Saturday, July 28, 2007

America's Fastest-Growing Suburbs - Yahoo! Real Estate
These are in general areas where HOAs are prevalent in new housing, or even mandated by local government. Gilbert, AZ, is one of the places where HOAs are practically an extension of local government and they ask HOAs to register with the city and they have a "Congress of Neighborhoods." Check out the subdivision names. My favorite: "Agritopia."

The fastest-growing suburb in the country is Lincoln, Calif., just outside Sacramento. Its population jumped from 11,746 to 39,566, or an increase of 236%. The fastest-growing big suburb (with a population of 100,000 or more) is Gilbert, Ariz., outside Phoenix, which expanded from 112,766 people to 191,517. While not cheap by national standards, the growth in Sacramento's outerlying areas is strong because it's a less-expensive alternative to Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego. The Phoenix area saw the greatest positive domestic migration of any American metro last year, with 115,000 more people moving into town than leaving. Affordable housing and a growing economy draw a lot of people to the city. Rounding out the top 10 fastest-growing suburbs after Lincoln were four Phoenix suburbs: Buckeye, Surprise, Goodyear and Avondale; Plainfield, outside of Chicago; Beaumont, outside San Bernardino, Calif.; Frisco and Wylie outside of Dallas; and Woodstock, outside of Atlanta.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The full Twin Rivers decision
Here is some language directly from the opinion, confirming that citizens of New Jersey can assert free speech claims against HOAs, even without meeting the "state action" requirement:
noted, our constitution’s free speech provision is “broader than
practically all others in the nation.” Green Party, supra, 164
N.J. at 145. Consequently, we have not followed the approach of
other jurisdictions to require some state action before the free
speech and assembly clauses under our constitution may be
invoked. Even in the absence of state action, we must determine
whether the acts of a homeowners’ association violated its
members’ free speech and association rights in the setting of
this private housing association...Our holding does not suggest,
however, that residents of a homeowners’ association may never
successfully seek constitutional redress against a governing
association that unreasonably infringes their free speech

The opinion goes on to state, among other things, that restrictive covenants that violate an important public policy are void, and that constitutional rights are an important public policy. So I see why Frank Askin calls this a mixed outcome.
NJVoices: Frank Askin reacts to the Twin Rivers decision
Frank Askin, who represented the plaintiffs in the Twin Rivers case, has a not-so-negative take on the ruling, even though it was against his client, the Committee for a Better Twin Rivers, as to the three specific HOA restrictions on resident expressive liberties. Frank thinks the ruling establishes an important principle: that residents can make such claims against private HOAs. Interesting reading, and it coincides in a way with Tom Skiba's comment in the post below. I suggest reading Frank's article in the entirety.

Residents of homeowners' associations seeking free speech rights within their communities lost the immediate battles but may have won the war in the decision issued yesterday by the New Jersey Supreme Court in the Twin Rivers case. In the most significant sentence in the obtuse 37-page opinion, the Court said that the more than one million residents of common-interest communities in New Jersey may "successfully seek constitutional redress against a governing association that unreasonably infringes their free speech rights."It is the first state high court in the country to rule that private homeowner associations may be subject to the free-speech provisions of a state constitution.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

JCC offers homeowners' association seminars --
Now, this is something that should be applauded. I wish more local governments would do this.

JAMES CITY (I think it is in Virginia--EM) - Life under a homeowners' association can be a delicate balancing act. James City County is here to help. The county recently announced it will present seven homeowners and condominium association education seminars beginning this fall. The seminars will mostly be free for county residents; non-residents will be asked to pay either $10 or $35 depending on the seminar.
Link to Twin Rivers syllabus
(rewritten for clarity--EM) Here is a snippet from the summary, taken from the Court's website, of how the Court analyzed the facts under the Schmid decision, having to do with state constitutional rights on private property. As Tom Skiba notes in his comment, there is a recognition of owners' expressive liberties, and a recognition of the regulatory power of the association, but a ruling that in this case the expressive rights were not violated. I agree on the existence of the liberties and the power to reasonably regulate, but I believe the Court reached the wrong conclusion in applying the test.

Under the first Schmid factor, the nature, purposes, and primary use of Twin Rivers’ property is for private purposes and does not favor a finding that the Association’s rules and regulations violates the Committee’s
constitutional rights. Under the second factor, the limited nature of the public’s invitation to use the property does not favor a finding that the Association’s rules and regulations violated the Committee’s constitutional rights. Under the third Schmid factor, the Court finds that the Committee’s expressional activities are not unreasonably restricted.
The relationship between the Association and the homeowners is a contractual one, formalized in reasonable covenants that appear in all deeds. The mutual benefit and reciprocal nature of the rules and regulations and their enforcement is essential to the fundamental nature of the communal living arrangement that the residents enjoy.
Thus, this factor does not weigh in favor of finding that the Association’s rules and regulations violated the Committee’s constitutional rights. (Pp. 26-30)
4. Neither singularly nor in combination is the Schmid/Coalition test satisfied in favor of concluding that a constitutional right was infringed in this case. In balancing the Committee’s expressional rights against the Association’s private property interest, the Association’s policies do not violate the free speech and right of assembly clauses of the New Jersey Constitution. (Pp. 31-32)
Court: Free speech is not guaranteed
This is very unfortunate:

