SB 1008, Virginia’s ‘HOA Bill of Rights’: an illusion of justice

The Virginia Legislation passed SB 1008 that modified the Code of Virginia adding a “Statement of Lot/Unit Owner Rights,” sections 55-79.72:3 and 55-509.3:1.  It sounds like a Bill of Rights, but the 5 items merely repeat existing law without meaningful and effective enforcement.

Consider that Virginia has a constitutional Bill of Rights, Article 1, that contains section 14,

Government should be uniform. That the people have a right to uniform government; and, therefore, that no government separate from, or independent of, the government of Virginia, ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof. 

It seems that HOA private governments violate Virginia’s Constitution.

Furthermore, take the first 2 clauses of Section 11, “That no person shall be deprived of his life, liberty, or property without due process of law; that the General Assembly shall not pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts.”  Compare the “fine print” of SB 1008 that adds, “the right of due process in the conduct of that hearing(my emphasis), referring to the section on enforcement of rules, (Sec. 55-513 or 55-79.80:2).  The enforcement section specifies the hearing in accordance with the [governing] documents, the member shall be given an opportunity to be heard and to be represented by counsel before the board of directors or other tribunal specified in the documents.”  Does that mean that the counsel is restricted to seeing that the homeowner is allowed to be heard, or is there more?

I have not come across a governing document that calls for hearings that allow presentation of documents and witnesses and the questioning of this evidence, or that the tribunal be an independent body. My point is, What does due process meaning in the context of SB 1008?  Is it under the constitutional bill of rights meaning, or constrained by the CC&Rs and bylaws private contracts?  Sounds like same ol’, same ol’.

Legislation without effective enforcement through monetary penalties is merely a recommendation that relies on the good faith of the parties, namely the board and its attorney and manager advisors.  But, we know all about the good faith acts of many of these responsible parties, especially those of rogue boards that ignore the laws and governing documents or knowingly violate them with impunity.

It would have been so much simpler to have these details spelled out in this one page bill if, indeed, justice for homeowners was sought.

What is this “association law” thing all about?

In the TimesDispatch internet column, “Housing”, two attorneys talk about “association law” (Mercer, Trigiani are guiding voices in homeowner association law). They are real estate attorneys. 

He [Mercer] and his business partner, Lucia Anna “Pia” Trigiani, with offices in Alexandria and Richmond, are considered the top Virginia lawyers in their field, their peers say. . . . They are a major force in what goes on with association law, and they are equally good at what they do,” [a real estate attorney] said.

But the featured spokesperson, Trigiani, is not identified as a CAI member who received an outstanding person award this past April from CAI, the national lobbying organization for HOAs, the Community Associations Institute.

Lucia Anna “Pia” Trigiani, Esq., a principal with the Virginia-based law firm MercerTrigiani, received one of CAI’s most prestigious honors April 19 at the organization’s 2013 Annual Conference and Exposition. (Trigiani, Dyekman Among Members Honored by CAI).

What is not made clear is just what association law is?   It is not a recognized classification of law, but one promoted by the legal-academic aristocrats and CAI.  (Community Association Law Seminar, Jan. 23–25, 2014 | Las Vegas, NV.”)  The massive Restatement of Law series consists of some 96 volumes covering 26 categories of law, but no “association law” category.  In fact, laws pertaining to HOAs and covenants/servitudes, the legal basis for HOA authority, can be found in the Property: Servitudes series.

From my research into HOAs reading law encyclopedias, treatises, journals, court cases, legislation, articles and books — I’m not claiming to be an expert, but well read — association law appears to be a conglomeration of constitutional, property, contract, corporation and tort law.  These laws are cherry-picked to support the legitimacy and validity of the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) that is the fundamental basis of HOA legal authority.  Whatever aspect of each of these laws that serves to support HOAs is incorporated into association law. Where there are conflicts with laws or contrary laws they are ignored, or association law is declared superior, or first modified and then incorporated into association law. 

Attorneys like to promote association law as sui generis, or a unique thing in a class of its own not subject to other laws.  This new thing, this association law, is an attempt to establish as legitimate and binding a new set of laws that conflict with and repudiate the Constitution.  Laws that distinguish and repudiate the fundamental principles of our system of government and principles of justice, derived from the organic law of this country – the US Constitution, its Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.  And for obvious reasons — for domination, power and control.

In his seminal book, Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government, Even McKenzie wrote in 1994,

HOAs currently engage in many activities that would be prohibited if they were viewed by the courts as the equivalent of local governments. . . . The balance of power between the individual and the private government is reversed in HOAs. … The property rights of the developer, and later the board of directors, swallow up the rights of the people, and public government is left as a bystander.

And this is the purpose in establishing “association law” — to avoid constitutional protections, to deprive people of their life, liberty, or property  without due process of law, and  to deny homeowners of the equal protection of  the laws that apply to all public bodies.

 

See  The questionable role of HOA attorneys

States Rights: the transfer of power from Washington to private government HOAs

I am pleased to hear the whispers of substantive issues regarding the institution of HOAs that undermine our democratic principles of government as found in this Washington Post article. Among the Christmas cards to one homeowner, a warning, Several state courts have ruled that by agreeing to abide by homeowners association rules, home buyers relinquish some constitutional rights,and who points out there are some limits on HOAs. But, I would like to clarify that these few rights had to be fought for in each state legislature on a piecemeal basis – restoring those rights taken away by the HOA declaration “agreement.”

 

The media must follow in this reporter’s footsteps and stop being an active participant in the Unspoken Alliance of “No Negatives About HOAs!” The media must understand that “States Rights” is nothing more than the transfer of political power from Washington to the state legislatures. State legislatures who, in turn, openly and eagerly support the transfer of political power to local private governments — homeowners associations — unanswerable to the US Constitution as required of all public forms of civil government.

 

These unrecognized, de facto governments hold power by the mere filing of a subdivision declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs), which is necessary and sufficient to bind unsuspecting home buyers. Declarations that bind without the need for the buyer to have read or to have explicitly signed-off on these relinquishments of constitutional rights, privileges and immunities, absent of any equal protection of the laws, and absent of any due process protections loss of life, liberty and property.

 

Perhaps we shall see a second effort by a number of states to amend and rewrite the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, one that attempts to justify and defend this disgraceful state of affairs by a country once held in high esteem as the ideal democracy. This second amendment would sanction “chartered” private governments with their imposed, unconscionable adhesion agreements that provide for the carte blanche surrender of constitutional rights, and with their powers that include the loss of private property rights by the votes of others without the need for the consent of the affected homeowners. This amendment would legitimize these declarations of CC&Rs that do not recognize any “inalienable rights” at the time of purchase, and that permit ex post facto amendments to render the so-called sacrosanct declaration a meaningless pieces of paper. A travesty of our American democracy.

 

Who will stand up and fight for Lady Justice? Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur (“who prosecutes on behalf of Lady Justice?“, DOJ seal). Who will defend and preserve our principles of democratic government?