hoa conflict resolution

Proper HOA conflict resolution is necessary for successfully managing a homeowners association. However, too many board members are left without direction when faced with disputes. Fortunately, some proven tactics can help even the most inexperienced HOA board deal with conflicts, whether they are conflicts between homeowners, board members, or a mix of the two.


What Is HOA Conflict Resolution?

Homeowners associations are no strangers to conflict. When a community is filled with residents from all walks of life, it is almost impossible not to have disagreements now and then. HOA disputes are simply a normal part of life in an HOA community. However, it is important for the board to know how to address disputes and resolve them before they worsen.

The HOA board is responsible for the management of an association, and this includes resolving conflicts. How a board responds to conflicts can affect operations moving forward. Feuding homeowners can harm the peace in the community and make other residents feel uncomfortable.

It’s even worse when the conflict is between board members. Meetings can’t run smoothly as there will always be an air of hostility. Conflicting board members may also purposely antagonize each other when discussing issues. They might even let their emotions get in the way of their judgment. In the end, the community at large will suffer the losses.

This is where HOA conflict resolution comes in.

Conflict resolution, also known as HOA dispute resolution, is a process for addressing and settling disputes in an association. Disputes can happen between owners and between board members. They can also happen between homeowners and the HOA itself. With a solid resolution policy in place, a community can effectively sort out disputes and continue operations without hindrance.


Should the Board Intervene in HOA Disputes Between Neighbors?

When there is a homeowners association dispute between neighbors, the board shouldn’t immediately jump in. It is important to determine whether there is merit to intervening by investigating the matter first.

For neighbor-to-neighbor disputes that are more personal, the board should refrain from interfering. An example would be if the conflict involves a romantic relationship or family drama. However, for disputes that will affect the community at large, the board should consider intervening. This is especially true if the problem involves the governing documents of the association. An example would be if a neighbor consistently complains about the loud music coming from next door.

Some of the most common disputes between neighbors include:

  • Noise complaints
  • Pet problems
  • Kids’ behaviors
  • Landscaping issues
  • Property maintenance issues
  • Unpleasant odors
  • Disruptive behaviors
  • Illicit activity

If an owner is violating the rules of the HOA, then the board should definitely intervene and follow proper enforcement procedures. Moreover, if a personal issue between two neighbors starts to impact other members or the association as a whole, the board should consider interfering.


Internal Dispute Resolution: How to Resolve HOA Conflicts

hoa resolution vs amendmentIt is one thing to know what conflict resolution is and another to know how to go about it. Not all board members have a background in resolving HOA conflicts. After all, most boards consist of volunteer homeowners with careers unrelated to community management.

If your HOA board wants to resolve conflicts the right way, here are the steps to take.


1. Refer to Your Internal HOA Conflict Resolution Process

First of all, you should check your governing documents. More often than not, associations already have an internal policy in place for resolving disputes. This policy should be followed by everyone, and board members are no exception.

Having clear rules for conflict resolution is the key to a smooth settlement process. Written rules allow board members to implement them more effectively, and owners are also more likely to participate in the procedure. If you don’t have a conflict resolution policy yet, now is the time to come up with your own. As with most legal issues, it is best to involve a lawyer for this.


2. Keep Communications Simple

Communication is paramount to facilitate effective association resolution. When communicating with homeowners and fellow board members, it is important to use clear and simple terms. Using jargon may only lead to misunderstandings and complicate the matter.

Additionally, it is best to keep communications brief. While explanations are helpful, a lengthy letter will make it hard for readers to digest information. Focus on the facts and outline the guidelines of your resolution process. This will help streamline the whole procedure, keep confusion to a minimum, promote transparency, and improve trust.


3. Be Cooperative

HOA community conflicts can cause a divide among residents and impede operations. Thus, it is important to resolve them as soon as possible.

Conflict resolution, though, is a collaborative effort. You can’t settle a dispute without the willingness and agreement of all participants. To resolve disputes cooperatively, board members should review all facts to get rid of misunderstandings and identify the root cause of the argument.

During the discussion, board members should practice active listening. Never interrupt someone when they are speaking or explaining their side. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you need clarification, but don’t frame them accusingly.

Finally, be understanding. This is absolutely integral to the conflict resolution process. When you apply these practices, you can reach a resolution that works for everyone much faster.


