Understanding HOA Disputes in California: Common Issues and Solutions

It’s curious how something so innocuous-sounding as a homeowner association can be so provocative. Yet, mentioning an HOA is enough to throw some people into a frenzy. For them, the HOA is antithetical to the idea that people should be able to use their property however they see fit. Of course, HOA advocates would quickly point out that they are communal organizations that exist for the benefit of all the members, primarily by maintaining common areas and enforcing community standards that affect everyone’s property values.

With these contrasting positions, it’s easy to see how disputes can arise. Here are some of the most common issues that occur with HOAs and ways to resolve them.

Common Types of Disputes

1. Rejection of Architectural Plans

Depending on the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CCRs) of your HOA, new construction or renovations to the exterior of your home may be subject to the approval of the HOA. Having your carefully considered architecture plans rejected can be pretty frustrating, and it may seem as though the board is being inconsistent or over-controlling.

2. Imposition of Fines

HOA bylaws often allow the board to impose fines on members who fail to abide by the CCRs. On the one hand, the HOA does need to have teeth to enforce the community standards. On the other hand, some boards can get carried away with this, primarily when enforcement is managed by a private company that may have a financial incentive for collecting fines.

3. Failure of the Board to Perform Its Duties

HOA boards have several important duties. They may be responsible for maintaining public areas such as parks and playgrounds and paying property taxes for those lands. If the roads are privately owned, the HOA is likely responsible for their upkeep. Failure to do these things can create problems and even lead to legal action.

4. Misuse of HOA Funds

A homeowner association has a fiduciary duty to its members, and board members must, therefore, use the HOA’s money in a fiscally responsible way. Embezzling money would violate this duty, but things like granting HOA contracts to a board member’s family business or just being wasteful could also be violations.

Resolving Problems with the HOA

The best place to start when resolving an HOA issue is to do so informally; that is, just talk to the board members and/or homeowner without escalating the situation. After all, these people are your neighbors, so it’s better to get along with them as much as possible. Bring up your concerns and try to find common ground.

If that doesn’t work, the next step may be mediation or alternative dispute resolution. Mediation can be quite effective and is usually much quicker and cheaper than going to court. If you are a homeowner in dispute with the HOA, it’s probably best to consult with an attorney; the HOA likely already has a lawyer on retainer that will be present for the proceedings. 

If mediation does not resolve the problem, the only remaining recourse is to go to court. To go this route, you will want an attorney, and you should be prepared for a process that can take months or even years to finish.

Talk to an HOA Attorney

HOA disputes can be complex to resolve and often quite emotional as well. Meeting with an experienced HOA attorney will help you better understand your situation and protect your rights as a homeowner.

Our residential real estate attorneys have a deep understanding of this area of law and know how to bring HOA disputes to a fair resolution. Contact our office to schedule a consultation.