Homeowner association disputes are very common. Given the diversity within a community, there’s no guarantee that the members will get along with each other all the time. Nevertheless, HOA board members need to have an effective strategy for dealing with neighbor disputes. Here’s what you need to know about resolving HOA disputes fairly.
Homeowner Association Disputes: Should the HOA Intervene Between Neighbors?
When there is a dispute between neighbors, should the HOA have to intervene? This is a question that many HOA boards ask themselves. The answer? It depends. Boards will have to investigate these HOA disputes on a case-by-case basis and then determine whether to intervene or not.
If HOA disputes are of a personal nature — e.g., the conflict has to do with dating or relationships — the board should not really intervene. The board must always maintain neutrality and interfering with personal matters might suggest that they are taking sides.
Meanwhile, if HOA dispute problems involve the community’s governing documents, the board may have no choice but to intervene between neighbors. For example, if a homeowner complains about their neighbor always playing loud music late at night, this is considered a noise-related complaint. Most associations’ bylaws would have fines and sanctions for that.
Here are some of the most common causes of HOA disputes between neighbors:
- Noise complaints (loud parties or sound from TV, music, or instruments)
- Excessive barking from pets
- Unruly behavior from children
- Visual nuisances (overhanging trees, overgrown lawns, overflowing trash cans)
- Property maintenance issues
- Cooking odors
- Illegal or disruptive behaviors
If you have bad neighbors, and they are clearly violating the HOA’s rules and regulations, the board should rightfully intervene. Also, board members must also consider intervening between neighbors with personal disputes when their issue starts to affect the other members of the community. Failure to intervene in neighbor disputes where there is a threat to the safety and wellbeing of the community may lead to liabilities for the HOA.
Internal Process for Homeowner Association Disputes
If disputes between neighbors are not resolved quickly, it can escalate and cause major problems for everyone involved — including the HOA. The police could become involved in cases of physical violence, and this can lead to costly lawsuits.
Even though the board isn’t directly involved in these HOA disputes, it’s still their responsibility to maintain peace and order in the community. As such, it’s important to have an HOA dispute resolution policy. A standard process for HOA dispute resolution ensures that the board can deal with cases fairly and judiciously. An effective dispute resolution process is also an essential part of any successful HOA.
While dispute resolution will vary for each association, here is a summary of the process.
1. Homeowner Complaint or Request for Dispute Resolution
The dispute resolution process will begin with a homeowner’s complaint or request for HOA intervention. A written request usually triggers the process. But, if the complaint was made verbally, the HOA board or management should document it.
2. Gather Sufficient Information
If the association does not have an HOA manager or management company, the board should assign a person-in-charge. This person will be the one to investigate the complaint. Gather as much information as you can regarding the HOA dispute. This should be done in a timely manner so that the issue can also be resolved quickly.
3. Board Decision to Intervene
During a board meeting, the appointed member will present all the information they gathered. The board will then decide whether the neighbor dispute requires HOA intervention.
If possible, have HOA management or legal counsel present so that they can provide valuable insights.
The board will write a written notice of the decision. For instance, if a homeowner is found to have violated the bylaws, the board will send an official notice. This may include fines or restriction of privileges depending on your governing documents.
4. HOA Board Mediation
If homeowner association disputes continue, the board may decide to meet with the neighbors. This initial meeting will give both sides of the dispute the opportunity to voice their concerns and explain any remedies that are being sought.
The HOA should act as a neutral mediator in this setting. The goal is to resolve the dispute between neighbors. If they are able to come to an agreement, the board will put this into writing and have the neighbors sign the written document.
5. Consider Further Legal Action
If HOA disputes cannot be resolved internally, you may need to consider alternative dispute resolution methods such as arbitration. Arbitration allows homeowners to resolve their conflicts without litigation. This will have added costs, but it is considered less costly than lawsuits. A legal expert will render a decision based on information gathered.
Meanwhile, extreme cases of HOA disputes may also lead to lawsuits. This will require even more time and money. However, if the dispute involves neighbors, this may be out of the HOA’s hands.
How to Deal With Disputes Between the HOA and Residents
Apart from neighbor-to-neighbor disputes, it’s also possible to have disputes between homeowners and the board (or board member). The HOA should still start their standard dispute resolution process.
However, to maintain fairness and objectivity, the board should not be in charge. You can appoint a third party to resolve these homeowner association disputes. This can be your HOA management company or your HOA attorney.
Apart from being qualified to handle HOA disputes, the third party must be neutral. They must be able to present a resolution that takes into consideration both sides. The third part will put the resolution into writing at the conclusion of the meeting.
Resolve Homeowner Association Disputes Fairly and Judiciously
A successful homeowners association is one that maintains positive relationships between homeowners, as well as between homeowners and the board. Your ability to resolve homeowners association disputes will depend on the association’s timely response. It is also important to have a clear dispute resolution policy. Being fair and judicious throughout the process communicates to homeowners that the HOA cares for the wellbeing of all its members.