By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
A frequent complaint of homeowners and residents of Association-Governed common interest communities is that the board restricts access to community gathering areas, while, at the same time, controlling the content of all official communication venues.
For instance, what if a group of homeowners has a difference of opinion about how the current board is spending money, or complaints about the quality of community management service? It’s not as if residents can write a letter to the editor of the HOA’s official newsletter, because, in almost all cases, the HOA newsletter consists of one way communication filtered by the board of directors.
And if an owner dares to air any grievances on the association’s official Facebook page or its limited access Nextdoor.com neighborhood forum, chances are high that someone will censor negative comments, or even ban the outspoken homeowner from HOA social media sites.
That explains why homeowners are likely to create their own unofficial Facebook groups or even their own shadow websites, in an attempt to get around the HOA’s draconian efforts at stifling free speech.
And then there are countless homeowners who are frustrated when their HOA restricts access to the clubhouse or park pavilion, especially if the purpose of a gathering is to discuss internal politics of the association or to engage with local government officials or candidates.
In too many homeowner, condominium, and cooperative associations, it’s as if the board and manager are so fearful of criticism or disruption of their fiefdom, they cannot bear to allow any opposing or controversial points of view into their community.
Might as well put the entire community inside a plastic bubble.
In Beachwood Canyon, California, the Hollywoodland Homeowners Association, has taken restriction of First Amendment rights one step further. The HOA insists upon pre-approving political activity in a public green space, and requiring participants to show proof that they have paid $280 for liability insurance for the petition signing event.
Let me paraphrase: the HOA wants to restrict free speech and assembly on public land.
Needless to say, this policy is not sitting well with neighbors of Hollywoodland HOA.
1st Amendment Fight Flares In Beachwood Canyon
BY ANDREW MURPHY DAVIS, LEDGER CONTRIBUTING WRITER · PUBLISHED JUNE 1, 2017 · UPDATED JUNE 1, 2017
BEACHWOOD CANYON—The Hollywoodland Homeowners Assoc. is now requiring petitioners gain approval from the association’s board and obtain $280 liability insurance to set up a folding table to gather signatures in a small public plaza, called the Village Green, that the association said it maintains.
Petitioners were recently gathering signatures to try and convince city officials to remove parking restrictions that the homeowner’s group, which represents residents in the upper and middle portion of Beachwood Canyon near the Hollywood Sign, had advocated for in 2015.
“I think it is unfair that there is a homeowners association that thinks they can determine for the entire [area] what happens on a small triangle of land that belongs to the city and whether or not there is free speech on that corner,” said Eda Hallinan, who founded Beachwood Canyon United, the group circulating the petition in question.
Requiring citizens to pay for insurance to exercise their right to petition, Hallinan said, is like putting a “price tag” on free speech.
So it is not surprising that the California Legislature is currently considering legislation to make it illegal for an association-governed common interest community to squelch First Amendment rights by blocking access to common areas or prohibiting activities such as distributing political information or gathering signatures by petition.
The best part of SB-407: if the HOA or any of its representative insists on putting up roadblocks to public participation in political activities, the HOA faces a civil penalty of up to $500, enforceable in small claims court.
This is an important bill to watch, and one that addresses a serious restriction of rights for owners and residents of HOAs.
Read a brief summary, of CA SB-407:
LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST
SB 407, as amended, Wieckowski. Common interest developments: noncommercial solicitation.
Existing law, the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act, defines and regulates common interest developments that are managed by homeowners’ associations. The act requires an association to adopt rules that ensure access to the common area meeting space, if any exists, during a campaign, at no cost, to all candidates and to all members advocating a point of view. The act also requires the adoption of rules that ensure that if any candidate or member advocating a point of view is provided access to association media, newsletters, or Internet Web sites during a campaign, for purposes that are related to that election, equal access is provided to all candidates and members advocating a point of view.
This bill would provide that the governing documents, including bylaws and operating rules, of a residential common interest development may not prohibit a member or resident of a common interest development from engaging in certain activities, including peacefully assembling or meeting during reasonable hours and in a reasonable manner for purposes relating to common interest development living, association elections, legislation, election to public office, or the initiative, referendum, or recall processes. The bill would prohibit a member or resident of a common interest development from being required to pay a fee, make a deposit, obtain liability insurance, or pay the premium or deductible on the association’s insurance policy to use the association’s common area for these purposes, activities, unless nonresidents are invited to attend as members of the audience and certain conditions are met. The bill would authorize a member or resident of a common interest development who is prevented by the association or its agents from engaging in any of these activities to bring a civil or small claims court action to enjoin the enforcement of a governing document that violates this bill. The bill would authorize a court to assess a civil penalty of not more than $500 per violation.
CA SB 407
The bill passed the Senate with a unanimous vote of 39-0, and is currently under consideration by the Assembly.
The current version of the bill can be found here:
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