If you live in a common interest development, it is inevitable that there are going to be neighbor to neighbor disputes. The circumstances that create neighbor to neighbor disputes vary from case to case, but some common causes of such disputes are:
a. Noise issues that can be created from such things as playing loud music, walking on hard surface floors, dogs barking, or kids playing;
b. Smell issues caused by such things as cooking, smoking cigarettes, cigars, and marijuana;
c. Criminal activity;
d. Conditions on property such as walls, trees, paint colors, and items placed on property.
Neighbor disputes typically involve the few neighbors who are in close proximity to each other and do not generally involve issues concerning the association’s common area property. As a result, HOA boards frequently, in reliance on their authority to exercise their own business judgment in such situations, elect not to expend their time or utilize association resources to become involved in the dispute even if the conduct being reported constitutes a violation of the associations governing documents.
Over the years, the number of homeowners associations has grown dramatically and more and more cases involving issues over an association’s refusal to become involved in neighbor to neighbor disputes have worked their way through the courts and many decisions have leaned towards forcing associations to intervene in some neighbor disputes. These decisions have been based on findings such as: (i) HOA boards, having the power to impose fines and suspend privileges, have a duty to intervene in neighbor disputes that involve claims that one neighbor engaging in conduct that is creating a nuisance and disturbing the peace of other neighbors; (ii) HOA boards, having a duty to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the association members and must take appropriate action to protect the members from the offensive conduct; (iii) Duties that are imposed under provisions contained in the federal Fair Housing Act that prohibit discrimination.
Given the risks of exposure to costly litigation and potential liability for not becoming involved in certain neighbor disputes, associations should adopt policies concerning neighbor to neighbor disputes that include some level of involvement on the part of the association in trying to resolve the dispute. At a minimum, the association should: (i) investigate the matter; (ii) hold internal hearings with the involved parties; (iii) impose appropriate fines and/or suspension of privileges on offending parties in accordance with the association’s schedule of fines and policy concerning the imposition of fines and discipline; and if the offending conduct warrants it, seek an appropriate injunction through a court action designed to prevent continuation of the conduct.
Because the composition of a board of directors frequently changes, associations should have a written policy that spells out how the association’s (successive boards) will handle neighbor disputes. In some cases, such a policy may be specified in the association’s existing governing documents such as the declaration/CC&Rs, or the bylaws. Each sitting board of directors should be aware of the provisions contained in their association’s governing documents concerning the HOA’s involvement in neighbor disputes and if there are insufficient provisions, the documents should be amended to include appropriate provisions, or alternatively, a separate policy concerning the handling of neighbor to neighbor disputes should be formulated and adopted. A sample of such a policy and a resolution by an association’s board to adopt the policy may be viewed via the links following this article.
In conclusion, when confronted with a neighbor to neighbor dispute situation, an HOA board should not follow a blanket policy to not get involved. Taking such a position will typically frustrate and anger the complaining party, create dissention, and could result in the association being sued for not performing its duties. A proper decision concerning involvement should be made following a thorough review and consideration of the facts of the case, an in accordance with sound business judgment, and when appropriate, consultation with the association’s legal counsel.
See sample: Association Policy re Neighbor to Neighbor Disputes>
See sample: Directors’ Resolution Adopting Policy re Neighbor to Neighbor Disputes>
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