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I HAVE FREE SPEECH RIGHTS! Really?

Owners, it’s time for a lesson on how to get what you want out of your Condo or HOA board.

Have you used this one? “I HAVE FREE SPEECH RIGHTS” (implying that gives you carte blanche to be a bully or disrupt an association meeting). Well, it doesn’t.
 
There has been a lot in the news lately about the difficulties of “town hall” meetings in the context of informing constituents about pending legislative issues. A “town hall” meeting can be a great forum to discuss issues and collect gems that help to discover problems, and solutions. Or the meeting can be a melee, out of control, where people get hurt and nothing gets accomplished. (Maybe you have seen “Parks and Recreation” ion TV with Amy Poeler, very funny and sad at the same time – although she tries hard and keeps a stiff upper lip, it’s challenging to put yourself out there in front of a crowd that is less than satisfied with local government.)

The Constitution guarantees the right to “free speech” but for every rule there is an exception. With regard to these kind of rights time, place and manner restrictions can be imposed (ever wonder why you have to get a parade permit?).

 Be advised that an HOA or Condo board can set reasonable time, place and manner restrictions too. Although California law requires boards to allow homeowners to speak at board meetings, it also allows the board to impose reasonable restrictions, such as when a “homeowner forum” will be held (before, during or after the meeting, or interspersed with action items) and allows boards to use an egg timer to limit time.

Bullying your way through claiming it’s your “Constitutional right!” is not a way to get what you want. It’s a way to get a meeting shut down and prevent others from exercising their rights. I recently did an E-newsletter on how to deal with bullies at meetings and otherwise – the E-News is free, and all editions are published on my website in the E-News Archives.

You can also check out my other blog – California Condo & HOA Law Blog.  I just put up a blog about getting what you want without suing (which often turns out to be a complete waste of resources!).

50 Responses to I HAVE FREE SPEECH RIGHTS! Really?
  1. Phyllis
    May 19, 2016 | 9:34 pm

    A bible study group has formed and moved from a private home into our clubhouse, where discussions of the bible are held. Everyone in the development is invited. We have about 96 units in our development and about 8-15 women show up for the bible study. I am questioning whether this bible study group should not be held in the clubhouse but in private homes. We had a book club that met on this day, but were booted out of our day and time because we only had about 8 members and the Bible Study group had more members, and they said several couldn’t meet at any other time . Please comment and give feedback.

    • Beth Grimm
      May 30, 2016 | 4:29 am

      It is hard to make any judgments without knowing how decisions are made about who can use the clubhouse, for what and when, how things are scheduled, what the policy is, who makes the decisions, and how differences of opinion like this are dealt with. Perhaps the Board needs a good clear policy on clubhouse use.

  2. Lisa Peters
    June 29, 2016 | 2:48 pm

    Hello, we saw your blog about HOA Board Member Conduct and wondered if you can provide a referral for an attorney in the San Fernando Valley are of Southern California? We moved in after the condo was vacant for a year. On the first day, various “neighbors” were knocking on our door to tell us there was noise coming from our unit and could we please take care of it (We hadn’t even moved in when this supposed noise was heard). Then, various “neighbors” started complaining about our dogs. The complex allows dogs and one of the owners has at least 5 dogs. At the time we had 4. We got rid of two, and we heard there were still complaints going around. One time early in the morning, one of our dogs barked one time, I shushed him, and within minutes a “neighbor” came and told us to make our dog quiet…our dog had only barked once and was being quiet. Then, we saw and heard “neighbors” who lived on either side of our unit having informal meetings in front of our door. One of the “neighbors” was making accusations to the other about “pot smoking” coming from our unit. One of us does have a medical marijuana card and on occasion administers medical marijuana. We learned that both these “neighbors” are board members. The next day, one of the board members being gossiped to knocked on our door and asked us to leave a parking spot (which is open for all) for her tenant. We thought this request strange but were gracious and haven’t used it since. Then, the gossiping board member came another day and confronted us about “pot smoke” and was bullying and harassing about it. We explained it was medical, legal, and occasional so she stormed off, called the police and riled the ire of the other tenants. We later learned that we were the subject of one of their board meetings (we were not notified). Recently, a the gossippee thought she smelled pot smoke come from our unit. The one person home was napping, but nobody was administering medical marijuana from our unit at the time. She pounded on our door, paced, went to the gate and used the buzzer to leave a message that “we had to do something about the pot smoke”….which wasn’t even coming from us….it may have been coming from the alley behind our complex. (We don’t know – we didn’t smell it). We spoke at length with the rational board member (there are 3 – one is rational and the other two are not) about the bullying irrational board members’ behavior. We said it needed to stop or we would have to sue. One of us is pregnant and for the last twelve months they have stolen our peaceful enjoyment of our own home. Just yesterday, we received an email from the rational board member about pot smoke smell. While he stated he wasn’t saying it was coming from our unit (which it was not because nobody was home at the time), he did inquire….obviously as a result of the accusations coming from other board members. We can’t take anymore. We told them we would sue, and now I’m afraid they have left us no choice. Can you or someone you recommend help????

