Dealing with Disputes
The HOA Information and Resource Center frequently hears about disputes between homeowners in HOAs and HOA boards or management companies. Most often, a lack of communication is the primary cause for the disputes. In addition, a lack of understanding about HOA issues and homeowners concerns may lead to disputes. Below are some helpful tips for dealing with disputes in HOAs.
- Tips Dealing with Dispute
Take a deep breath & think before you act.
Think clearly about the issue before approaching the board or manager. The issue may be major to you but may be minor in the grand scheme of what the HOA or management company has to deal with. Keep in mind that the board is composed of volunteers and the management company has the entire association to manage with limited resources. Ask if this is something that is within their ability to help you with. Ask yourself: Can I answer or fix the problem myself?
Knowledge is power.
Read all of your governing documents. Often, when we talk to homeowners, they have not taken the time to read their governing documents that frequently provide the answers to their questions. The governing documents (including the declaration of covenants (or CCRs), the bylaws, and the rules and regulations of the association) are the contracts that govern the relationship between you and the HOA. Taking time to know your contractual rights and know generally the laws governing homeowners’ associations will help you consider and understand your rights and responsibilities in the HOA.
Talk to the Board
If there is a dispute—communicate your problem. Give the board or management company a call to address your issue. Be professional and courteous. Being rude and demanding only sets the stage for a litigious atmosphere potentially causing a minor issue to become a large personal dispute. You may also address your issues at a meeting (most HOAs reserve a time for homeowner issues), but be sympathetic that the board controls what is on the agenda at the HOA meetings and they may not have time to listen to a myriad of homeowner grievances.
Document your issues.
If you cannot get results through a conversation, provide your demands in writing. Writing a letter helps to document your position and may help take the emotion out of having a conversation. Make sure to keep a copy of any correspondence between you, the manager, and the association.
Strength in numbers.
Talk to other members of your association. Chances are that if you have an issue with a decision of the HOA, others do as well. By approaching the board with others, you increase your likelihood that you can make a change.
Use the democratic means of the HOA to make change first.
Litigation should be a last resort for a homeowner. Litigation is costly to the association, not only financially, but it also creates an unfriendly atmosphere. Be active and knowledgeable in your association. If there are directors who you feel are not acting the HOA’s best interest, attempt to run for the board yourself or elect directors who you feel will act in the community’s best interest and that you trust. There are also means to remove officers and directors under the law and most likely in your bylaws. Also, there are procedures under the law and your governing documents to change the covenants and bylaws, although this often requires significant homeowner involvement and time.
Explore alternative dispute resolution prior to litigation.
It is amazing what can happen if you sit parties down and talk about the issues. Mediation and arbitration are effective means to resolve disputes short of litigation. Most HOA governing documents provide for mediation or arbitration (and the law strongly encourages this), but even if it does not, you can request that mediation be attempted prior to going to court.
Litigation sometimes is the only way to resolve genuine disputes.
Unfortunately, people sometimes cannot agree and issues need to go through the courts for resolution. You should know the risks and rewards before making this decision and it is wise to contact an attorney. Under the law, the prevailing party is entitled to attorneys fees. Furthermore, lengthy and costly litigation can have a devastating effect on the budget and morale in an HOA.
Understand that you cannot always get what you want.
Living in a homeowners’ association means that sometimes the wills of others are imposed on the whole membership. If a decision is made by a board and goes through the proper channels of the HOA, you may have to live with that decision. Just like in any democracy, you are subject to decisions that you may not politically or personally agree with.
Play Nice & Communicate.
Boards, in particular, should make it a point to “play nice” and be helpful in HOA matters. Many of the complaints filed with the HOA Information and Resource Center are issues that could be resolved if board members and homeowners removed the emotion from their dealings and were more transparent. A large number of complaints submitted suggest that board members and managers fail to communicate properly with homeowners. It is important when engaging with the board or management company, that the homeowner should be respectful, professional, and sympathetic.
De-escalation for HOA Members
Generally, de-escalation involves expressing your sense of calm and genuine interest in what the other party is communicating by using respectful and clear language while engaging in meaningful discourse.
- De-escalation Tips
Be empathic and nonjudgmental.
A natural reaction to someone yelling at you is to yell back. Our instincts tell us to react defensively to the level of energy and emotion that the other person is pushing our way. In these situations, the best thing to do is take a mindful pause, however brief, and realize we’ve been in the other person’s shoes before. We’ve all experienced pain or an overwhelming feeling of stress or emotion. Use that brief moment of mindfulness to try and empathize with the other party.
Respect personal space of all.
When attempting to de-escalate a conflicting situation, the simplest choices may have a significant transformational impact on the outcome. By training yourself to react to high stress situations involving others by providing as much personal space as possible, you are communicating an openness that is subtle, yet effective.
Use Nonthreatening Nonverbals
Your actions during a confrontation speak much louder than your words. By keeping your non-verbal communication as neutral as possible, you can begin to defuse the situation at a subconscious level by making the situation feel less combative.
Avoid overreacting when dealing with disputes.
While easier said than done, making an effort to contain your reactions, both emotionally and physically, will go a long way in helping you connect with the real issues at hand. Remind yourself to take that brief moment of mindfulness and recenter your focus.
Focus on Feelings
Part of the de-escalation process involves focusing on the process more than emotions, but do not ignore your feelings. Acknowledging them and focusing on how they are affecting you at that moment will better help you process them more effectively.
Ignore Challenging Questions
One of the main goals in de-escalating a stressful situation is to lower the general levels of anxiety and stress which have reached unacceptable levels - not to immediately solve the problem. Acknowledge the other party’s statements while informing them of your desire to work to find a solution. This will help to build trust and create a rapport with the other party.
Set limits on what to discuss.
When it comes to de-escalation, limit setting is a highly effective and positive way to redirect a person in distress. It’s also a very good way to keep your own approach focused and constructive, instead of reactive and argumentative.
Choose wisely what you insist upon.
Keep your eyes on the big picture—remember to see the individual behind the challenging behavior. If someone refuses to lower their voice, perhaps consider moving on from that request and focus on other ways to de-escalate, such as encouraging them to move from a standing position to a more relaxed sitting position.
Allow silence for reflection.
When it comes to de-escalation, the great challenge is to be mindful of the opportunity to stop doing, stop saying, and simply be present. Anxiety may momentarily separate somebody from their ability to make rational choices, but the intention of de-escalation should hopefully be to safely reconnect an individual in crisis to their autonomy and well-being.
Allow time for decisions.
Allowing time for decisions means that we must have faith in the abilities of the other party. We need to trust that our behavior will impact theirs in a positive way, and that with a few calm, clarifying moments, they can make a decision that redirects them from their anxiety and stress. We can make sure that this is possible by creating an environment that supports them to think clearly with the time that we’ve provided.
Obtaining certain information from your association - Section 38-33.3-317 of the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (CCIOA) defines what records must be kept by the association, for the purposes of retention and production to unit owners.
A review of the summary of House Bill 12-1237, which has subsequently been incorporated into CCIOA Section 317, may help understand which association records "must be produced", which "may be produced" (at the discretion of the Board), and those which "must be withheld". Be sure to read through your governing documents to determine if your community has a records request policy. If it does, be sure to follow it when making your request.