Arizona bill tells HOAs that they do not control public streets

[Please note that a previous post on this bill, SB 1278, was posted in error, referring to restrictions on mandating HOAs in new subdivisions.  An Arizona bill, SB 2292, that would have made this a law has been stalled in the Legislature and will die there.]

Arizona Session Law Ch. 103 (2013), SB 1278,  reaffirms local municipality control of public streets within an HOA.  It is a groundbreaking bill because it relegates HOA private governments to a rightful secondary status and subject to public government laws.  In a disgraceful rejection of the Constitution, courts see no problem with upholding the common law Restatement of Property (Servitudes) as controlling over Constitutional and contract law.

It’s a simply worded bill:

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Arizona:

Section 1. Title 33, chapter 16, article 1, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended by adding section 33-1818, to read:

33-1818. Community authority over public roadways: Applicability

A. NOTWITHSTANDING ANY PROVISION IN THE COMMUNITY DOCUMENTS, AFTER THE PERIOD OF DECLARANT CONTROL, AN ASSOCIATION HAS NO AUTHORITY OVER AND SHALL NOT REGULATE ANY ROADWAY FOR WHICH THE OWNERSHIP HAS BEEN DEDICATED TO OR IS OTHERWISE HELD BY A GOVERNMENTAL ENTITY.

B. THIS SECTION APPLIES ONLY TO THOSE PLANNED COMMUNITIES FOR WHICH  THE DECLARATION IS RECORDED AFTER DECEMBER 31, 2014.

While homeowners must wait until 2015, this bill is a giant step forward to curtail the unconsitutional reach of private regimes where homeowners are outside the protections of the US and Arizona Constitutions.  It speaks to putting a clamp on The New America of HOA-Land. The bill took 5 years of dedicated effort by HOA champion and State Senator Nancy Barto before it became law.

HOAs had raised feeble arguments that could and still can  be easily addressed by seeking ordinance variances.  The HOAs and their hired-hand venders have refused to avail themselves of this avenue of redress, which is available to all citizens.  No, this 4 year long battle was a battle for power and control.  Which form of government controls your public streets,  the municipality of the HOA regime?

 

Is Florida’s SB 596 a good bill? YES! Part 2

This post takes a closer look at some of the provisions of SB 596 with its intent “that the powers and authority granted to homeowners’ associations . . .  conform to a system of checks and balances in order to prevent abuses by these governing authorities.”  At the request of then Rep. Julio Robaina I testified at the Feb. 23, 2008 all-day legislative HOA hearing in Tampa, FL.  Public domain clips from this hearing, several of which can be found at the HOAGOV YouTube website, clearly show why checks and balances are sorely needed.

Aside from the introduction of effective enforcement provisions, the other changes of substance deal with regulating the conduct of what the HOA “can and can’t do.”  They are the payment of assessments, elections and proxies voting, and transfer of declarant control.

These substantive changes take the first 17 pages of the bill and is followed by non-substantive changes to 720.3024 creating the Ombudsman office and election monitoring, and HOA Study Council (720.3025). The other substantial changes include:  Section 720.3085, the “pay or die” section (my words), Section 720.306 dealing with meetings and substantial revisions to the elections and proxy voting processes, and changes to 720.307 relating to the transfer of power from the declarant that takes us to page 40 and the subsequent technical changes.

First, I will look at what I call the “pay or die” statutes regarding the continued payment of assessments even when payments are being disputed (720.3085(9)).  “Pay or die” meaning that if any homeowner doesn’t pay his assessments in a timely manner the HOA will die mentality.  I find this reprehensible, approaching an indentured servitude condition, and demonstrating a “close nexus” and a “symbiotic relationship” between the HOA and state, a “You do for me and I will do for you” relationship.  This statutory requirement to pay or else is sufficient alone to have the HOA declared a state actor!  Especially when the statutes also permit the HOA to deprive is member-residents of their rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities as citizens under the 14th Amendment.

However, the bill at least moves forward with checks on the unilateral foreclosure powers of the HOA.  It forces the HOA to prove the correctness of its claim, allowing the court to issue equity judgments that the HOA can’t add right, had sent the notices to the wrong address, refused to cash checks and/or held them past the deadline before cashing in order to demand late fees, just to name a few of the abusive practices.

Read the new subsection 720.3085(9) carefully.  A dispute of the amount would only require deposits of assessments during the legal action, and not the disputed amounts. The term “disputed” needs to be clarified to include abuse by the HOA as mentioned above and not limited to just amounts.  Of course, the justification for clauses (d) and (e), the HOA will die clauses, can be debated.

There are some issues with proxy voting (720.306), but the changes in the bill will serve the homeowners well. Subsection (9) deals with board elections and restricts members who are in arrears to the HOA cannot run for office.  That’s fair.  If a member cannot vote if he is in arrears, a member in arrears should not be allowed to hold office. Co-owners cannot both serve on the board, which give that unit excessive power.  I find the requirement to certify knowledge of the governing documents 90 after an election as preposterous and pro-HOA.  Want to be on the board?  Get educated first!

In regard to the transfer of power changes added in the bill serve to benefit the homeowner.  While not completely airtight, the term “in the ordinary course of business” would restrict the declarant from sitting on lots in order to retain control.  What is missing, as just occurred in Arizona, is the declarant’s modification of the governing documents before turning over its power to lock him in place for all practical purposes.  The usual introductory phrase, “notwithstanding anything in the governing documents to the contrary” should be added to the bill.