4. Keep It Neutral

Board members should always remain neutral when resolving conflicts. Taking sides and playing the blame game will only exacerbate the problem. A neutral party can approach the problem and examine all sides through an objective lens. This will allow you to come to a fair settlement.


5. Seek Professional Assistance

If your HOA board isn’t trained in conflict resolution, don’t hesitate to rely on professionals. An HOA manager can support the board during this process. A good manager always remains calm and professional, making them well-suited for conflict resolution. A lawyer can provide mediation or arbitration services if the situation requires alternative dispute resolution.


6. Follow Up

It’s not enough to come to a resolution and call it a day. You should also follow up on the results. After the procedure, reiterate the settlement and relay the action items. Make sure to check in now and then to ensure everything’s going to plan and everyone’s following the agreement. Then, use the experience to learn and inform your future practices.


7. Document Everything

It is not uncommon for an HOA dispute to reach a court of law. As such, HOA boards should strive to document everything. This way, there is a record or a paper trail that the board can use as a reference. Putting everything in writing also helps keep everyone on the same page when it comes to handling conflict.


Alternative Forms of HOA Conflict Resolution

If your association’s internal resolution process does not work, it is necessary to seek Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). There are two primary types of ADR: mediation and arbitration.

Mediation refers to the conflict resolution process wherein a third-party neutral mediates between the disputing parties and attempts to find a middle ground. On the other hand, arbitration refers to the process wherein a neutral third party listens to all sides and examines all evidence before setting a resolution. In arbitration, the arbitrator makes the final call on how the conflict should be resolved, and all parties must adhere to the decision.

Some states require associations to go through ADR first before pursuing legal action. This is in an attempt to limit lawsuits, which drain resources not just for the parties involved but also for the state and taxpayers. California is a prime example, with ADR being a prerequisite to a lawsuit.


How Do You Resolve Conflict Among Board Members?

hoa board dispute resolutionBoard members tend to have their own opinions and way of approaching issues. Thus, it is not uncommon for board members to disagree on matters regarding the association. Disputes among board members can happen, and they happen more often than you think.

How do you resolve board disputes more effectively?

Generally, adopting the strategies above should help settle disputes between board members, too. Board members, though, should set a good example when faced with a conflict. They should be willing to discuss and compromise. They should also keep an open mind during the conflict resolution process. Finally, board members should always put the community’s best interests ahead of their personal feelings.

Working together as a united HOA board is critical to the association’s success. Homeowners will usually lose their trust in a board that doesn’t present a united front. When the board is at war among themselves, owners will have doubts about effective management and leadership.


Tips for Handling Homeowners Association Disputes

Board members and homeowners alike should practice the following tips when dealing with an HOA dispute:

  • Don’t let emotions get the better of you. If you feel like you can’t control your emotions anymore, take a pause and back off. Return when you have cooled down.
  • Keep everything professional. Refrain from using personal attacks or going below the belt.
  • Listen when someone else is talking.
  • There is no place for hostility in an argument. Express your side using a calm and collected demeanor.
  • Avoid straying from the topic at hand.
  • Be open to compromise. Look for common ground. Adopt a win-win mentality when entering dispute resolution.
  • Homeowners shouldn’t stop paying their dues. Even if you have a dispute with your HOA, nonpayment of dues could still cost you hundreds of dollars in late fees and legal costs. You may even end up losing your home.


Know the Difference: What Is an HOA Resolution?

Conflict resolution is not to be confused with a board resolution, which is a completely different matter. While still related to the HOA, a board resolution is a decision formally passed by the board, usually with an accompanying written statement.


HOA Resolution vs Amendment

An HOA or board resolution is a formal statement to pass a decision. While resolutions can come in several forms, they are usually used to change the association’s operating rules. On the other hand, an amendment typically applies to the CC&Rs and bylaws.

A key difference between the two is approval. Resolutions only need the approval of the board. They don’t require membership approval. Meanwhile, amendments to the CC&Rs typically do require a majority vote of approval from the membership, though this can still vary depending on state laws and an HOA’s governing documents.


A Harmonious Living Environment

Disagreements are a normal part of everyday HOA life. Some resolve on their own without the need for board intervention. When a disagreement turns into a full-on dispute, it can start affecting the community’s peace and operations. As such, every association should have an HOA conflict resolution process in place.

Clark Simson Miller helps board members manage operations as well as conflicts. Call us today at 865.315.7505 or contact us online to learn more!