Free Speech constitution first amendment

Young homeowners stand up for free speech in Arizona HOA

UPDATED Feb. 1, 2020

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

Val Vista Lakes HOA backs off of its threat to fine at least 11 residents $250 per day for criticizing the board on social media

For the second time in a week, widespread negative media attention, and the public outrage that followed, have tamed the HOA bullies — at least for now.

Earlier this week, owners of a home in the Estrella subdivision (a Texas HOA-governed community) dismissed their lawsuit seeking a court order to force their next door neighbors to remove a ‘playscape’ they installed for their terminally-ill 5-year old son.

Now the Val Vista Lakes HOA has backtracked on its plan to intimidate homeowners into removing negative comments about board members, which were posted on Facebook and Nexdoor last November.

Original post Jan. 26, 2020

Here in the U.S., the Land of the Free, when it comes to discourse involving local and national politics, things can get a bit ugly. People sometimes have strong opinions, and, especially on social media, they’re not afraid to express them.

It’s no different in HOA-governed communities all across the country. After all, the mandatory membership homeowners’ association has become the de facto fourth layer of government.

HOAs are responsible for maintaining community infrastructure and green spaces, plus they serve as enforcers of neighborhood covenants and rules.

 

HOA government has the power to tax homeowners

Most HOAs are private corporations, but, unlike other private businesses and nonprofits, state laws bestow our esteemed HOA leaders with special governing powers, including the power to tax homeowners in the form of HOA fees and assessments.

I use the word tax intentionally, because, in virtually all respects, HOA fees and assessments are equivalent to local property taxes. Like taxes, HOA fees are mandatory financial obligations. They must be paid No Matter What.

Furthermore, when homeowners don’t pay their community association’s fees in full and on time, the HOA — much like County government — can slap a lien on their homes, send the delinquent accounts to collections, and sell the homes in a foreclosure sale to collect the money they’re owed.

In addition to unpaid assessments, the HOA is legally entitled to recover late fees and interest, as well as reimbursement for collection costs and attorney fees.

Don’t let the HOA-industry-attorney-driven rhetoric fool you into thinking that an HOA is nothing more than a private business entity, its homeowners nothing more than parties “agreeing” to a neighborhood Covenants “contract.”

Today’s “modern,” mandatory membership HOA is actually a hybrid between a private corporation and a hyper-local governing body. It wields many of the powers of real government, and evades accountability by hiding behind the corporate veil.

 

HOA-industry’s negative influence on HOA board members

HOA-industry trade groups are heavily influenced by an elite group of attorneys that insist that HOAs are “private organizations,” not government. Therefore, they argue ad nauseam, that Constitutional constraints on HOA power do not apply.

All too often, HOA board members fall under the spell of some of these slick HOA attorneys. This is especially true of weak board members who see the HOA manager and attorney as their Protectors. But it’s also true of HOA bully board members who find a willing accomplice in an aggressive HOA attorney.

That’s why I’m not the least bit surprised to see another string of reports about a thin-skinned HOA board using their overzealous attorney to intimidate homeowners for exercising their First Amendment rights.

But, like many of you reading this post, this outrageous behavior makes my blood boil.

 

Arizona’s latest overzealous HOA board and attorney

Ashley Nardecchia is the Administrator of a Facebook Group for her HOA governed community, Val Vista Lakes in Gilbert, Arizona.

It’s important to note that the Residents of VVL Facebook Group is not the official Facebook group for the HOA. It’s a separate group administered by owners who are not serving on the HOA board.

Val Vista Lakes HOA is like most HOAs in the U.S. — much like a socialist or communist regime, it tightly controls the communication to its members.  Here in America, residents don’t like to be kept ignorant or silent. So it’s not unusual for a group of concerned residents to start their own social media discussion group to bring community issues out in the open.

One would think that, in the United States of America, this wouldn’t pose a problem. But, much of the time in HOA-ville, Free Speech is loathed by certain control freaks on HOA boards.

 

HOA threatens to fine members for making negative Facebook comments

Here’s the story of Val Vista Lakes.

Last year, leading up to its annual HOA election, some members of the Resident of VVL Facebook Group engaged in some lively debate and discussion about board candidates.

According to several local news sources, the HOA didn’t like some of the negative comments made by VVL residents. In response, the board decided to draft a Social Media Policy. But, when it was strongly opposed by Val Vista Lake homeowners, the board tabled the policy without a vote.

When the unflattering comments weren’t removed from the Residents Facebook Group, the HOA decided to turn up the heat.

The board authorized their HOA attorney, Daniel S. Francom of Goodman Holmgren, to write stern letters to eleven residents.

I’m sure regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that Goodman Holmgren is a proud member of two influential HOA-industry trade groups: Community Associations Institute (CAI) and Arizona Association of Community Managers (AACM).

