When you live in a community that’s under a homeowners association, it’s typically because the fee you pay goes toward common-area upkeep, and, gives you access to certain amenities. One of the biggest advantages of living in a HOA community is that your neighbors cannot devalue your home. That is to say, paint it a crazy color, let junk pile up, or something else that detracts from the quality of the neighborhood. These are also intended to entice homeowners to make improvements.
Of course, there are rules, usually termed “bylaws” that you too must follow. These are intended to protect the value and aesthetics of your property and promote unity throughout the community. However, there are instances where you might find yourself running afoul of association rules, and, that can lead to fines, even something as severe as a lawsuit.
How to Deal with an HOA Dispute
The largest objection people to have homeowners associations is the fact that it does come at a cost. There’s a monthly, bimonthly, quarterly, or biannual fee that you must pay which is then used to pay for common-area maintenance, amenity upkeep, and also into what’s known as “reserves.” An association’s reserves are built-up over time and used to pay for large projects such as paving, roofing, or landscaping projects.
“Homeowner associations exist to protect the common interests of owners and residents of a building or neighborhood. The board sets rules that residents agree to when they move in. But disagreements still happen, often due either to different interpretations of the rules or to new rules that not all owners like. Your HOA bylaws should have regulations in place outlining the procedures to follow for airing grievances. Usually residents must use the board’s internal dispute resolution process before resorting to a lawsuit. This benefits everyone, because lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming.” —Avvo.com
Though some homeowners object to the idea, it’s actually a kind of forced savings plan. When the association dues are properly handled, the reserves grow, and, that helps people living in the community to avoid what’s known as “special assessments,” or, a large, one-time fee charged to owners.
Now, should you find yourself in a dispute with a homeowners association, there are steps you can take to resolve the situation. Here are some helpful tips for dealing with an HOA dispute:
- Learn your rights under the association’s bylaws. The association rules govern both you as an owner and the management entity. You might just discover that the dispute is over a hyper-technicality. In addition, you might find that there is a way to message your way out of the problem.
- Be smart and strategic with your moves. Instead of going at the dispute head-on and building-up resistance, you might consider speaking with your neighbors and board members individually. It could well be that you aren’t alone and others would like the rule(s) changed to accommodate the majority of the residents.
- Use your influence where you can, but subtly. Should you be a past or present member of the board, that can work to your advantage. Speak with the other members privately and see if you can’t work-out a solution that’s acceptable.
- Pay any fines due. While you may not relish the idea of paying fines for something you disagree with, it will only work against you if you don’t. Outstanding fines can turn into a lawsuit, which can then become a lien against your property.
- Document everything along the way. You probably already know to do this, but it’s a good reminder. Take photos, keep all documents, and take notes. All of these will be needed if the matter turns into a legal fight.
If you just can’t resolve the situation, you can either go along with the association, or, you could request to enter into alternative dispute resolution. This will allow an unbiased third-party to help you and the association work-out a compromise.