Occasionally, neighbor-to-neighbor disputes will occur between homeowners in your HOA. As a board member, what is your role in the resolution of such matters? Should you even get involved?
It’s not uncommon for homeowners in these situations to seek intervention from the board and, while most of these issues involve matters that are addressed in the association’s governing documents, this can still be a sticky situation. If the reported violation is covered in the association’s governing documents and a violation is truly occurring, it’s good practice for the board to acknowledge the reported issue and send a violation notice to the offending homeowner.
In 2016, the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) passed new rules regarding third-party liability related to harassment of protected classes, which does affect community associations. Protected classes are those based on a resident’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or handicap.
These new rules state that an HOA has liability for its own conduct and is also liable for failing to take prompt action to end discriminatory practices or conduct within the community.
- Action by the HOA to correct and end discrimination by a third party must be prompt. Action may include issuing violation notices, suspending privileges, mediating disputes, and even litigation to seek injunctive relief against the offending resident. Failure to do so could result in claims that board members have created a hostile environment and are liable related to the dispute or discrimination. If there is even the appearance of a discriminatory act, your management company will recommend the HOA take swift action and advise how to correct the situation. Doing so will help you avoid any claims of third party discrimination.
- HUD recommends that, in an effort to protect the association from claims under these new rules, the board consider a proactive approach by educating homeowners about the FHA and types of discrimination they should be aware of, act promptly to address complaints from residents, mediate disputes between residents, and use enforcement provisions under bylaws to end discriminatory conduct within the HOA. To educate your association members, your community manager could help you plan a concise, informative FHA presentation for your next board or annual meeting.
- For disputes that do not fall under the category of protected classes, the board may want to consider teaching residents how to mediate and solve problems between themselves. For example, if a neighbor’s dog continues to bark and causes a nuisance after the issue has been brought to the offending neighbor’s attention, animal control could be called, or if a shared fence is falling down in disrepair, the neighbors could meet and come up with an agreement to split the cost of repair or replacement.
As a board member/community volunteer, you do not have the time to constantly mediate between offended homeowners, but the HOA does have an obligation to get involved under certain circumstances, as described above.
While neighbor-to-neighbor disputes are never pleasant, measures can be taken to lessen their effect on the community. This is why it’s so important to be aware of the laws pertaining to these matters. If you are uncertain whether you should involve yourself in a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute, you can always look to your community manager for advice and guidance or contact us, Spectrum Association Management, today.