Living in a community or building with a homeowners’ association (HOA) can be great. A good HOA will manage homeowners’ dues appropriately, maintain common areas for the benefit of everyone, and take reasonable steps to ensure that all homeowners do their part to keep a cohesive look while also keeping property values high. But, it can also be a nightmare. If you are facing a dispute with your HOA, it can become incredibly frustrating and time-consuming. And if you are struggling to make headway, it can feel as though there is no end in sight.
So, if you are facing a dispute with your HOA in Tacoma (or if you are an HOA manager or director and you are facing a tense dispute with a homeowner), what can you do – and what should you do – to achieve a favorable outcome as quickly as possible? Here is a brief overview of what homeowners (and HOAs) need to know:
7 Examples of Common HOA Disputes
First, we’ll start by discussing common types of HOA disputes. As a homeowner, trying to deal with your HOA and getting nowhere can feel isolating, and it can be helpful to know that other homeowners have been through (and successfully resolved) situations similar to yours. If you are in charge of an HOA, knowing when homeowners have valid claims can be important to handling disputes appropriately and mitigating the risk of HOA liability.
The following are all examples of common disputes between homeowners and HOAs:
- Approvals for property updates and modifications (i.e., Architectural Review Board (ARB) disputes)
- Non-compliance on the part of neighboring property owners
- Noise and other nuisances from neighborhood maintenance and construction
- Enforcement of covenants and restrictions
- Failure to perform necessary maintenance for sidewalks, parking lots, pools, and other common areas
- Performing maintenance and repairs in certain areas of the neighborhood or building but not others
- Issues arising out of the developer relinquishing control of the HOA to a board comprised of homeowners
Of course, there are countless other issues that can lead to disputes between homeowners and their HOAs. But, in our experience, those listed above are among the most-likely to lead to contentious disputes that require resolution efforts beyond a few simple back-and-forth communications.
Common Issues during Efforts to Resolve HOA Disputes Informally
Now, let’s assume that you have been in contact with your HOA, and let’s also assume that there is a legitimate issue that needs to be resolved. For example, maybe your HOA has not been taking care of the neighborhood playground or other common areas, and you are concerned for your children’s safety. Or, maybe your HOA is preventing you from renting your property despite the fact that you specifically purchased it as a rental.
At this point, you have reached out to your HOA, and you have received a few token, “We’re working on it,” responses, but not much else. What are your options?
This is the point at which you should get out your HOA documentation. What does it say about requesting common area maintenance work and filing complaints? If there are specific steps you are supposed to follow (even if they seem over-the-top and unnecessary), you need to make sure you follow them. As a homeowner, you are bound by the HOA’s governing documents. And if you ignore your obligations for requesting a remedy, then your HOA may be justified in ignoring your request as well.
In most cases, lack of effective communication is the primary issue that leads to contentious disputes between homeowners and HOAs. As a homeowner, you should be as clear in your request as possible. HOA board members should provide clear updates and explanations as well. And if a homeowner’s request is being denied, the HOA should provide an adequate explanation as to why.
Formal Means for Resolving Disputes between Homeowners and HOAs in Washington
If your HOA dispute remains unresolved, at some point, it will become clear that an informal resolution simply is not in the cards. If you are going to achieve a favorable result, you are going to need to take some form of legal action in order to do so. So, what does that entail?
Once again, you will need to look at your HOA’s governing documents. While you might be ready to take your HOA to court, there could be various intermediate steps you need to take before you have the ability to do so. For example, you may need to request a hearing before the HOA, or you may be required to submit your dispute to mediation or arbitration. In any case, at this stage, you will most likely want to engage the services of a local real estate attorney as you will need to be careful to avoid mistakes that could delay the process or jeopardize the outcome unnecessarily.
In many cases, mediation can be an effective means of resolving disputes between homeowners and their HOAs (it will be required in many cases as well). In mediation, a “mediator” serves as a neutral third party to help guide the parties to a mutually-agreeable resolution. Arbitration can be effective as well, but it involves a neutral third-party “arbitrator” making a final decision rather than helping the parties come to terms.
Regardless of what is required to resolve your dispute, hiring an attorney early can help minimize the time and cost involved. Your attorney will be able to explain your legal rights and the HOA’s legal obligations effectively, and this alone can go a long way toward preventing a dispute from spiraling downward. Of course, if necessary, your attorney will also be able to take your dispute to court, and knowing if and when this is an option will be important to making various other decisions along the way.
Discuss Your HOA Dispute with a Trusted Lawyer
Are you facing a contentious dispute with a homeowners’ association in the Tacoma area? If so, we invite you to contact us to learn more about what we can do to help. To speak with one of our experienced local real estate lawyers in confidence, please call us directly or inquire online today.