When homeowners live in close proximity, as in a gated community, condo complex or other HOA-managed community, disputes over common areas are bound to arise. Tempers can flare, leading to unnecessary conflict and problems between residents and Board members. In this article, we show you how to successfully address and resolve common area disputes so you can avoid unnecessary stress and return to enjoying your community.
Common areas disputes fall into two categories:
- Disputes that your community’s governing documents explicitly address. This usually covers things like obstruction of views, property lines, tree maintenance, etc.
- Disputes not addressed by your governing documents, usually lifestyle choices that can vary by resident.
Common area disputes that are covered by governing documents
Disputes that are addressed in your community’s governing documents are generally easier to resolve. Your community’s rules & regulations or CC&Rs articulate who is responsible for what aspect of the common area. If a dispute arises, first consult your community’s governing documents (usually available online or through your property management company) to see if you can find a resolution. If the association is in violation, speak with your on-site community management contact to discuss remedying the situation with your HOA board. Your management company can help facilitate meetings, act as a communication intermediary and will keep a record of your communications with the Board.
A common area dispute that is not addressed in the governing documents
When a dispute is not covered by your community’s governing documents, things can get trickier. We faced an example of this recently when we were contacted by a group of residents in a community we manage who were concerned about their landscaper’s approach to pest control while servicing the common areas. The residents contacted us and voiced their concerns. We reviewed the community’s governing documents and discovered that there was no clause mentioned for this type of dispute.
We scheduled a meeting with the residents and listened carefully as they listed their concerns. We then shared these concerns with the Board, who were receptive. Together, we contacted the landscaping company, who in turn educated the Board about alternatives. The Board brought back information about an effective alternative treatment to the residents, who accepted it. We acted as a mediator between the residents, the Board, and the landscaping company to make sure that everyone’s voice was heard. This resulted in a resolution that pleased everyone involved.
How to resolve a dispute over common areas
Whether yours is a dispute that is addressed by your community’s governing documents or not, the steps to resolve it are generally the same. Here are the fundamental guidelines you should follow when bringing your dispute to the attention of your community’s Board.
- Write down the details of your dispute. This will help you clarify your issue, keep track of dates, and will make it easier to bring your property management company up to speed.
- Review your community’s governing documents to discover if your dispute is covered. If so, reach out to your community management contact to coordinate a resolution with the Board.
- If your dispute is not addressed by the governing documents, contact your property management company and share the details of your issue. They will double check the governing documents to make sure you did not overlook or misinterpret anything.
- Gather information on the pros and cons of your dispute. In the example listed above, residents listed their concerns about the toxicity of this pesticide to their community’s children and pets.
- Stay in communication with your management company as they work on the issue. They may schedule a meeting with you, your Board, and any third parties that are involved. Remember that your management company is an advocate for your Homeowners Association corporation. They are available to help mediate conflicts, not take sides.
- Maintain written records. Follow up with an email re-cap of phone conversations and keep copies of relevant documents to share with your management company so all parties have access to a complete set of information.
- Be patient. The Board can’t halt the Association’s ongoing projects to settle a dispute, but your management company will make sure that your issue is addressed. Depending on the frequency of your community’s Board meetings, it might take a few weeks before your issue comes up.
- Attend the Board meeting at which your issue will be discussed. This will give you an opportunity to state your case and share why it’s important. Board members will have the chance to ask questions and engage in open dialogue.
- Remain respectful. No matter which decision the Board reaches, remember that they are charged with acting in the best interest of your community. If you disagree with the Board’s perspective on a certain issue, use it as motivation to seek your own seat on the Board at the next election so you can have a greater impact on the direction of your community.
Disputes over common areas are simply a part of HOA life. Gather information, state your case clearly, and call on your property management company to help. If you have questions about a common area dispute in your community, call us at (949) 833-2600 and we will be glad to offer our insight.