Covenant enforcement issues, rule violations, board member battles, and homeowner litigation against the Association are some of the most common HOA lawsuits. Contentious, continued litigation can and does ensue in some of these situations. However, as an HOA leader, you can learn how to make the courthouse a last resort, instead of a starting point. Lucky for you, there are several methods for keeping Community Association conflicts out of court, avoiding costly and damaging litigation.
Conflict is unavoidable in Community Association living. What is avoidable is wasting time, money and energy on HOA lawsuits. After all, why resort to litigation when there are literally dozens and dozens of tips, techniques, and tools to avoid the courthouse. More and more HOAs (and their managers) are learning the latest skills and strategies to help their communities avoid the high cost of conflict in the courts.
The following tools may prove instrumental in helping your HOA successfully avoid litigation before it begins, or at the very least, put it to an efficient and effective end.
First and foremost, Boards should make sure they are following all laws and agreements to their fullest. The HOA is a business; run it like one! The Board must uphold its fiduciary duties to the community, acting in the best interests of the Association at all times. This is your best shot at avoiding disagreements that lead to the very threat of an HOA lawsuit.
Part of that responsibility is ensuring the community is properly maintained for the safety and quality of life within it, and to protect property values within the Association.
Board members should also strive to be fair minded in following flexible, enlightened governing documents. Be sure to communicate openly with board members and homeowners alike, letting them know what is going on in the community. Remember, transparency yields legitimacy. Timely, appropriate responses to requests and following proper procedures will go a long way toward achieving this transparency. Many HOA decisions require discretion, so managers and board members should be responsive, empathetic, and use common sense when responding to complaints and issues.
Also, try not to take conflicts personally. Respond, don’t react. Don’t get mad (or even, for that matter). People are not necessarily against you, they are just for themselves. Once you realize this, you can separate the problem from the person (a handy skill in any job or relationship). Choosing your battles wisely will help you avoid the slippery slope of escalating anger. And always, always use legal remedies — or threats thereof — as a last resort.
Solve HOA Lawsuits Before They Happen
To avoid HOA lawsuits, you may need to redefine your idea of what it means to reach a resolution. As tempting as it is to go after the win, aim for a peaceful resolution. You’ll end up saving your HOA thousands of dollars — not to mention a truckload of hassle. Here are some alternate ways you can solve disputes.
Training & Education
When conflicts arise, knowing how to handle them is key. Having guidelines and processes already in place to properly manage and resolve disputes is a game changer, as is learning core mediation and conflict resolution strategies. When you know how to effectively communicate, dissolve, and resolve conflict, you can find win-win outcomes for the entire community.
In short, have a plan in place and then equip your board with the right tools to use it. Seek advice and techniques from industry experts and social scientific research findings that are shown to prevent, manage and resolve conflict. Properly trained, you can use core mediation skills and principles to reach a peaceful solution before they become HOA lawsuits.
Dispute Resolution Policies
More and more communities are adopting Dispute Resolution Policies as part of their governing documents. These policies outline the procedure Associations should follow when conflict occurs. Having a clear process helps to manage the expectations of the Board and residents as they work through problems. For example, for architectural disputes, some HOAs use a dispute resolution process first, before implementing fines or convening disciplinary hearings. Having solid Dispute Resolution Policies in place can help to resolve a range of issues in a cost-effective, less hostile, and more expedient manner.
Mediation is an effective, successful way to keep HOA lawsuits out of court. This informal, confidential process involves a trained, neutral professional to help facilitate and negotiate a resolution acceptable to all parties. A skilled condominium dispute resolution expert can help find solutions to HOA disputes, while preserving and strengthening relationships (paramount when you live in the same community).
Mediation has a high success rate. In fact, 80-90% of HOA disputes are resolved with the skill of a trained mediator, specializing in Community Association law. A good mediator can defuse hostility and open the lines of communication, allowing for more creative solutions. Instead of heading straight to court, Associations that head to the mediation table usually come to a fair agreement with high compliance rates.
By contrast, HOA lawsuit litigation is public, expensive, and time consuming; not to mention potentially damaging to a community’s reputation. Resolving issues without this intervention helps build and sustain strong communities, where the business and community goals of the Association can be met.
Consult Outside Experts
Third parties such as attorneys, mediators, insurance professionals, consultants, and other HOA managers can help your Association successfully navigate disputes. When in doubt, reach out! Boards can and should consult with outside experts on matters of possible liability, such as attorneys or other experts. Depending on the severity of the dispute, the first step may be to get some of this counsel. Sometimes, despite best efforts, conflicts continue to move along the path toward legal action. Depending on the situation, an HOA may decide to consult with their legal team on a case-by-case basis.
Remember, just like the people who live in them, communities can be complicated organisms. You’ll be better off to nip the inevitable disputes in the bud by acting responsibly, implementing dispute resolution policies in your governing documents, and seeking out the proper training and resources now, when there is no threat of an HOA lawsuit. So the next time a homeowner uses the pool to save her experimental crop of man-eating iguanas, you’ll know just what to do. See? You are a superhero!
- Common HOA Lawsuits & How to Dodge (err…) Avoid Them - September 26, 2018
- Maximize Mediation: A Guide to Saving Association Legal Fees - January 18, 2017
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