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Fairfax Delegate: ‘HOAs Wield Enormous Amounts of Power’

By Charles Couch
Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – The General Assembly last week upheld all six of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s vetoed bills, including one that would have increased fines on Virginia residents with out-of-state license plates.

The assembly reconvened for a one-day session to consider the governor’s vetoes and recommendations regarding legislation passed during the 2012 regular session.

Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. Legislators’ votes Wednesday fell short of that threshold. As a result, lawmakers sustained all of McDonnell’s vetoes.

The House debated two vetoes in particular: HB 423, requiring the state’s Common Interest Community Board to develop model “declarations,” or regulations, for homeowners associations; and HB 878, increasing the fines on Virginia drivers with out-of-state license plates.

Homeowners Association’s Rules

Delegate David Bulova, D-Fairfax Station, had sponsored HB 423. He said the legislation was needed because homeowners associations have a significant bearing on Virginians’ day-to-day lives.

“I don’t know that you could move anywhere in my district without being a member of a homeowners association and being subject to the declarations and instruments that come with that HOA membership,” Bulova said.

“They’re quasi-governmental units, and they wield enormous amounts of power.” That power can range from regulating paint colors and home additions to imposing fines and liens on residents.

When you buy a house in a neighborhood regulated by a homeowners association, you must join the group and adhere to its declarations, Bulova said. “Declarations are usually put in place long before a homeowner ever moves into a development. When you purchase a new home, the declaration is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.”

Bulova said his bill would not dictate rules for homeowners associations.

“It does not create mandatory regulations,” he said. “But it does require the Common Interest Community Board to establish a best practice and a model declaration that can be used as a gold standard.”

In vetoing HB 423, McDonnell said state law already outlines the minimum components for homeowners associations’ declarations. “While perhaps well intentioned, this bill increases the Common Interest Community Board’s workload without any discernible benefit,” the governor said.

Delegate David Albo, R-Springfield, said he supported the governor’s veto.

“It’s just impossible to come up with model policies when every single homeowners association is different,” Albo said. “So, again it’s a good idea, but it’s unworkable.”

After the debate, the House voted 36-59 against overriding McDonnell’s veto.

Out-of-State License Plates

Delegates later debated the veto of HB 878, proposed by Delegate Mark Sickles, D-Franconia. It targeted Virginians who try to avoid the state law requiring them to obtain Virginia license plates. For instance, many Virginians register their vehicles in Maryland, which doesn’t have a property tax on cars, Sickles said.

The fine for failing to register a vehicle in Virginia is $100, he noted. “It has been $100 since 1988, and it’s not much of an incentive. It is the cost of doing business.”

Sickles’ bill would have increased the fine to $250.

Delegate Benjamin Cline, R-Amherst, urged House members to uphold McDonnell’s veto of HB 878. He said the penalty contained in the bill wasn’t a fine but a tax.

“Make no bones about it – this is a tax,” Cline said. “This is a tax on individuals who do not register their cars in Virginia but who live in Virginia.” Cline said no law in Virginia prevents residents from having out-of-state license plates.

Sickles said that was incorrect. “This is not a new law,” he said. HB 878 simply increases a fine on “tax cheaters” that has not been adjusted since 1988, he said.

The House voted to override McDonnell’s veto, 64-31. But the override motion failed in the Senate. (The Senate vote was 21-16 in favor of overriding the veto. The motion needed 27 votes to pass.)

Voter Identification Recommendations

Besides sustaining the vetoes, the General Assembly reviewed McDonnell’s proposed amendments to more than 100 pieces of legislation.

For example, the governor recommended 10 changes to HB 9 and SB 1, which would require Virginians to show an approved form of identification to cast an official ballot on Election Day. (Currently, people without ID can vote if they sign an affidavit swearing they are registered. Under the legislation, such people would cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted only if they present proper ID by the day after the election.)

McDonnell proposed relaxing parts of the legislation. For instance, he recommended that officials compare the signature on a voter’s provisional ballot with the signature on file with the State Board of Elections. This would negate the need for provisional voters to present an ID to election officials after the election.

Delegate Joseph Morrissey, D-Highland Springs, questioned the feasible of signature comparison. He said that handwriting comparison requires expertise and that signatures change as people age.

“Handwriting identification analysis is a specific discipline that is taught and requires years of training before one can be deemed a handwriting expert,” Morrissey said.

McDonnell also recommended that provisional voters have three days after an election, instead of just one, to submit proper identification so that their ballots would be counted.

Delegate Gregory Habeeb, R-Salem, said he was concerned about the ramifications this extension could have on special elections.

“For those of us who are elected the day before the session began, this three-day window would delay seating a member of this body,” Habeeb said. “I think that creates a situation where voters aren’t represented where they need to do.”

Ultimately, all 10 of the governor’s recommendations to the voter-ID bills failed – half in the House, the others in the Senate. McDonnell now must decide whether to sign the legislation into law or to veto it outright.

Democrats, who have criticized the legislation as an unconstitutional attempt to suppress the votes of minority and elderly Virginians, called on McDonnell to reject the bills.

“Frankly, I can tell that the governor tried to fix the bill and make it better, but actually it does not,” said Delegate Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. “His amendments don’t make it better, and the only appropriate action on this bill is to veto it.”

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  • Please see Legislative
    protection of HOAs: replacing US organic law with HOA organic law for important information about the second form of political local government — the HOA.

  • Tbailsh

    If this had been a case of the legislature telling HOAs they cannot thwart public law, Mr. Staropoli, I’d agree it’s valuable legislation.  That was not the case with this bill.  This bill simply said “Hey, here’s a template.  You should make your documents look like this.”, which is paternalistic and interventionist.  If one cannot live in Bulova’s district without joining an HOA whose policies they don’t like, one should move elsewhere.

  • What nonsense Tbailsh. HOAs have usurped for themselves governmental power, which is repugnant to our American way of life. The Virginia Supreme Court has already ruled that HOAs can’t fine homeowners…it is a governmental power. But they try to do it anyway because they know that the cost of homeowners asserting their rights are so great, that they are hardly ever able to do it.
    Are you kidding? This is our home we are talking about!

  • karen hudon

    HOA documents are designed to uphold property values within the community and maintain standards of community living. No one is forced to buy into a community. All buyers make the decision to move in and abide by the commnity rules or don’t move in if they don’t agree to abide by the rules. HOA boards are comprised of volunteers who seek to make their communities safe, attractive and resalable so that those who purchase homes within the communities have some assurance that they will not end up living in slumlike conditions and that so when an owner desires to sell a property, potential buyers will recognize the quality of homes and the community. HOA dues support common ground maintenance, street lights, signs and projects deemed to be in the best interest of the community. The Virginia Supreme Court recently took away suspension of parking privileges as recourse for delinquent accounts. The FAT FINGER in Richmond does nothing to help the communities, but screws up everything the HOA boards do to improve living conditions. We pay for our own street paving, street and sidewalk maintenace, common ground maintenance, street lights, landscape maintenance, trash pickup. HOA communities should be allowed tax write offs since we pay for services as a community in addition to paying the same taxes as anyone else pays. SHAME ON The Virginia Supreme Court. Your decisions are supremely stupid. You take whatever recourse HOAs did have and screw it all up.

    Boneheads all of you who voted this way. To think we actually pay you. You’re on your way out

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