Monday, October 27, 2008

By "Homeowners" we mean "Unions", and by "Rights" we mean "Restrictions": Arizona Proposition 201

Since it costs approximately a million dollars to place an initiative on the Arizona ballot, Proposition 201, now known as the "Homeowners' Bill Of Rights", can be thought of as a million dollar joke.

Who is the joke on? Members of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, the trade union responsible for drafting this initiative. Money to promote and collect signatures for this initiative comes out of their dues. If I were a member, I'd consider simply quitting; Arizona is a right-to-work state. Those in other states may wish to consider holding decertification elections or at least switching to "agency fee only" membership. Union dues should be levied for bargaining, not for politicking, and certainly not for promoting initiatives so ridiculous that they have no chance of passing.

It's difficult even to see the connection between trade unionism and this initiative. It would seem to make it more difficult to build and sell houses in Arizona, which isn't in employee or contractor interest. If it is a make-work measure, I'd wager a few dollars on it being drafted by a kook or an ignoramus.

Perhaps it is a "get out the vote" measure, like the gay marriage ban, but in support of Barack Obama or some other union-friendly candidate for office. But terms of house purchase aren't really a rabble-rousing issue, and Arizona has a "homeowners' bill of rights" of sorts that works, in ARS Title 12, Chapter 8, Article 14.

Prop 201 would amend that article, changing its name to the "Homeowners' Bill of Rights". Cute, but--like "victims' bill of rights" and "patients' bill of rights"--tawdry. The substance of the measure is worse. Proposition 201:

  1. Extends to ten years the amount of time buyers have to make claims against builders.
  2. Requires 95% of the deposit to be returned to buyers who change their minds about purchasing a dwelling within 100 days of making their deposit.
  3. Forbids contracts between buyer and seller requiring arbitration before a lawsuit is filed; suits are the only recourse.
  4. Eliminates the "loser pays" provision, in favor of the buyer.
  5. Shortens from ninety to sixty days the amount of time a buyer must wait between notifying a seller of defects and filing an action.
  6. Strikes "includes a detailed and itemized list that describes each alleged defect and the location that each alleged defect has been observed by the purchaser in each dwelling that is the subject of the notice" and replaces it with "means a description in ordinary non-technical language that puts the seller on notice of the types of defects a homeowner of average experience would be expected to observe, any particular defect that is reasonably encompassed in the homeowner's description or that is or should have been found by a seller during an inspection of the alleged defects using due diligence shall be deemed included within the purchaser's notice to the seller", explicitly removing any requirement that the aggrieved buyer be specific, precise, or accurate.
  7. Requires all new houses to be sold with a minimum 10-year warranty, "without additional or separate charge".

It also makes a few amendments, in the same spirit, to the statute about monetary compensation, repairs, damages, and the like; read the full text for details.

The last item above is especially telling of the filers' mindset. It could be a declaration that the 10-year warranty cannot appear as a line item on the invoice (so as to hide its cost), but the choice of language makes that unlikely. It seems more like Mugabenomics: require that a warranty be provided without additional charge, and the builder will simply give the warranty to the new homeowner for free.

Proposition 201 is not only unneeded, but it would also drive up the cost of housing in the state and forbid buyer and seller to enter into favorable contracts. It is unwelcome during this housing-market downturn and would be unwelcome during a period of growth. Vote "no". And I cannot emphasize it enough: If you are a member of the Sheet Metal Workers union, switch to "agency fee" dues and move to decertify. Don't let your hard-earned wages be wasted on baloney such as this.

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