Wherever there are neighbors, there is a possibility of a nuisance. Homeowners associations are no different. But how can the board deal with complaints of HOA nuisance?
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WHAT IS AN HOA NUISANCE?
First, it is essential to define what constitutes a nuisance. What is nuisance? Simply put, a nuisance causes inconvenience or irritation to others. It is an action or event that unreasonably hinders a person’s quiet enjoyment of their home. Offensive and harmful behaviors can also fall under this term.
Nuisances are common in an HOA setting — or any other setting where neighbors exist, especially close to one another. There will always be neighbors who commit acts considered a nuisance, intentionally or otherwise.
MOST COMMON HOA NUISANCES
Nuisances can come in many shapes. But, the most common nuisances in homeowners associations include noise, pets, smoking, destructive behaviors, parking, and home businesses.
It’s almost impossible to live in an HOA community and not encounter a noise complaint every once in a while. While these complaints occur more frequently in communities where units sit next to or on top of each other, they can also happen in single-family neighborhoods.
Noise complaints can take several forms — from a neighbor who plays music too loudly to a neighbor who likes to have countless guests come over. But neighbors can also make a lot of noise, even in a common area.
To many people, pets are part of the family. But they can also be a nuisance to others. Dogs can bark at ungodly hours and threaten neighbors when let loose. They can destroy gardens, chew on furniture, and relieve themselves wherever they like. It doesn’t take much for a neighbor to start making complaints.
Smoking is another one of the HOA nuisance behaviors to watch out for. Secondhand smoke is not only foul-smelling but can also cause a wealth of health problems. An excellent way to combat smoking as a nuisance is to clarify where smoking is allowed and isn’t. For instance, most associations prohibit smoking in all common areas, as those are spaces that all homeowners enjoy.
4. BAD BEHAVIORS
When a child (or even an adult) misbehaves, it can create a nuisance for others in the community. Even small actions like spitting on the sidewalk, making noise in the hallways, and making a mess in common areas can affect how others live. Depending on the association’s governing documents, the HOA board may be able to suspend the privileges of a member who creates such nuisances.
Parking is a big issue in HOA communities. When residents don’t follow parking rules, it causes inconvenience to others. One homeowner may take up space that belongs to another or block a driveway with their vehicle. A homeowner’s guests can inadvertently cause parking and traffic problems when parking incorrectly.
6. HOME BUSINESSES
Home businesses are a source of annoyance for a lot of neighbors. Having a home office is one thing, but running a full-fledged operation out of the house is another. The latter typically involves customers walking in and out, employees, and delivery vehicles. Commercial signs can also bring down curb appeal.
HOW TO DEAL WITH HOA NUISANCE COMPLAINTS
Now and then, your HOA board will receive nuisance complaints from homeowners. When that happens, it is essential to know how to handle them properly.
1. HAVE AN HOA NUISANCE CLAUSE
First and foremost, your association must have a nuisance clause in the governing documents. This clause states that residents cannot partake in any offensive, obnoxious, harmful, or illegal activity within their homes or common areas that may be considered an annoyance or inconvenience to others. Having such a clause in the CC&Rs will allow the board to address nuisance complaints and enforce the rules more effectively.
2. KNOW WHEN TO GET INVOLVED
Not every complaint requires action from the HOA board. Sometimes, neighbors can talk it out themselves or say a friendly reminder. When the parties themselves can’t resolve the situation, the HOA may need to step in. Additionally, if there is discrimination or harassment that takes place, the HOA should spring into action. When in doubt, involving a lawyer is always a good idea.
3. RESPOND TO COMPLAINTS PROMPTLY
Homeowners want their complaints heard. When the board receives a complaint, it should get back to you as soon as possible. Simply acknowledging their complaint can prevent heated disputes from blowing out of control. Depending on the nature of the nuisance, the HOA should take swift action.
4. FOLLOW ENFORCEMENT PROCEDURES
If the nuisance violates the CC&Rs, the HOA board must follow the standard enforcement procedure. This procedure can vary in detail from one association to another, so make sure to check your governing documents for guidance.
That being said, there are some steps that HOAs share in common. It typically begins with the board sending a notice to the homeowner informing them of the violation, along with orders to remedy it. Sometimes, if the homeowner complies, the action ends there.
A disciplinary hearing usually takes place beforehand if the board wishes to take corrective action. In some states, associations are legally obligated to provide a disciplinary hearing, allowing homeowners to argue.
Should the board decide to dole out punishment, it should make this clear to the homeowner in writing. More often than not, HOAs charge a fine for the violation, though others may also be able to revoke the member’s privileges temporarily.
5. GO FOR DISPUTE RESOLUTION
When a dispute between two neighbors needs to be more clear-cut, the HOA can offer a helping hand in the form of an internal dispute resolution (IDR). This involves sending a notice to all parties, a meeting to discuss the issue, and a solution to which all parties can agree. If an IDR doesn’t work, alternative dispute resolution may be in order, and this will require the help of a mediator or arbitrator.
CAN HOMEOWNERS TAKE LEGAL ACTION?
Homeowners are free to take legal action against neighbors or even the association. Lawsuits can be very time-consuming and expensive, so the board should try to avoid them as much as possible. The best way to do that is to address complaints promptly and in a manner that satisfies all parties. Dispute resolution is a critical component of successful community management.
THE BOTTOM LINE
An HOA nuisance can be a pain to deal with, but there is no avoiding it. Board members should do their best to minimize problems and enforce the rules, which is where a nuisance clause comes in handy. In the event of disputes, the board should adopt a standard dispute resolution process or go for alternative dispute resolution.
An HOA management company can help your board resolve disputes and create a more harmonious community.