The HOA is now officially ordering 11 outspoken individuals to remove their “disparaging” comments. The HOA threatens to fine each offending resident $250 per day, and also plans to remove their access to community amenities, until they comply.

Standing up for Free Speech

Does the HOA really expect more than 700 members of the VVL Facebook Group to roll over and blindly accept its efforts to squelch free speech?

Despite recent headlines proclaiming that a majority of Millennials and GenZ adults are willing to vote for a socialist candidate, young adult residents of Val Vista Lakes apparently still value their Free Speech, thank you.

So, don’t believe the misleading headlines promoted by certain media outlets, to promote a one-sided political agenda.

Take a look at the source data from the 2019 poll conducted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The statistics are both surprising and contradictory.

Here are a few key takeaways:

Capitalism is still viewed more favorably than other economic systems, holding relatively steady at 61% favorability from 2018; however, favorability of capitalism is lower among Generation Z and Millennials at around only 50%, down 6 points and 8 points from 2018 respectively.
Communism is viewed favorably by more than one-in-three Millennials (36%), up 8 points from 2018.

About one-in-five Millennials (22%) believe that “society would be better if all private property was abolished,” compared to 1% of the Silent Generation.

A majority of Americans age 35 and under trust themselves (66%) more than the community (19%) or government (15%).

57% of Millennials (compared to 94% of the Silent Generation), believe the Declaration of Independence better guarantees freedom and inequality over the Communist Manifesto

While 80% of Americans say they trust themselves (over government and community) to take care of their own interests, younger generations are about 25% less likely to say this.

While 50% of Millennials say they are “somewhat likely” and 20% of Millennials say they are “extremely likely” to vote for a socialist candidate, doubling from 10% in 2018, Americans overall are more hesitant about voting for a “democratic socialist” than they were last year (53% “never” or “hesitant” in 2019 versus 47% in 2018).

 

A generational divide?

There’s an obvious generational divide on views of capitalism vs. socialism and communism. And I have hunch that’s driven, in part, by the fact that most Millennials and GenZ adults aren’t yet homeowners.

And it’s a safe bet that many of these young adults grew up in HOA-governed communities as children and teens, perhaps with no memory of what it’s like to live outside the HOA-zone.

But that doesn’t guarantee that their political views will continue to embrace socialism or communism.

 

Free Speech and Civil Rights remain popular

Call me an optimist, but I see the start of a new revolution as Millennials and GenZ start having children and buying or renting single family homes of their own.

Tech savvy and self-confident adults like Nardecchia and her neighbors are not about to let some self-important HOA busy bodies dictate what they can or can’t do and say.

This is the U.S.A., and we all have Constitutional and Civil Rights.

Homeowners are not naughty children, and the HOA board and manager are not authoritarian parents with the duty to keep residents in line.

HOAs often resemble socialist, communist regimes

To be sure, life under HOA rule gives the naive homeowner a glimpse of life under socialist or communist regimes — where the government controls speech and feeds its public a steady diet of propaganda.

It won’t take long for smart housing consumers to figure out that “majority rules” corporate HOA government isn’t fair or just. On the contrary, the system is rigged to benefit HOA industry stakeholders, namely real estate developers, investors, real estate financiers, and, of course, the HOA management and legal industry.

And it’s just a matter of time before our young adults realize that common ownership of property is a form of collectivism, the very foundation of socialist and communist regimes.

Under HOA government, much like socialist or communist government, everyone is obligated to share the cost burdens of collective ownership. But only a few members of the elite political group (HOA boards) get to control communication, make and enforce all the rules, choose how to spend all the money, and reap all the benefits of being in power.

It’s up to residents of the community to assert their rights and hold their HOA governing board accountable. And HOA accountability is only possible when residents can speak freely on important issues affecting their homes, their community, and their Constitutional rights. ♦

Sources:

Gilbert family vows not to back down despite HOA threat of fines over negative social media posts
By Justin Lum
Published January 23, 2020 | Updated January 24, 2020
Gilbert | FOX 10 Phoenix

Gilbert HOA threatens to fine residents over negative social media posts
Residents at a Gilbert homeowners association say the HOA is threatening to fine them over some social media posts.
Author: 12 News
Published: 8:36 AM MST January 24, 2020 | Updated: 8:36 AM MST January 24, 2020

Gilbert HOA is threatening to fine residents over critical social media posts
Posted: 5:03 PM, Jan 21, 2020
Updated: 2:18 PM, Jan 25, 2020
By: Cameron Polom

70% of millennials say they’d vote for a socialist. 5 facts about their debt-saddled economic situation tell you why.
Hillary Hoffower | Business Insider | Nov 1, 2019, 7:00 AM

Victims of Communism: 2019 Annual Poll