By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
This weekend I read an interesting article featuring Poinciana HOA, shared by Jan Bergemann of CCFJ in Florida. I’ve written about Poinciana on numerous occasions in this and other venues. The massive Florida HOA spans two counties (Osceola and Polk), with over 70,000 residents. It is divided into nine villages, but the VP for the developer (AV aka Avatar) has a seat on seven of those nine village boards.
Osceola County representative John Cortes recently proposed an ordinance governing HOA elections within the County. The bill failed to garner support of the County Commission. Though well-intended, the terms of the legislation were more of a knee-jerk reaction to Poinciana’s plight, and failed to consider that half of the HOA is located in Polk County, where Osceola County imposed HOA election rules would not apply.
Having lived in a large scale Florida HOA (although not nearly as large as Poinciana), I can tell you that the proposal to do away with At Large candidates puzzled me. Election and voting issues in HOAs stem from fundamental flaws, not the least of which is that the process is spelled out in each Association’s governing documents, and designed for the benefit of the Developer from Day One. For example, here’s an excerpt from the article that sheds some light on how Poinciana HOA is governed:
Residents, and a pair of lawyers speaking on their behalf, gave evidence that during elections, AV Homes (formerly known as Avatar) has cast as many as 1,500 votes before the polls close.
“Of the 35 village seats, 25 are controlled by the developer,” attorney Steven Sepulveres said. “Even though 97 percent of parcels have been sold to private residents, AV Homes is pledging votes of things they perceive they own, and they’ve never been challenged.”
Fellow attorney Chris Wright said residents feel “beaten down” because it is apparent that, “AV always wins.
Full Article: www.ccfj.net/LEGSESS16LocBillFail.html
When it comes to the voting process in Association-Governed Residential Communities nationwide, there’s no consistency whatsover. There are no standards to guarantee legitimacy, fairness, or integrity of the process.
First of all, people don’t get to vote — properties do. Remember, it’s a corporate system of voting allocation, not a democratic system at all, as I have explained in a previous blog.
That glaring fundamental flaw aside, any given HOA will have to contend with one or more insurmountable obstacles to exercising their voting interests. Notice I did not refer to voting rights, because in large-scale planned communities such as Poinciana, the typical resident does not have any voting rights at all!
Consider the following typical voting methods for HOAs:
- Use of proxy voting forms is very common. These are often collected by an officer of the board or the manager hired by that board, or perhaps gathered door to door. Some HOA owners even report intimidation tactics to convince them to hand over their proxy, so that the board can meet quorum requirements.
- Some states, such as Florida, Texas, and California, mandate the use of ballots for HOA elections. But they still allow the use of proxies for membership votes on important matters such as amendments to the governing documents or CC&Rs.
- There is no national standard for creating legitimate ballots, nor proper handling of those ballots. Some states provide guidelines, but many do not. That probably explains why HOA voting, election, and recall disputes are quite common – far more common than what we see in public elections.
- A large-scale community can be made up of several Villages or Sub-Associations, where the President of each division serves on the board of the Master HOA. Members elect their Village or Sub-Association board, but then the board elects their own officers. So members don’t get to choose who serves on the Master HOA – the umbrella corporation that rules over the entire community, and collects and spends assessments from every single homeowner.
- A different but similar system is to divide the community into Representative Voting Districts, where members may get to elect their Representative, (if there is a district election, often there is not) who then serves as one member on the Master HOA Board. Don’t count on the districts being equal in size in terms of quantity of voting interests. Oh, and the Master HOA Board has the power to adjust (gerrymander) Voting District boundaries.
- If the developer is still in charge, under the terms of the CC&Rs “contract,” each unsold lot or home is entitled to weighted votes. In simple terms, that means the developer gets anywhere from 3 to 9 votes for each unsold parcel. Good odds if you can get them. I’d like to have that kind of advantage the next time I visit a casino. Some CC&Rs are written such that, as long as the developer owns one tiny lot, the weighted votes still apply.
I’ll bet none of these important details were clearly and concisely disclosed to you before you purchased your home and moved in. And since HOA assessments must be paid, no matter what, why aren’t buyers told that they will be subject to HOA taxation without representation?