Homeowner associations exist to protect the common interests of owners and residents of a building or neighborhood. The board sets rules that residents agree to when they move in. But disagreements still happen, often due either to different interpretations of the rules or to new rules that not all owners like. Your HOA bylaws should have regulations in place outlining the procedures to follow for airing grievances. Usually residents must use the board's internal dispute resolution process before resorting to a lawsuit. This benefits everyone, because lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming. The dispute process needs to follow local laws and will vary by location. Either an owner or the HOA may initiate the dispute process, and hearings are usually open to all association members.

Dispute Process

1. The initial request for a hearing must be in writing.

If the HOA is bringing a complaint against an owner, the written request will also include a description of the charges. The owner then has a certain amount of time to respond with a request to be present at the hearing. The owner is not required to be there, but is entitled to legal representation if he or she chooses to attend. If an owner initiates the dispute process, the HOA cannot refuse to participate.

2. Both sides are entitled to names and contact information of any witnesses, copies of statements and other reports related to the dispute.

3. The association president appoints a tribunal, usually three board members, to hold the hearing.

The tribunal members may not be: - related or close to any parties in the dispute - witnesses - board directors - anyone investigating the dispute

The hearing should have a hearing officer present to evaluate the evidence and a recorder to record the proceedings. After the hearing, the tribunal prepares a report and recommends punishment. The board may reduce punishment as it sees fit but may not impose harsher punishments than those recommended. Some boards prefer to have an informal meeting with the owner first, to try to work out a mutually agreeable solution before moving onto a more formal dispute resolution process. Any agreement made, even informally, should be in writing. If the internal dispute resolution process fails, the next step might be neutral, third-party dispute resolution programs or mediation programs. A lawsuit is usually a last resort. Remember that the exact dispute process and the laws governing it will vary. If you want to initiate a dispute or have had a complaint filed against you, talk to a lawyer to be sure you understand your rights.