As for my views, the inclusion of effective enforcement authority overwhelming outweighs any concerns that I have mentioned above.

HOA democracy at work: dysfunctional adoption of amendments by minority vote

 

OPEN LETTER TO  TERRAVITA CA MEMBERS

Understand what a YES vote means for Terravita and your image as a citizen

Summary

The writer provides an example of how HOAs create a dysfunctional, un-American community, using arguments against the adoption of CC&Rs amendments on two occasions by the Terravita CA in Scottsdale, AZ.  In the first instance, amendments that violated Arizona statutes in regard to the content of the ballot were approved in 2010. One non-disclosed amendment made significant reductions in the requirement for adoption of future CC&Rs amendments, from a supermajority vote to a minority vote.  (In 2011, the Legislature defeated a CAI drafted bill that would allow for minority control of HOAs). 

The current amendment reflects an undisguised intent to punish one member for filing Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) Petitions against Terravita.  Attorneys are not awarded fees at OAH because they are not required, yet the poorly constructed amendment removes attorney fee awards in civil court actions.  As a result of the approval of the non-disclosed “minority control” amendment in 2010, a minority of only 307  out of 1380 votes will be required to adopt this Board approved punitive amendment. 

Without any prior open discussion or debate, the distributed Absentee Ballot is one-sided in favor of the Board without opposing arguments. Adopting these amendments by a minority of members reflects an un-democratic and dysfunctional culture within Terravita.  The objectives of the “corporate state” are primary and individual property rights are secondary. Members are urged to reject the amendments.

Read the full letter here . . .

When can a homeowner withhold HOA assessments?

In January the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear the condominium case, Spanish Court Two Condominium Association v. Lisa Carlson, No. 115342, that breaks with the commonly held legal doctrine that HOA members are not permitted to withhold paying assessments, even when the HOA has failed to make necessary structural repairs to the condominium. Courts have held that HOAs are subject to servitudes law foremost, and that the common good required for the survival of the HOA is paramount.  Therefore, payments must not be withheld in spite of any outstanding controversy.

 In Spanish Court the appellate court held that a HOA condominium owner could withhold paying assessments because the relationship between the owner and HOA was similar to that of a tenant and landlord.  The contract in both situations involved mutual promises of making payments in return for HOA services to maintain and repair the property.  The court held that under contract law the withholding of payments was permitted. This decision broke with precedent, bringing justice to homeowners against special laws for HOAs.

 The courts in other cases and in other states have held that the declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) are a contract to be interpreted as a contract, but then apply servitude law over contract law, and even over constitutional law.  (See the Restatement Servitudes, § 3.1, comment h and§ 6.13, comment a).

 For example, this holding stands in contrast to the January 2013 Illinois Supreme Court ruling in Poris v. Lake Holiday POA (No. 113907) that allowed HOA security personnel to stop and detain drivers who are violating HOA rules, and not municipality ordinances. Here, servitude law prevailed over constitutional law.  And, in 2007 the Twin Rivers HOA (NJ) free speech case (CBTW v. Twin Rivers, 929 A.2d 1060) held that the business judgment rule would protect homeowner rights, and that there may be some instances where constitutional concerns could come into play.

 The Illinois appellate court admitted to the fact that its opinion stood alone in favor of the homeowner and contract law when HOAs are involved.  If the preponderance of the cases is to control, then homeowners can expect an Illinois Supreme Court reversal of the appellate decision as it did in Poris. Homeowners and justice should not be too enthusiastic about the right to withhold assessments in HOAs.

Colorado senator’s guide to effective HOA legislation

An excellent guide for citizens seeking to effectively lobby their legislature to bring about desired change. 

 Take-backThe author, Morgan Carroll, is an eight year Colorado legislator and is currently the Colorado Senate Majority Leader.  Take Back Your Government sends a strong message to citizens to get involved in the legislative process if they sincerely seek change, otherwise the paid, special interest hired-hand lobbyists will strongly influence the legislators. And set the tone for new laws and changes to existing laws.

Carroll’s opening chapter contains advice, such as, “We elect people to represent our interests, but our elected representatives cannot adequately represent you unless they hear from you. . . . If you don’t participate in your government, then the only remaining participants in the system are legislators and lobbyists.  And she reminds her readers that, “Democracy only works when citizens participate, engage and become informed voters.”  And that is why democracy is a farce in the authoritarian HOA private governments where apathy abounds for numerous reasons.

Part II, Advocacy for Beginners, is chock full of “dos and don’ts”  in contacting and dealing with bill sponsors, and how to draft and understand the wording and format of bills. The author provides advice for citizens such as, to “suggest a solution,” make your request “shorter and simpler,” and “summarize prior attempts to fix the problem.”   Her concern for the people include warnings that, “every right [permitted by law] should come with a remedy or an enforcement mechanism, or it’s an empty law.”  And there’s the commonly found use of “shall” and “may,” clarifying that “may” means “is permitted to” or “is authorized to,” both of which mean making the act legal.

And there is much, much more on how to get heard, how to contact legislators, how to testify, creating fact sheets to support your position, etc.  Definitely applicable, but not tailored just for HOA reforms. This book is must reading for advocates, especially HOA reform advocates who have faced a solid wall of indifference when seeking legislative change and who have been unsuccessful in the past. 

Thank you Senator Carroll.

 

Take Back Your Government; A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Change, Morgan Carroll (Fulcrum Publishing 2011).

Review by George K. Staropoli, a nationally recognized advocate for HOA reform legislation.