IS THERE "FREEDOM OF SPEECH" IN DICTATORIAL CONDO ASSOCIATION?
By Jan BergemannI
I guess we all know that there is a so-called First Amendment that guarantees us "FREEDOM OF SPEECH." But it seems not everybody cares about it very much, especially not some board members and their attorneys.
Over the years I have seen many lawsuits filed against homeowners and condo owners who dared to publish their own websites, using it to publish association documents and their own opinion about "shenanigans" in their association. As long as owners don't forget to make sure that certain disclaimers (like: "This is not the official website of WhoCares(??) HOA) are very visible on the Home Page, lawsuits against these owners are normally going nowhere.
Mostly these lawsuits (and threatening letters) are used to intimidate these owners. You wouldn't believe all the things these association attorneys are threatening with. Always reminds me on the schoolyard bullies trying to get our lunch money.
And they are very inventive when it comes to accusations. I have seen even "trademark infractions" being used for intimidation tactics. As if the name of an association is a trademark. But I think that some attorneys think that anything to scare the owner is allowed, no matter how stupid. They want to protect the dictatorial board who is paying their legal bills.
Most of these written threats and even the lawsuits are going nowhere -- they just serve to scare the owner. Very few go any further -- like the one Eric won and wrote about in his blog posted Monday. Some have gotten very expensive. Let's make no mistake: Dictatorial board members will do anything in order to stay in power -- no matter how much it costs. It's not their money -- that's minimum the way they act.
As long as the contents of this website is factual and "halfway" civilized there is little the board, their attorney and CAM can do.
I can understand that certain board members don't like their "shenanigans" discussed on a public website for everybody to read. Only too often owners complain about serious wrongdoing of their board members who are violating the statutes left and right -- and do serious harm to the financials of their community. But without proper government enforcement of existing laws owners often don't have another opportunity than to publish their opinion on a website. Nowadays a website is pretty easy to create and very cost-effective.
Yes, a public website may endanger the property values of the community, but -- like in the military where you may consider calling friendly fire on your own lines in emergencies -- it often serves a greater purpose. Believe me: A dictatorship creating financial mischief
Never forget: The owners wouldn't create websites and even fight lawsuits over it if they don't see serious problems endangering the welfare of the community.
If there is an owner in your community publishing such an "unofficial" website don't listen to the outcry of the board and the service-providers. Don't shoot the messenger who reports about the problems that could quickly effect your financial welfare.
Even if our US Constitution and the Amendments often don't find the necessary appreciation, it's still the law of the Land -- and it's what made this Country great! Our founding fathers would most likely turn in their graves if they would see how the Constitution they created is often trampled with feet in Florida's community associations.