Finding Peace In Your HOADec 18, 2022
By Kelly G. Richardson, Esq.
The holiday season is upon us, and a traditional wish is for peace and goodwill. Let’s not only extend this wish to family and friends, but pursue “peace on earth and goodwill toward all” including one’s HOA neighbors.
Peace within HOAs is a wonderful wish indeed and greatly needed. HOA lawsuits deepen division, are costly, and rarely resolve the root problem.
Successful lawsuits do not bring HOAs peace or improve their governance. Peace and goodwill happen when volunteers bring commitment and a healthy service-oriented attitude. If a board is bad, elect a new board, because a judge cannot force a board (or a homeowner) to change. A judge only decides who wins the battle, not the war. So, lawsuits should be the very last resort after all other measures have failed.
Here are six ways to help spread peace and goodwill throughout the year.
Check Member Attitude: Do you refer to the HOA as “they”? Because the association is you. Are you informed, and participating on committees or working groups? Do you take the time to become informed before announcing your opinions on board decisions?
Being part of a common interest community means that by purchase one joins a group of owners. This involves exchanging some independence for the shared benefits of HOA living.
Check Director Attitude: Is your attitude of service or one of control? Members are not employees or stockholders – they are neighbors. An understanding that one is a volunteer serving the community is less likely to foster conflict. Do you listen or simply tolerate other points of view? Have you developed an environment in which directors can vote against the majority without being perceived as disloyal? Teamwork is not necessarily unanimity.
Check Your Actions: Before “going legal,” consider these questions.
Have you talked? Sometimes sending a board representative to discuss a problem can resolve problems before they get out of hand.
Is a lawyer letter really necessary? When attorneys join the discussion it escalates its intensity and it is harder to de-escalate. Before asking the HOA attorney to send off that “nasty-gram,” consider sending a letter from the board or manager requesting cooperation.
Check Your Assumptions: Avoid assuming your neighbor is a bad person - they simply might not understand their responsibilities as a co-owner in the community. HOA members often fight because they do not know their rights and responsibilities. Try giving people a chance to be reasonable – they might be.
For example, many condominium owners do not know exclusive use areas are still common area and subject to HOA controls. It isn’t their fault that nobody told them otherwise. Good boards, managers, and lawyers should start by informing violators before assuming they don’t care, because maybe they just don’t know.
Learn Internal Dispute Resolution (“IDR”). HOAs must have “IDR” policies, in which board representatives meet with homeowners to try to resolve disputes. If everyone really tries and understands their responsibilities, that should resolve most disputes.
Become Educated: Encourage your neighbors to do the same. The Community Associations Institute (CAI) provides seminars in your area on a regular basis, and membership costs little more than a magazine subscription. To start, download its “Rights and Responsibilities” publication from www.caionline.org.
This holiday season, I wish you peace – Peace in your homes AND in your communities.
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