CA Gov. Brown vetoes HOA election reform bills

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

A few weeks ago, IAC updated readers on four bills approved the by California Legislature. In that September 6th, post, I wrote, with regard to two bills, namely SB 1265 and SB 1128:

The vigorous debate of these two bills, and substantial amendments in the Legislature, resulted in some additional protections for homeowner rights to vote and run for election to their association’s board, but, with the passage of SB 1128, the Legislature did not entirely eliminate the possibility that incumbent boards can avoid an election altogether.

Now that both bills are presented before the Governor, homeowner advocacy and trade groups await the final outcome as to which bill — if any — will become law in California.

We now know that Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed both SB 1265 and SB 1128.

To refresh the reader’s memory:

SB 1265 was approved in the Assembly 46-27 and in the Senate 27-11.

SB 1128 received unanimous votes of approval from both the Assembly and the Senate.

SB 1265 was sponsored by Center for California Homeowner Association Law (CCHAL), with the support of American Civil Liberties Union, California Alliance for Retired Americans, Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, Citizens for Constitutional Local Government, El Dorado Institute, Inc., Greater Sacramento Urban League, and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

The bill included several new measures to ensure a more fair election process in homeowners, condominium, and cooperative associations. Specifically, SB 1265 prohibited HOAs from hand-picking board candidates, by eliminating many unreasonable disqualification rules to prevent candidates with opposing views from running for the board. SB 1265 would have also prevented the incumbent board from disqualifying voting ballots based upon bogus Covenant violations or disputed assessment delinquencies, and would have mandated that the election monitor could not have a conflict of interest with the association.

HOA subdivision aerial view

Trade group Community Associations Institute, backed by the California Legislative Action Committee originally sponsored and backed SB 1128, which started out as an “election by acclamation” bill. But CAI-CLAC withdrew their support and actively opposed the bill after it was amended to include many of the above provisions, as approved in SB 1265.

As soon as the Legislative session ended, CAI-CLAC began rallying its trade group members, urging them to contact the Governor and recommend the veto of both bills.

CCHAL asked its members to contact the Governor and ask for his support of SB 1265 only.

Both bills were vetoed for the following reasons, as stated in two identical letters from the Governor (quoted below):

California has over 50,000 common interest developments varying in purpose and size. Each one has governing documents that are tailored specifically for that individual community. This bill takes a once-size-fits-all (sic) approach, but not all homeowners associations are alike.

If changes to an election process are needed, they should be resolved by members of that specific community.

Despite substantial support for SB 1265 by members of the Legislature, and several key consumer and Civil Rights groups, Governor Brown summarily dismissed the need for fair elections for homeowners in more than 50,000 association-governed communities.

Boss authority hammer and nail free image

The Governor fails to acknowledge that, in most cases, “tailored” governing documents are nothing more than developer-centric contracts. Both in theory and in practice, HOA governing documents are deliberately non-democratic, with the balance of power skewed in favor of the developer first and foremost.

If and when the developer hands over control to a volunteer-led board of directors, the balance of power still leans far in favor of the association, with bylaws that frequently empower incumbent HOA boards to create plenty of obstacles which prevent their political opponents from being elected to the board.

Just how does the Governor expect the members of a community to “resolve” their unfair election processes, when the processes themselves are exploited by HOA boards who go out of their way to block some of their members from voting or serving on the board?

If an association-governed common interest community is primarily intended as a residential neighborhood, regardless of its size, certain universally democratic election rules are essential to ensure that no member or group of members is disenfranchised.

It’s inappropriate to allow an HOA board to operate an entire residential community as if it were the board’s closely-held business venture or personal fiefdom — the current one-size-fits all approach of developers of common interest communities.

Read SB 1265:

Read SB 1128:

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