It is important to practice proper dispute resolution in HOA communities. Unfortunately, the reality is that many homeowners associations still struggle with this aspect of management. When faced with a conflict, some boards implement a non-standardized way of dealing with it. This inconsistent approach to resolving disputes will only lead to more misunderstandings.
The Importance of Dispute Resolution in HOA Communities
Homeowners associations are communities filled with residents from all walks of life. Thus, it is only natural for members to get into arguments or have disagreements. While living in a harmonious community is ideal, it is nearly impossible to eliminate all conflict. The key to successful HOA management is knowing how to deal with conflict when it arises.
Disputes can take several forms. They can happen among board members or between board members and homeowners. It is also common to encounter HOA disputes between neighbors. People can have differing opinions and strong feelings about certain issues, often leading to disagreements.
Some of the most common disputes in HOAs include:
- Noise complaints between neighbors (parties, loud music, barking dogs, etc.)
- Rowdy behavior of children
- Visual nuisances (overflowing trash bins, overhanging tree branches, etc.)
- Pungent odors
- Disruptive or illegal acts
- Disagreements concerning violations and fines
- Differing interpretations of restrictions or rules
- Selective enforcement
- Dues increase or the imposition of special assessments
Homeowners association dispute resolution is the process of settling an argument between two or more parties. The main purpose of dispute resolution is to reach a compromise or agreement, thus ending the dispute and creating a more peaceful community for everyone.
How to Handle HOA Disputes
Disputes can happen at any time in homeowners associations. One homeowner may have a spat with their neighbor over fencing issues or plants creeping over to their side of the property line.
Discussions between board members may turn heated over differing viewpoints. Even the smallest disagreements can escalate when people let their emotions get the better.
Left unresolved, disputes can plant seeds of contempt and affect long-term relationships between neighbors. They can impact how board members work and even lead to other owners taking sides. Simply put, disputes can divide a community.
As such, it is essential for every association to adopt an HOA dispute resolution policy. Here are some tips on resolving disputes in your HOA internally.
1. Determine Whether to Intervene
First of all, if it is a dispute between neighbors, the HOA board should determine whether or not it is right to step in. Not all disputes require board intervention. Most neighbor-to-neighbor disputes resolve on their own.
Besides, setting a precedent for board intervention, no matter how small the dispute, can be very dangerous. It can turn your community into a courtroom where the board reigns supreme.
One way to implement this tip is to set up a system wherein owners can request for dispute resolution. Homeowners can put in their requests in writing. But, even then, the board should evaluate each request and discern which ones actually need HOA intervention.
2. Focus on Facts
Regarding proper dispute resolution in HOA communities, boards should focus on facts. While parties can express their feelings, board members should not let these feelings influence them. Having legal counsel present at the resolution meeting is also a good idea.
3. Remain Neutral
It can be challenging for board members to resolve disputes, especially when they know the parties involved. However, part of being a board member is knowing when to put your emotions aside. Negotiations require neutrality, and board members should not let their personal biases and relationships inform their decisions.
HOA Alternative Dispute Resolution
When disputing with someone, many residents’ first instinct is to take legal action. Lawsuits, though, should be the last resort. Most disputes in HOA communities can be settled out of court. This is why some states have enacted laws requiring members to seek alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before attempting litigation.
One such state is California. As per Civil Code Section 5930, a homeowners association or a member of one must first go through alternative dispute resolution before they can take legal action in the superior court. A similar law exists in Florida, though it applies to certain types of disputes.
While some owners might think this is inhibiting their right to sue, it is actually for their own benefit. Lawsuits can be very expensive and time-consuming. Some even take years to resolve. Instead of wasting time and money, members can utilize ADR to come to a settlement.
Mediation vs Arbitration
There are two main methods of alternative dispute resolution: mediation and arbitration.
With mediation, a trained mediator acts as a neutral third party to help the disputing parties resolve. The goal is to find a middle ground that works for everyone. However, no one can force any party to agree to the resolution.
Arbitration also involves a neutral third party, but the process differs. With arbitration, a trained arbitrator collects facts and listens to all parties. They will then come to a final decision on how to resolve the dispute. The disputing parties must agree to abide by the arbitrator’s decision. More often than not, parties are also not allowed to take the dispute to court following an arbitration.
In summary, mediation works with the parties to come to a settlement, while arbitration relies on the decision of a trained professional. Both forms of alternative dispute resolution cost money. After all, mediators and arbitrators offer their services for a fee. However, these methods are still cheaper than a lawsuit.
Dispute Resolution Over Litigation
All homeowners associations will encounter some form of dispute or another. While disputes can be a pain to deal with, they are a normal part of community living. It is important for board members to know how to handle such disputes when they arise by establishing a process for internal dispute resolution in HOA communities. Resolving disputes outside of the courtroom is the best way to keep litigation costs to a minimum.
Cedar Management Group assists HOA communities with various management tasks, including dispute resolution. Call us today at (877) 252-3327 or contact us online to learn more!
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