By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
I get a lot of requests from homeowners and residents seeking help with HOA problems. What can you do when things go wrong with your HOA?
It depends on the issue, but I try to guide readers to limited available resources. The truth is, while the HOA industry is very lucrative for its major stakeholders, it is very loosely regulated – if regulated at all – for housing consumers.
There’s no “HOA consumer hotline,” and, at this time, no major national consumer group with political power to rival HOA industry trade group Community Associations Institute (CAI) or related political groups that benefit from the industry, such as National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) or the Urban Land Institute (ULI).
HOA Stakeholder groups exist primarily to promote and protect the business interests of Community Management professionals, HOA attorneys, architects, planners, and builders of common interest communities that generally require the establishment of mandatory Association Governance. But what’s good for business is not necessarily good for the HOA consumers – mainly homeowners, but also small-scale investors and tenants.
However, across the US there are many smaller consumer-focused groups and organizations that are educating HOA homeowners and residents, and beginning to make some connections with influential policy makers.You can access many of these organizations on this Grassroots page (hoawarrior.com/grassroots.html).
You may find one or more groups or blogs that you wish to join and follow. At the very least, you have the opportunity to connect with other like-minded people who may be going through the very same HOA hell.
How can you resolve a dispute with your HOA? Or replace a rogue HOA, condo, or co-op board? What if you are considering legal action your HOA has filed a lawsuit against you?
What if you’ve attempted to communicate with your HOA Board, but they aren’t willing to listen or compromise?
Your options for resolving most HOA disputes are limited to the following:
- Rally together with other homeowners and try to replace the Board. That means you must be willing to serve as a volunteer to help improve the community. But depending on the Association, it can be extremely challenging or next to impossible to replace some rogue boards hell-bent on power.
- Swallow your pride, and comply with the HOA Board’s demands, in the hopes that they leave you alone after that.
- Put your home on the market, sell, and get out. Or, conversely, move out and lease your home, although leasing may not be possible if the association restricts rentals.
- If the issue is truly important or unavoidable, you many decide to take legal action to protect your rights. But be aware of all your options and the challenge of finding a homeowner/consumer-friendly attorney. Understand that HOA lawsuits are stressful and the outcome is uncertain.
How to fight back before turning to a lawsuit
One of the best resources I have found with regard to handling HOA disputes: Shelly Marshall’s HOA Warrior Reports I and II. The reports contain plenty of practical tips based on the author’s personal experience, and keen understanding of human nature. You’ll find well-written and easy to understand, step by step tactics you can take, and, hopefully, avoid an all-out legal war in the process.
Marshall also shares her tips on replacing an out-of-control HOA Board, including what she and her neighbors have learned from their mistakes.
The biggest obstacle for many homeowners is finding legal representation, since the vast majority of attorneys represent HOAs rather than homeowners. That’s because the Association has the combined financial resources of all of its members, including insurance policies that protect HOA board members from personal liability. Homeowners have limited resources, and few can afford expensive legal representation.
Also, according to Virginia Attorney John Cowherd, it can be difficult to find experts suitable for testifying on behalf of homeowners:
In most cases owners have against HOA or Condo Boards, they need 1-2 expert witnesses, e.g., engineer, repair estimator, appraiser, etc. Many such professionals have ties with “industry leaders”. Advocates for owners need network of un-conflicted experts.
My experience has been that professional relationships with such experts who are a “good fit” for lot or unit owners makes it much easier to get faster and better results. Another reason why some general practice lawyers often struggle getting results for owners in HOA cases.
Such expert assistance is usually as important or more important than the selection of the attorney. Unfortunately, many owners don’t know what expert they need or where to find them because such things are specialized knowledge that you can’t expect the general public to already know.
However, the political landscape is beginning to change, and more attorneys are fighting for homeowners facing injustice at the hands of their HOAs.
On a broader scale, if you are reading this article, and you have suggestions for homeowner resources, are aware of viable alternatives for resolving disputes and protecting individual rights of owners and residents, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: this post is provided for information only. I am not an attorney. I do not endorse any particular legal strategy or attorney. – Deborah Goonan, IAC
Post updated December 4, 2018 8:35 PM