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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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 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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Experts are listed alphabetically by last name.
Shu Bartholomew (Virginia)
Host of On the Commons, OTC Multimedia Productions, broadcast on WEBR Fairfax Radio. Weekly radio program, guest interviews, discussions of issues involving all forms of association-governed, common interest housing in the U.S.
Current and recent podcasts.
Jan Bergemann, President, CCFJ (Florida)
President of Florida’s largest homeowner advocacy organization, Cyber Citizens for Justice. Website contains a large archive of news reports and editorial opinions relevant to homeowners, condominium, and cooperative associations in Florida. The organization also tracks relevant legislation in the Sunshine State.
John Colby Cowherd, Attorney, (Virginia and D.C.)
Represents homeowners and business owners in matters related to real estate and community association disputes.
Selected HOA-related articles:
Bill Davis, Attorney (Texas)
Representing homeowners in matters of Real Estate law, Consumer Protection.
Podcasts featuring Bill Davis can be found at On The Commons
Jonathan Dessaules, Attorney (Arizona)
Representing home and business owners in Real Estate disputes.
Legal blog about various HOA and real estate topics
On the Commons podcast
David Kahne, Attorney (Texas)
Advocate for HOA reform legislation.
Norman Lerum, Attorney (Illinois).
Condo law, real estate, business and contract litigation, and personal injury representation of Plaintiffs.
Represents condo owners asserting their rights under Illinois statute, including First Amendment rights (Free Speech), due process. (Read details here.)
Shelly Marshall (Arizona)
Advocate and author. Both books include specific tips and suggestions for homeowners to oust an over-controlling HOA board, and bring peace and democracy back to the community.
Marjorie Murray (California)
President, Center for California HOA Law
The CCHAL website is a SELF-HELP website. It is best used with the research you do at the County Law Library. Every California county has a FREE law library and reference librarians to help you research association law.. Here’s the link showing the location(s) of county public law libraries.
CCHAL also sponsors consumer-friendly legislation in California for owners and residents of HOA-governed common interest developments.
George Staropoli (Arizona)
Long-time advocate and founder of Citizens for Constitutional Local Government.
Author of e-book series, HOA Common Sense: Rejecting private government (2013).
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 May 4, 2019