HUD and DFEH: Help for victims of HOA bullies

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

debgoonan@icloud.com

 

A recent news release from Center for California Homeowner Association Law  (CCHAL) provides several options for homeowners seeking help against HOA bullies. 

 

IAC regularly hears from owners and residents who are bullied by board members, management agents, attorneys, or neighbors in their HOA-governed communities.

The owner may be targeted with fines for minor or made up covenant violations. Pest control or repair work orders might be ignored by the HOA.

Community leaders or neighbors sometimes engage in name-calling or threats against their victims.

A favorite target for HOA bullies — the homeowner who challenges the board’s decisions or asks too many questions. A resident that doesn’t “fit in” or conform to community customs, standards, or rules is often labeled a “troublemaker” or a “disgruntled homeowner.”

According to homeowner reports, bully behavior really ramps up during HOA election season. For example, sometimes HOA board members will harass board candidates who disagree with their agenda. The current board may try to humiliate or embarrass a newcomer, hoping to eliminate the candidate before election day.

In short, Bullying takes many forms. It’s not just limited to physical assault.

Harassment also includes cyber-bullying on the community’s social media plaftorms such as Facebook and NextDoor.

Very often, this kind of bad behavior by residents or board members leads to harmful neighborhood gossip — with residents spreading false statements about the bully victim in the community.

 

Jury awards $2 million to victim of HOA cyberbullying

For example, in 2018, a jury in the Northern California District Court awarded $2 million to Wayne Clark, former golf manager for Hidden Valley Lakes Association. The jury found the HOA responsible for both defamation of character and invasion of privacy.

At trial, Clark’s attorney presented convincing evidence that Cindy Spears, the General Manager of the HVLA at the time, knowingly spread false statements about the former employee.

The jury also considered evidence that Spears intentionally passed rumors to Michelle Wade, a homeowner in the community. Wade then posted the false information on the HOA’s own Facebook page. That, in turn, launched a tirade of online harassment of Clark, who was no longer able to refute any of the claims.

In 2016, Clark filed his lawsuit, listing 9 different complaints against HVLA:

“(1) violation of the California constitutional right to privacy, (2) defamation, (3) negligent supervision, (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress, (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (6) libel, (7) false light invasion of privacy, (8) interference with prospective economic advantage and business relations, and (9) violation of California Labor Code sections 201 and 203.

According to case history, Spears, as a representative of HVLA, fired the golf professional in 2015. After terminating his employment, Spears then accused Clark of committing fraud and embezzling money from HVLA. She also spread the following nasty rumors about Clark:

  • that he drank alcoholic beverages and viewed pornography on his computer while at work,
  • that he did not  pay for his drinks at the club’s bar,
  • that he was fired “for cause,” and
  • that he would be arrested on criminal charges.

Clark’s lawsuit further asserted that Spears and board members made defamatory and untrue statements about Clark at HOA board meetings, in the Golf and Country Club’s newsletter, and on the community’s Facebook page.

The jury unanimously agreed that the HVLA should be held accountable for its harassment and bullying of Clark, to the tune of $2 million.

Victor C. Thuesen of Petaluma law firm represented the victim of bullying in Clark v Hidden Valley.

 

 

Bullying victims can hold their HOA accountable

The Clark case highlights the fact than an HOA can be held responsible for the consequences of its harassment and bully behavior.

It’s important to note that, under some circumstances, it isn’t necessary for the victim to sue their HOA to get relief.

For instance, many victims of bullies also happen to belong to one of HUD’s ‘protected classes’ under the federal Fair Housing Acts:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial Status
  • Disability

 

Marjorie Murray, President of CCHAL, also reminds homeowners that in 2016, HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) published a rule stating that housing providers — including HOA-governed communities — must take action to stop harassment and bullying of its members and residents. HOAs that fail to take take action against harassment can be charged with discrimination prohibited by the Fair Housing Acts.

California state law expands on HUD’s protected class list:

  • Race, color
  • Ancestry, national origin
  • Religion
  • Disability, mental or physical
  • Sex, gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Familial status
  • Source of income
  • Citizenship*
  • Primary language*
  • Immigration status*

*Covered under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which applies to most housing accommodations in California.

Murray says that any California homeowner or resident, including a tenant, who belongs to one of the above protected classes, and who is experiencing harassment or bullying in their HOA-governed community, can file a Fair Housing claim with HUD or the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

 

Help for victims of HOA bullying

Residents of HOA-governed communities, including condominiums and co-ops, can reach out to the following organizations for help.

Click here to file a complaint with DFEH (California residents only)

File a complaint with HUD (any U.S. resident)

CCHAL also lists two additional nonprofits that provide information on bullying:

• The Stop Bullying Coalition (Stopbullyingcoalition.org) and
• The Workplace Bullying Institute (workplacebullying.org)

Read the full text of the latest new release from CCHAL: 

Association homeowners know a lot about online bullying and harassment


Related IAC posts:

HUD “Quid Pro Quo” rule clarifies HOA duty to stop discrimination among residents

HOA industry trade group favors strict enforcement of covenants, but not fair housing laws?

Can your HOA end neighbor on neighbor housing discrimination?


References:

HUD Final Rule clarifying the responsibility of Association Governed Housing Communities to take action to curtail discrimination:

Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment Harassment and Liability for Discriminatory Housing Practices Under the Fair Housing Act

 

Former HVL golf pro awarded $2 million in damages
By LORI ARMSTRONG | Lake County Record Bee
PUBLISHED: February 27, 2018 at 12:00 am | UPDATED: August 23, 2018 at 12:00 am

 

Legal reference:

Clarkv.Hidden Valley Lake Ass’n (Clark v. Hidden Valley Lake Ass’n, Case No. 16-cv-02009-SI) SUSAN ILLSTON United States District JudgeUNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

The HOA unsuccessfully tried to convince the court to dismiss Clarks lawsuit, claiming its statements about Clark were “free speech.” However, the First Amendment does not provide protection for false statements.