The state Supreme Court ruled today that residents of homeowners associations are not entitled to free-expression rights guaranteed by the Constitution. In the unanimous decision, the court overturned an appeals court ruling and reinstated a decision by a Mercer County trial judge that said the residents of Twin Rivers, a 10,000-unit housing development, did not have their rights violated when the homeowners association placed restrictions on where residents can post signs, and who can use the community room and newsletter.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 - Video Library: The case of the poisoned tree...
Mystery Reader sends the link to the video of the poison tree mystery mentioned below. You pick it out of the list on the right. The plot thickens...
Losses Climb for Homeowner Groups -
Another one of those isolated instances:

RICHMOND, July 19 -- At least $2 million was stolen from Northern Virginia condominium and homeowner associations, probably by a top executive of the Fairfax City company hired to manage their finances, a forensic accountant told state regulators at a hearing Thursday. The losses sustained by customers of Koger Management Group between 2004 and 2006, described in a report to the Virginia Real Estate Board, far exceed earlier estimates of $800,000. The total may grow as more homeowner associations conduct audits, said Jeffrey D. Barsky, the accountant appointed by the board to investigate the matter. > News > North County -- City will pay condo owners $12.5 million

The city of Carlsbad will pay $12.5 million to residents of the La Costa de Marbella condominium complex to settle lawsuits stemming from a landslide that destroyed eight condos in March 2005...Homeowners of the 58-unit condo complex, on the south side of La Costa Avenue east of El Camino Real, sued, saying city pipes that ran under the project's driveway gushed water into the ground, causing it to cave beneath the eight condos. The slide also lifted the sidewalk along La Costa Avenue.
Homeowners Associations: CAI-CLAC opposition to AB 952
Here is a link to AHRC's posting of the email the Community Associations Institute sent out explaining why they oppose California bill AB 952. Here is CAI's summary of the bill's effect:

AB 952 would allow a mere handful of owners to VETO any increase of a homeowner association assessment (excluding emergency assessments) where the majority of homeowners have determined that an assessment increase of more than 20% of the current assessment is necessary to maintain the value of their homes. - Fight Over Aurora Pine Tree Spills Into Court
Mystery Reader sends this story about a real mystery...who poisoned the tree?

But the home owners association believes the tree, which was still standing when a CBS 2 crew first showed up, was purposely killed possibly by someone who drilled poison into its trunk. In a letter sent to residents last month, the home owners association decried what it described as a malicious act of vandalism aimed directly at the community - Report: Man with Almost No Brain Has Led Normal Life
I'm glad he managed to find a walk of life that suited him...

French doctors are amazed that a 44-year-old civil servant with an abnormally small brain has led a normal life with a slightly lower than normal IQ, according to a report on

Monday, July 23, 2007

Charlotte Observer | 07/19/2007 | Residents: Sign enforcers go too far
Another Fred Pilot link to a story of a city behaving like an HOA:

Charlotte zoning enforcers are responding to neighborhood association requests to crack down on illegal portable signs, but residents of least one neighborhood are worried the city has gone too far. In the 12 months ended June 30, city inspectors investigated and resolved 7,385 zoning violations, more than twice the previous year. Some were related to portable signs, said code enforcement manager Walter Abernethy, but he could not specify an exact number. Among the portable signs that have drawn inspectors' scrutiny are yard signs for home improvement services that homeowners agree to post once work has been contracted. Six families clustered around Belvedere Avenue in Plaza-Midwood recently received warnings for architects' and landscapers' yard signs. Some residents said the warnings, which carry no fines, had vague inspector comments and the codes they violated are subject to interpretation. Without knowing exactly what law they broke, they said, they cannot prevent future citations that come with fines.
AB 952 Assembly Bill - Bill Analysis
CAI is vehemently opposed to this bill and has issued a call-to-arms for members to get busy. Here is the summary:

This bill provides that a regular or special assessment that is subject to a vote within a Common Interest Development must be approved both by a majority of all residents and a majority of owner-occupants of affordable units and requires an association to establish a payment plan for all regular and special assessment imposed on affordable units for those owner occupants who requestmone.
Allotment holders have been told they could be liable if trespassers injure themselves on their land.A link from Mystery Reader concerning premises liability in Great Britain.
Dear Piece Of Trash: - July 19, 2007
This Smoking Gun link was sent my way by Mystery Reader. This is some choice venom from a public official to one of his constituents. - Bird Lakes Residents Continue Fight Against HOA
Fred Pilot sent this link to a story of resistance to being conscripted into an HOA.