municipality. The Court then makes the giant leap to hold that since the HOA was not a company town, and therefore not a municipality, none of its actions can be considered a state action. The Court’s illogical conclusion is that no act of a private entity can be considered a state action, because the entity is not a municipality! This attitude makes a mockery of state action/actors laws that protect citizens from quasi-governments. (Think about this after reading the excerpt below.)

The 1987 Florida Brock opinion, just 4 years after the court quoted Wayne Hyatt’s opposing view in Cohen Hill (see note 2), held that:

A homeowner’s association lacks the municipal character of a company town. In the case of an association, the homeowners own their property and hold title to the common areas pro rata. Moreover, the services provided by a homeowners association, unlike those provided in a company town, are merely a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, those provided by local government. As such, it cannot be said that the homeowners association in this case acts in a sufficiently public manner so as to subject its activities to a state action analysis. Moreover, the association’s maintenance, assessment, and collection activities are not sufficiently connected to the State to warrant a finding of state action. The state cannot be implicated in the association’s activities solely because the association is subject to State law. We conclude that the association in this case does not stand in the position.

(The Court did not realize that most HOA common areas and facilities are not owned by the members, but by the HOA corporation. The members are third-party beneficiaries. The second sentence above is not accurate.)

In further shocking dicta (unsupported legal authority for statements) in the above quote (see To Be in note 2), the Court declared that HOA services are merely a supplement to local government and that as a supplement its acts are insufficiently municipal in nature. Say what?

Well, I got news for the Court. Applying the “common meaning of the word doctrine” shows that “to supplement” means “to complete, add to, or extend by a supplement” and a “supplement” means “something added to complete a thing, supply a deficiency, or reinforce or extend a whole.”  With this definition the HOA would be a part of local government to complete it or supply a deficiency.  The HOA is a municipality!

Sadly, the narrow focus on individual and separate acts and actions to determine the involvement of the state in the functions and activities of the HOA is misguided.  Rather, it is the collection of the numerous acts of the HOA that should be used to determine whether or not the HOA is an arm of the state and stands in place of the state.  Consider for example, does local government supplement state government?  Does town local government stand in the place of state government?

However, based on the irrational argument used in Brock, as quoted above, the Court ruled that the HOA “does not stand in the position of a government.”

 

In the 2003 Missouri Lake Lotawana opinion, the Court reversed the trial court’s ruling, asking for a declaratory judgment, using the irrational opinion in Brock and held that the plaintiff’s allegations “require state action, and that, here, there is no state action because the Association is not a state agent. . . . the trial court is effectively saying that Mr. Westphal can have no claim because the Association is not a state actor.”

On the other issues the plaintiff directly alleged state action, arguing that,

[T]hat the Association’s conduct is state action because the Association is a quasi-governmental entity.  He maintains that the Association ‘operates as a ‘mini-government’ because it raises money through dues, has an elected governing body, enacts rules and regulations, and enforces such rules through the court system. In support of this argument, Mr. Westphal relies on [Chesus and Terre du Lac].[3]

Referring to the two cases, the Court concluded,

While both cases discuss how a homeowner’s association operates as a “quasi-governmental entity,” neither is authority for the concept that an association’s “quasi-governmental” actions are state actions. Mr. Westphal fails to cite any authority to support his argument that the action of a quasi-governmental entity is state action.

First, the Court selectively only used the term “quasi” and ignored “mini” as in stated Chesus. “Mini,” of course, speaks of a small municipality, yet a municipality. Both cases simply, without further ado, quote the same Wayne Hyatt statements as I quoted in To Be (see note 2) that contain both words.

And the Court is technically correct with regard to a lack of a court finding, but taking such a view makes a mockery of the law and is highly illogical. As argued since “quasi” means “like,” then any action of a quasi-government must be, a quasi-state action. The degree of “quasi” must extend to state actions, too. Stop the “word games”!

“Quasi” must be defined, but not in terms of the public functions test or private entity devise. It must be defined in accordance with our constitutional system of government that cannot allow for outlaw governments to stand alongside constitutional local government.

This commentary, somewhat technical at times, demonstrates the failure of the courts to address the fundamental issues that HOAs are mini-governments, and that by the collective functions and actions of HOAs there is clear and convincing evidence to make the case that they are indeed state actors. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

(As a reminder, I am not a lawyer and I simply offer my views on HOA-Land.)

Notes

[1] Brock v. Watergate, 502 So.2d 1380 (Fla. 4 Dist. App. (1987); Westphal v. Lake Lotawana, 95 S.W.3d 144 (Mo. App. 2003).

[2] See in general, To be or not to be a mini or quasi government? Hyatt said ‘yes’; Do state HOA Statutes Establish HOAs as State Actors?

[3] Chesus v. Watts, 967 S.W.2d 97 (MO. APP. 1998);  Terre du Lac Assn v. Terre du Lac, Inc., 737 S.W.2d 206 (MO. App. 1987)