By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND, Va. — A bill giving draconian extra-legal powers to homeowner associations is taking a beating from Democrats and tea party Republicans — and it’s on the verge of becoming law.
House Bill 791 “aims to protect residents living in homeowner and condominium associations … from overly aggressive enforcement of association rules,” said sponsoring Delegate Jim LeMunyon, R-Chantilly.
Critics say the measure does the reverse, and they call it “an end-run around property rights.”
“Somewhere, George Orwell is rolling over in his grave,” said state Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax.
“What we’re doing here is saying that a homeowners association, even if it doesn’t have powers stated in (its) charter, will be allowed to exercise additional powers,” Petersen said during debate on the bill.
Leaders of the Northern Virginia Tea Party and Arlington County Tea Party, among others, agree with Petersen.
Arlene Smith, lead organizer of the Arlington group, said HB 791 attempts to grant powers to HOAs “that they could not get from their own members.”
The push for the bill comes from management companies and attorneys representing associations. After losing a series of court decisions over heavy-handed enforcement actions, HOA lawyers are seeking broader authority through the General Assembly.
After reading the fine print, Petersen said he is having none of it.
“These boards have a power, which is not even held by city councils or county boards — the power to assess and collect fines and assert a lien against property, even without a court order,” Petersen said.
“This power can lead to $50-a day fines for offenses as mundane as leaving out toys or hanging up Christmas lights,” said Petersen, himself a lawyer.
In addition to fines and liens, LeMunyon’s measure would empower associations to shut off electricity to offending homeowners.
Republican state Sen. Bill Stanley of Moneta said HB 791 has due-process problems.
“I honestly believe this legislation violates our rights in the Constitution,” Stanley said.
Petersen said the measure “represents a landmark change in Virginia’s property laws.”
With slightly different versions of HB 791 clearing the House and Senate, the bill now heads to a legislative conference committee. There, opponents will try to scuttle the measure.
If that fails, critics can only hope for a veto by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a former homebuilder.
Kenric Ward is chief of Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward