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Can an HOA Fine Residents for Posting Online Complaints?

An Arizona HOA has threatened to fine its residents $250 per day if they voice community grievances online. Residents call it a form of censorship.

GILBERT, Arizona – Social media ushered in a new dimension for airing neighborhood gripes and gossip, and one homeowners association (HOA) in the Phoenix metro area has had enough.

An HOA in a Gilbert, Ariz., neighborhood is reportedly threatening to fine residents up to $250 per day over negative comments they make on social media. About 11 residents in the Val Vista Lakes community told The Arizona Republic that they had received letters this month from the HOA’s attorney.

The residents are viewing the move as a form of censorship and believe the HOA is overstepping its boundaries.

The administrator of the community’s Facebook page has also been asked to delete any “disparaging, speculative or defaming comments” and remove comments that “in any way negatively impact specific individuals in the association or on the board.” Residents who fail to comply will lose facility privileges – access to the community’s sandy beach and sports courts, for example – and face fines of up to $250 per day.

An HOA attorney in Phoenix told The Arizona Republic that the fines are likely to be unenforceable.

“I think it’s outside the scope of what an association has the power to govern,” says Jon Dessaules, who specializes in HOA disputes but is not involved in this matter. HOA regulations are supposed to be regulations on a property and not behavior, he adds.

The controversy over the social media comments ignited last fall in the lead up to the HOA’s board election. Residents debated about individual candidates and how the board members spent money.

Keith Faber, a former board member who had participated in the debating, says he received a letter from the HOA attorney about his remarks. The letter stated: “The comments you have posted specifically defame and negatively impact others in the community. The Association demands that you cease posting any disparaging, speculative or defaming comments that negatively impact specific individuals in the Association or on the Board.”

Ashley Nardecchia, the administrator of the community Facebook page, says the online group is mostly filled with posts about community events, lost dogs and other questions among neighbors. She did change the group setting recently to “private” and also added a description saying the group has no affiliation with the HOA or management.

But she does not agree with the move to “censor all 600-and-however-many members of the Facebook page that I’m an admin on,” she told The Arizona Republic. “I really do love this community. That is why I’m fighting this fight. If they get away with this, what’s next?”

The HOA board did not respond to The Arizona Republic’s request for comment.

Source: “Gilbert HOA Board May Fine Val Vista Lakes Residents $250 Per Day Over Critical Social Media Posts,” AZCentral.com (Jan. 23, 2020)

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