By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
I’m seeing a disturbing trend: reports of local government corruption and profiteering. And the strategies being used by town, city, and county elected officials mirror abusive tactics commonly used in association-governed communities.
As you read the following article published by Reason magazine, note the parallels to HOA-ville.
First, a homeowner or shareholder is fined by the homeowners,’ condo, or cooperative association, usually for some minor or bogus violation of restrictions or rules. The resident disputes the fine, and attempts to get the HOA to back down. When that doesn’t happen, the association threatens to sue. The resident may agree to settle out of court, paying the fine just to make the problem go away.
But that’s not the end of it.
The HOA’s attorney demands thousands of dollars in legal fees from the association member, for all those billable hours that were spent digging up dirt on the homeowner and making the case in favor of the association.
But, if the homeowner refuses to pay a fine, wages get garnished and a lien is filed against the property, with the threat of losing the home to HOA foreclosure.
If that’s not essentially the same thing that’s happening in Fontana, California, explain to me how I am misunderstanding the situation.
Fontana called them “zoning fees.” They were actually demanding that residents repay the cost of prosecuting them for minor crimes.
Peter Nolopp, now 79, pleaded guilty seven years ago to renting land for an illegal scrapyard. He paid a fine—$1,000—and cleaned it up. Three years later, the California city of Fontana sent him a bill demanding $29,000 to recoup the cost of his own prosecution.
$24,000 of that were listed as “zoning fees.” In fact, they were legal fees billed by a private law firm, Silver & Wright, that Fontana had contracted to prosecute cases for the city.
Fontana is the third California desert town now known to have used this firm to prosecute nuisance cases and code violations, then turn around and demand thousands of dollars from citizens months—even years—after they settle. Desert Sun reporter Brett Kelman has previously exposed the cities of Indio and Coachella for their connections with Silver & Wright; the Institute for Justice and the law firm O’Melveny & Myers are now suing Indio to stop what they’re calling a “for-profit prosecution scheme.”
Here’s a report from last fall, with essentially the same details.
A couple of busted windows can result in a bill for thousands—even tens of thousands—of dollars.
A couple of cities in the California desert have found a novel and remarkably cruel way to make money—force citizens to pay for the privilege of being prosecuted by the attorneys contracting with these cities.
We’ve seen cities across the country abuse their own citizens—particularly its poorest residents and visitors—with vicious enforcement of petty laws designed to create a revenue stream via a cascade of fines and fees.
Kudos to Institute for Justice for creating public awareness and fighting Indio and Coachella in court.
When will we see a similar fight for justice for millions of owners and residents of property in association-governed, common interest communities?