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Insights and Solutions for Small Condominium Dispute Resolution

Condo dispute mediation - homeowner to homeowner

Condos are communities – but just like any long-term relationship, there are bound to be disputes.

While homeowners might argue that since they own their properties, they should be able to make changes, renovate, or update the property as they like. The HOA, on the other hand, takes the position that they are responsible for maintaining the property for the benefit of all, keeping the grounds and common areas safe, clean, and pretty, according to community standards—which may not always align with what the homeowner wants to do.

HOA governing documents are generally quite clear about guidelines, rules, and restrictions, especially when making architectural changes in or outside the unit. However, smaller condo associations are generally self-governed, and this is where things could get messy if personal differences become part of the picture.

What could possibly go wrong?


HOA Governing Documents Explained

HOAs establish three separate documents to support and govern the community.

  • Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) are official, legally binding documents filed with the state outlining the obligations of the HOA to its members and those of the members to the HOA.
  • Bylaws cover the day-to-day governance of the community and the responsibilities of board members.
  • Rules and Regulations cover anything not outlined in the bylaws and CC&Rs. Examples might be pool hours, pet restrictions, visitor parking, etc.

Disputes arise when homeowner concerns or interests conflict with the HOAs. While some disputes might be resolvable through informal means or mediation, sometimes they will end up in court.

Obviously, avoiding a lawsuit is worth the effort, but if it can’t be resolved, that’s where it might end up. It should be noted that, in the event of a lawsuit, the prevailing litigant is entitled to recoup their attorney fees and any associated costs.

All restrictions can technically be changed, but it’s not always straightforward. Changing CC&Rs would be particularly challenging as updates must be voted on and agreed to by homeowners before refiling documents with the state. Bylaw changes require a membership vote and may face pushback. Rules and regulation changes can be adopted by the board and then possibly sent to the membership for review. After the review period, the board will consider member feedback before making a final decision.


Common Condo Disputes Between Homeowners and HOAs

Some of the most common types of condo disputes include:


HOA rejects new construction or renovation plans

Any changes to the exterior of the dwelling may require HOA approval. While specific changes may be covered in the governing documents, others may seem arbitrary and unfair.

The same may be true for interior changes, depending on what they are. For example, changing the flooring, replacing the ceiling, making structural changes, retiling the bathroom, or doing kitchen renovations that require removing plumbing or electrical may be an issue as they could affect the safety or insurability of adjoining units. Sub-par work could result in colossal liability and further disputes between neighbors and the HOA.


Excessive fines

Bylaws allow HOAs to impose fines on members who do not abide by rules and regulations or CC&Rs. The HOA is responsible for enforcing these fines when issued, but some may be overzealous in pursuing them. Tempers flare, and members may feel they are being unfairly targeted. In larger communities, fines may be managed by a third party, who may be incentivized to collect, further proliferating the issue.


Assessment and HOA fee disputes

Fee increases or frequent special assessments can flare tempers and may call into question how the association is managing its funds.


Maintenance disputes

HOAs are responsible for many critical aspects of a community’s day-to-day business. The appearance and condition of common areas, roads, parks, playgrounds, and facilities are a big part of a community’s allure, and failure to keep them up to standards will almost certainly create problems.


Misuse of funds

HOAs are fiduciaries and thus have a duty to their communities to manage funds responsibly. Such misuse can range from irresponsible spending and poor decision-making to illegal acts, like embezzlement, or awarding lucrative contracts to board members’ family businesses or close associates.


Damage claim disputes after a fire

Homeowners are typically responsible for damage inside their units, while the HOA master policy covers the common areas. But sometimes, the boundaries between the two are a little blurry. For example, sometimes it’s challenging to separate internal damage from structural damage, such as if the fire spread through common walls, shared walls, or utility lines. Insurance companies will almost always try to shift responsibility to reduce the claim payable, and it’s often necessary to retain an attorney to sort it out.


What Happens in Case of a Dispute?

Some disputes can be resolved with a conversation. Others are much more complicated and contentious. Nobody really wants to end up in court, but less invasive options don’t always work.

Start by attempting to handle the issue directly. Have a chat with the board member or neighbor you’re in dispute with before escalating the situation. If you can find common ground and resolve the issue yourself, you’ll get past it faster and be able to move on.

Granted, if tempers flare and neither side is willing to give a little, you may need to take it to the next step. Mediation is faster and less costly than a lawsuit and often highly effective. However, if the dispute is with the HOA directly, you might want to consult a lawyer before mediation. HOAs generally have their own legal counsel, so it’s best to be prepared, as a little expertise goes a long way.

If you can’t resolve the problem through mediation, you may have no option but to take it to court. Be aware that going this route could extend the matter for months or even years before you get a resolution.

Peace is always the goal. But whatever you decide, be sure you do it for the right reasons. If you have any questions about HOA disputes and how to proceed, speak to the experts at Belwood Properties today.


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