    • Beth Grimm
      August 2, 2016 | 6:16 pm

      Sorry, too much information for a blog. I get asked all the time if I can refer someone to an attorney in their geographic area. The truth is very few attorneys in this state that are well versed in HOA law will even talk to individual owners, let alone give them good advice. I do not know of anyone else who does individual consultations with owners on HOA situation. So providing names is an exercise in futility. If you want to understand how a consultation will help, visit http://www.californiacondoguru.com today and read up on the consultation option. It may be the best decision you ever made, to get a consult from a knowledgeable attorney before paying an “unknowledgeable” one lots of money. Attorneys have a hard time admitting when they do not know an area of the law and can’t really give good advice because of that. So don’t be fooled by bravado. Ask questions-check out their sites. Look for evidence of knowledge in a specific area.

  3. Susan Montelli
    August 9, 2016 | 1:13 am

    I find it fascinating that the HOA system has gained enormous traction in the past couple decades. In many states an HOA has more legal authority than local, state, and Federal government. As such, they do operate like a mini-government. Thus, a “town hall” approach to addressing concerns is entirely appropriate.
    This venue of communication provides the homeowner with witnesses as to what actually has been said and also minutes of the meeting. In many cases it also gives the HOA board a more clear picture of homeowner consensus about shared problems and grievances.

    The other fascinating aspect about the unhindered proliferation of the HOA is the equal growth of extremely lucrative side industries. Lawyers, real estate agents, contractors, developers, as well as those who seek cheap foreclosed properties can greatly benefit from HOA rules.

    There are far too many lawyers to count, who have blogs such as this one. So far I have yet to see one lawyer who represents the rights of homeowners. Yet homeowners continue to ask for advice from the person(s) who would represent the HOA in court. What so few homeowners understand is that their HOA can take their home over a trivial matter. There are very few advocacy groups for homeowners and little to no legal protections in place. The homeowner usually has limited funds. In contrast, the HOA has a lot more money to spend especially for the purpose of retaining a lawyer.

    Thus, lawyers will represent the HOA. Not only will they win the case but they will also make very good money in doing so.

    Homeowners who ask questions of lawyers such as yourself is like sheep seeking counsel from the wolf.

    One would think that the housing fiasco of years past would be engrained into our collective memory. Yet here we are again but instead of the banks now it is the HOA which threatens homeowners.

    Your colorful advice to “suck it up” and not take up the HOAs valuable time (beyond three minutes) speaks volumes. It is a good thing that your opinions are not regarded as fact or actual legal advice.

    My only question for you is, “What is your purpose with this blog?”

    • Beth Grimm
      September 5, 2016 | 2:37 am

      I put this blog up because everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I do agree that there are not a lot of attorneys who know California HOA law really well that counsel owners at an affordable cost. To answer the real question following this diatribe is that my purpose with this blog is to educate owners and board members and make HOAs a better place to live. The only people I can help though are those that come with an open mind. I feel this person must have felt like they got the shaft somewhere along the way and then decided to lump all attorneys and groups into one bag – against her. I feel bad for her. Should she decide to really pay attention, she would see some balance in the service that I do with these blogs and the E-newsletters for homeowners as well as others. And I do consultations at a reduced hourly rate for those that are willing to pay for more individualized advice. I know its hard for owners and that is why I do what I do. Good luck trying to get any help with a “sour attitude”. It probably won’t help your cause.

  4. H. Marshall
    September 28, 2016 | 8:08 am

    I for one appreciate your blogs and find them well-written and very helpful.

    I also give non-legal advice to condo owners here in Ontario. When required, which is far too often, I refer them to lawyers who are experienced in condo law.

    A condo board has so much power and unfortunately some abuse that power. Freedom of speech is an important issue because directors do not want to be harassed and managers are starting to claim workplace harassment when owners confront them aggressively, regularly and use fowl language.

    Sometimes however, any criticism is enough for the board to sanction an owner.

    • Beth Grimm
      October 6, 2016 | 3:40 am

      All valid points. And subjects worthy of blogs, and I have done many. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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