Even with rules and regulations designed to maintain community harmony, homeowner associations (HOA) are not impervious to disputes between neighbors. A neighbor-to-neighbor disagreement doesn’t need to rise to the level of harassment or intimidation to create a headache for the association board. But by being proactive and prepared, board members can prevent relatively minor disagreements from flaring up into something bigger — and ensure they act appropriately when violations do occur.
Here are five keys to successfully managing neighbor-to-neighbor conflict in an HOA.
1. Be transparent with homeowners. One of the most common sources of friction between association boards and homeowners is a lack of communication. Naturally, the board has the right to make some decisions on behalf of the association without consulting homeowners. How and when you convey those decisions is key to gaining buy-in and trust. Think of regular communication and transparency as tools to maintain community harmony. By implementing and using up-to-date tools — such as a community website, a regular community newsletter, and a homeowner portal — board members can build community confidence in their decision-making process. Having that confidence will be especially beneficial when serious neighbor-to-neighbor disputes arise.
2. Educate homeowners about the board’s responsibility – and theirs. Keeping the peace starts by ensuring HOA members are familiar with everyone’s responsibilities. Homeowners have a duty to respect their neighbors by following the HOA’s rules and regulations. They need to understand the board has a fiduciary responsibility to enforce the rules and regulations set forth by the community covenants and restrictions. And they need to recognize the board can’t – and shouldn’t – step into the middle of every dispute. Providing regular, gentle reminders about rules, regulations, and responsibilities through your association’s communication channels is an easy, proactive strategy for setting and reinforcing expectations.
3. Know when to get involved. Meddling in neighbor-to-neighbor disputes is one of the worst things a board member can do. To the greatest extent possible, complaints should be resolved between neighbors. However, the board may need to get involved if the dispute violates community covenants and restrictions, Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations, or the Fair Housing Act regulations. Being knowledgeable about your HOA’s rules and regulations will help you determine with greater certainty when neighbors should sort things out on their own and when you need to launch an investigation.
4. Be fair. In theory, this is a no-brainer. But because you are both a member of the board and of the community, it can be difficult to enforce in practice. To keep the peace — and mitigate any legal risk down the road —board members should not take sides or show favoritism when conducting an investigation or doling out violations. What you do for one, you must do for all. Keep in mind that any exceptions could be perceived as a precedent for future incidents.
5. Hire a qualified association manager. Association boards<a href="https://www.towneproperties.com/8-ways-an-association-manager-makes-life-easier-for-community-board-members-23516" > hire association managers to make their lives easier. Among their many duties, an association manager will handle homeowner complaints, violations, and other tasks so board members can live in peace alongside their fellow community members.
Managers should not be referees in neighbor-to-neighbor issues, but they should be knowledgeable about the community’s rules and recognize when it’s time to step in. Experienced association managers can also help the Board navigate the best path forward when these situations occur, whether it is enforcement of the governing documents or consulting with a third party such as an attorney.
Just as important, an accomplished association manager can serve as a guide to the board. Regular discussions between the board and the association manager about the processes and procedures outlined in the declarations, by-laws, and rules and regulations of the community will ensure board members are equipped to navigate challenging conversations in both formal and informal settings. Likewise, association managers can help association boards step up their communications strategies to improve transparency, foster trust, and mitigate disagreements over the long term.
The Best Strategy to Manage Your Community
At Towne Properties, we provide expert teams that serve as guides, mentors, and partners to volunteer board members. We rely on tried-and-true policies and standards to provide stability, build trust between boards and homeowners, and help communities to thrive.