By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Post updated February 28, 2021
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 groups.
HOA Stakeholder groups exist primarily to promote and protect the business interests of trades and professions serving common interest communities. That includes, primarily, community association managers, HOA attorneys, architects, planners, and builders of residential communities that include the establishment of mandatory Association Governance.
Unfortunately, what works well for business is not necessarily good for housing consumers.
On this website, you’ll find thousands of articles on a wide range of HOA issues, from a housing consumer perspective, spanning the entire nation.
Learn about current legislative and legal trends, and your Constitutional and Civil Rights in HOA-governed housing.
Use the topic list and key word search functions to find the information you need. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, contact me at email@example.com
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. (Do a web search on “grassroots help with HOA problems” to find some.)
You may also 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.
Solving HOA disputes
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.
- 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.
Start by communicating with your neighbors
Don’t assume you have to deal with your HOA dispute alone. There’s a good chance that several of your neighbors have similar concerns and complaints, and they may be experiencing the same problems with your HOA board and management.
Try talking to your neighbors in person, if possible. When that’s not practical, consider virtual communication tools like the Zonzon app to connect and collaborate with members of your community. Unlike social media platforms (Facebook, Nextdoor), you don’t have to worry about data mining or having your posts and comments filtered or censored by HOA group admins. Your communication on Zonzon is private within only your community and is user-driven.
You may be pleasantly surprised to find mutual support for your concerns, making it possible for owners and residents to organize a group effort toward positive change in your community.
Learn more about Zonzon here, or contact the app’s Founder & CEO, Samuel Pilli directly.
Disclosure: I’m one of several advisors and consultants to ZonZon.
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.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
ADR is preferred by HOA industry trade groups, including home builders and community association management trade groups.
But be aware that not all types of HOA disputes are well suited for ADR, especially if the HOA or the homeowner is not willing to work toward a mutual solution in good faith.
State laws or governing documents may require homeowners to exhaust their ADR options before they can file a lawsuit against their HOA.
Read the following information to learn about Arbitration and Mediation, how they work, and how differ from litigation and from each other.
Read about the Pros and Cons of arbitration. Contrary to what you may have been told, arbitration can be just as costly as litigation. It may lead to a quicker resolution, but the homeowner can get stuck with a bad decision that cannot be overturned by the courts.
HOAs or real estate developers often hold the legal advantage in arbitration cases, especially if they choose arbitrators with a history of settling disputes in their favor.
Mediation also has its advantages and disadvantages. If either party is resistant to communicate, mediation can be a waste of time and money.
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 a 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.
Some HOA Experts working for housing consumers
As a service to readers, Independent American Communities provides the following list for information and educational purposes only. Some of the experts listed below are attorneys. Consumers are advised to use good judgment and discretion when selecting legal representation.
Legislative information provided by individual experts may be specific to certain states, and is subject to change as new laws are enacted or existing laws are amended.
Have a suggested addition to the list? Contact me at email@example.com
Experts are listed alphabetically by last name.
Shu Bartholomew (Virginia)
For more than 20 years, Shu has been the host of her own weekly podcast, On the Commons, OTC Multimedia Productions, broadcast on WEBR Fairfax Radio. The 1-hour-long program features guest interviews, HOA experts and advocates, and discussions on a broad range of issues involving all forms of association-governed, common interest housing in the U.S.
Current and recent podcasts.
Jan Bergemann, President, CCFJ (Florida)
Bergemann is President of Florida’s largest homeowner advocacy organization, Cyber Citizens for Justice. The extensive CCFJ website contains a treasure trove of news reports and editorial opinions relevant to homeowners, condominium, and cooperative associations in Florida. The organization also advocates on behalf of home and condo owners and tracks relevant HOA and condo legislation in the Sunshine State.
The CCFJ Foundation provides educational resources and legal aid to Florida homeowners involved in disputes with their HOAs.
John Colby Cowherd, Attorney, (Virginia and D.C.)
John Cowherd represents homeowners and business owners in matters related to real estate and community association disputes. Cowherd emphasizes the importance of Common Law, Constitutional property rights, and a thorough review of the rule of law, offering practical solutions and encouragement for property owners stuck in disputes with their HOAs. He also maintains a blog covering a variety of topics and case law relevant to real estate, homeownership, small business ownership, and HOA-governance.
Here’s a sample of some of his useful HOA blog articles:
Bill Davis, Attorney (Texas)
Bill Davis is a solo practitioner that represents homeowners in matters of Real Estate law, and with a focus on Consumer Protection.
