Homeowners Association (HOA) Disputes in California

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Many people these days live in communities where there is some kind of community association, condominium association, or homeowners’ association. And, not infrequently, a homeowner will have a dispute with the homeowners’ association, or vice versa.  The homeowner may want to do something that the association will not allow.  Or, the homeowner already did something that the association believes violates “the rules”. Alternatively, the homeowner may believe that the association is falling short of its duties somewhere, or has not responded to some situation in a timely manner.

Tip: If the situation is a smaller issue that needs quickly handling, you should probably try the less formal but just as effective Online Mediation which uses phone and email rather than face-to-face meetings to reach a resolution.

In any case, the issue needs resolving. In some cases, one side starts thinking or talking about suing. That’s an indication that least the issue has become serious for one or both of the parties.

In most disputes, both sides have some valid points, and it’s usually not a clear case of one side being right and the other wrong.  There is usually some middle ground or some kind of a solution that will keep everyone happy without anyone “losing face”. These kind of solutions are usually best worked out between the parties, or, if the parties have had trouble communicating, by the use of a mediator.

PDF: Anthony Matthews – Homeowner Association Mediation

Mediators are trained, independent third parties who can communicate impartially with both of the parties, maybe together and maybe individually, and can help them to determine such a resolution.  Mediators do not make any decisions or stand on anyone’s “side”, and they are not so much focused on retribution for what went on before as in coming up with a mutual agreement for future understandings and behaviors on both sides.

In California, where I practice, it’s actually the law that homeowners and associations have to attempt mediation or some other form of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) before going to court. The relevant codes if you are interested are CA Civil Codes 1363.810-850, and  1369.510-590.  Of particular note is the following excerpt (1363.840) from the code that lays out the standard procedures for such a dispute resolution.

(a)   This section applies in an association that does not otherwise provide a fair, reasonable, and expeditious dispute resolution procedure. The procedure provided in this section is fair, reasonable, and expeditious, within the meaning of this article.

(b)   Either party to a dispute within the scope of this article may invoke the following procedure:

  1. The party may request the other party to meet and confer in an effort to resolve the dispute. The request shall be in writing.
  2. A member of an association may refuse a request to meet and confer. The association may not refuse a request to meet and confer.
  3. The association’s board of directors shall designate a member of the board to meet and confer.
  4. The parties shall meet promptly at a mutually convenient time and place, explain their positions to each other, and confer in good faith in an effort to resolve the dispute.
  5. A resolution of the dispute agreed to by the parties shall be memorialized in writing and signed by the parties, including the board designee on behalf of the association.

(c)   An agreement reached under this section binds the parties and is judicially enforceable if both of the following conditions are satisfied:

  1. The agreement is not in conflict with law or the governing documents of the common interest development or association.
  2. The agreement is either consistent with the authority granted by the board of directors to its designee or the agreement is ratified by the board of directors.

(d)   A member of the association may not be charged a fee to participate in the process.

You may also find this PDF of the regulations handy: California Homeowner Association Disputes (right-click on link, and save)

Mediation is often a very fruitful process, as an all-encompassing agreement can be reached and signed immediately, containing any of a range of points to meet the needs of both sides, and the situation will be immediately resolved. The alternative, going to court, is expensive, time-consuming, will almost certainly not give either party exactly what they want, and will not even address many of the parties’ issues.

So, if you are involved with a homeowners association dispute, consider taking the steps to get it resolved expediently.

You may also be interested in the following series of articles about Condominiums and Homeowner Associations.

Anthony Matthews is a mediator practicing in the San Fernando Valley and Online, with a private practice focusing on individual and small business disputes. He has a law degree from Cambridge, and also volunteers regularly for the Los Angeles Superior Court, mediating Small Claims, Civil Harassment, and Unlawful Detainer(Eviction) cases. If you have any questions or are interested in his mediation services, please contact him at mediator [at] adrmcr.com.

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