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The Right Approach to Violation Disputes | Part 2 of 2
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Today we will continue our series on The Right Approach to Violation Disputes
5. Provide Information About How to Change the Rules
Another major source of disputes, especially during issues of violation resolution, relate to changing the rules. Every homeowner in your HOA is held to the same standard, but they also have a right to take action and change what those standards are. That is supposed to be the major benefit of living in an HOA, being able to craft rules that are uniquely suited to the needs and preferences of the community.
Therefore, if a homeowner feels that a rule is outdated or unfair (and it might be), they should have a clear and accessible route to affecting change. If a homeowner doesn't like a rule, one of the best ways to avoid a dispute is to help them get involved instead. When they say "This is ridiculous! No one should have to follow this rule!" Instead of telling them to deal, suggest that they attend the next meeting and propose an amendment. Or even run for a council seat.
We suggest you have a web page or pamphlets you can hand to irate homeowners that will help them understand how to start affecting change they feel strongly about. After all, it's their right as an HOA member-homeowner.
6. Don't Lawyer-Up First
It's a well-known fact that hiring a lawyer is the modern equivalent of strapping on a sword. It's like saying you're ready to make the fight serious and the consequences hurt. And that can make homeowners feel threatened, and compel them to open the lawsuit route when they wouldn't have otherwise. And lawsuits are always bad for the community.
While your HOA should always have a lawyer on-call for legal advice ranging from contracts to conflict resolution, never be the first to officially lawyer-up. This will help you keep disputes at the mediation level and reduce the chance of blow-ups. Lawyering up first only escalates the problem.
7. Be Flexible When It's Appropriate
Sometimes, a rule doesn't need to be enforced to the letter. There are many situations where what is best for your community is a little leniency and flexibility. Earlier, we mentioned that violations might occur because someone has fallen ill or is going through a hard time in their life. There may also be other circumstances like handicap, maintenance disasters, and honest but expensive mistakes where it would be morally inappropriate to punish homeowners simply for having imperfect curb appeal or making some noise.
So assess each violation individually, and make sure you are available to hear the homeowner's side of the story. You can actually better serve the HOA mandate by helping these homeowners resolve their violations, therefore building up the community instead of making troubled members feel persecuted.
Some flexibility solutions might include extended deadlines, writing handicap exceptions to certain rules (like trash can location), or even connecting members with services or neighbors who can help them maintain regulations without adding extra pressure to their challenging situations.
8. Stand Strong and Be Understanding
Finally, we encourage every HOA to find the balance between standing strong on rule enforcement and being understanding of real human circumstances. Remember to always give a gentle reminder, then a warning, before leveling any real consequences. Aim to provide support and avenues for resolution instead of 'punishing violators'. And always fully investigate a situation before taking any action that might be considered hostile.
And, of course, use your own initiative to encourage homeowners to get involved. With the right attitude and resources, you can turn the angriest member defending a violation into an active and dedicated member of your community council. After all, anyone who feels strongly about what the neighborhood rules should/should not be may actually have a lot of energy to contribute to shaping the community in a way they believe in. Especially if other less involved homeowners feel the same way they do.
Ultimately, we hope we have highlighted that serious HOA violation disputes are almost never necessary. You will have many opportunities to resolve without conflict, de-escalate a problem, and to minimize the unpleasantness of any effective consequences for violations. You might even turn minor disputes into newly active community members by reminding homeowners that HOAs were designed to evolve.
For more HOA insights and best practices, contact us today!