Several podcasts featuring Bill Davis and his legal expertise with regard to protection of housing consumers in the state of Texas can be found at On The Commons
Brian R. DeHem, Attorney (Indiana)
Brian DeHem is a business services and tactical litigation attorney, serving the Indianapolis area. DeHem believes that HOAs are business entities that are often mismanaged. He represents homeowners asserting or defending their rights in HOA-governed communities.
Jonathan Dessaules, Attorney (Arizona & California)
According to his legal profile, “Jonathan [Dessaules] is one of the few lawyers in Arizona who represent the homeowners in the HOA disputes and has devoted a substantial part of his practice to the exclusive representation of owners.”
With more than 20 years experience as a trial lawyer, Dessaules represents homeowners in HOA collections and foreclosure defense, construction-related issues, disputed related to enforcement of Covenants and Restrictions, and HOA election and governance issues.
The Dessaules Law Group maintains an informative Legal blog about various HOA and real estate topics.
Peter Kovacs, Attorney (Indiana)
Peter Kovacs is a sole practitioner based in Fishers. He focuses on serving individuals, small businesses, and not-for-profit organizations, including representation of homeowners in HOA-related disputes.
Dennis Legere, Founder, Arizona Homeowners Coalition (AZHOC)
Dennis Legere serves as a lead advocate and lobbyist for the Homeowners Coalition that he founded in 2013. Legere works directly with state legislators to enact legislation that benefits housing consumers and property owners in HOA-governed communities.
AZHOC seeks to protect and restore the Constitutional and Common Law rights of HOA-governed property owners in Arizona.
AZHOC maintains a website (https://hoatruth.com/) where Arizona homeowners can register themselves as members of the Coalition, track legislation and bill related to HOA-governed common interest communities and condominiums, and review relevant case law.
Norman Lerum, Attorney (Illinois).
Norm Lerum is a leading attorney based in Chicago, with extensive trial and litigation experience in condominium law, real estate, business and contract litigation, insurance coverage, and personal injury.
Notably, Norm Lerum is one of a few attorneys that represents condo owners asserting their rights under Illinois statute, including statutory First Amendment (Free Speech) and due process rights. (Read details here.) Lerum’s decades of experience in business and contract law lends itself to a thorough legal understanding of the fiduciary duties required of condominium board members.
Shelly Marshall (Arizona)
Shelly Marshall is an advocate and author of two HOA educational books. The publications include specific tips and suggestions for homeowners seeking to oust an over-controlling HOA board, in order to bring peace and democracy back to their community.
For more information, click on the following links:
Marjorie Murray (California)
Marjorie Murray is the President of Center for California HOA Law, an owner’s advocacy organization that provides educational resources pertaining to state laws and relevant case law affecting owners of property in HOA-governed common interest communities.
CCHAL is a 501(c)(3) organization that has sponsored HOA consumer-friendly legislation in California on behalf of property owners and residents of HOA-governed common interest developments.
To learn more about CCHAL’s advocacy, and learn how to work toward legislative reform in your own state, listen to this April 2021 podcast of On the Commons.
Shorge Sato, Attorney (Illinois)
Shorge Sato is an attorney based in the Chicago area, specializing in corporate, Constitutional, and real estate law. According to his legal profile, Sato helps property owners defend their rights against “fraudulent contractors, overbearing municipalities and corrupt condo associations.”
Sato is a sole practitioner in the Shoken Legal firm, and advocates for a Condominium Owners Bill of Rights including stronger condo association disclosure requirements, protection of owners’ rights to fully participate in community governance, and greater legal accountability for board members and condo associations that abuse their power or neglect their fiduciary duties.
J. Patrick Sutton, Attorney (Texas)
J. Patrick Sutton specializes in real estate and property rights laws, and litigates civil appeals in state and federal court. According to his legal profile, Sutton represents consumers and homeowners only in HOA-related disputes. He does not represent HOAs or banks.
Current case load includes foreclosure defense, challenges to amendments of deed restrictions, and challenges to municipal bans on short-term rentals.
Ryan Torrens, HOA reform advocate (Florida)
Ryan Torrens is a consumer litigation attorney, with a long history of helping owners fight unfair collections practices, and save their homes from bank foreclosures. Disgusted by HOA abuses and legal injustices that make it costly to fight HOAs in court, he’s working to organize a non-profit advocacy group to reform HOA laws, and possibly even ban HOAs in the Sunshine State.
National Consumer Law Center Consumer education, search for a consumer protection attorney in your area.
Disclaimer: this post is provided for information only. I am not an attorney. – Deborah Goonan, IAC