Is Your HOA "Out of Control?" Association disputes can be resolved.

by Dan Krell © 2008
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If you live in a common ownership community (such as homeowners association, condo association, or cooperative) you may have experienced a confrontation with your community management company or board of directors. Disputes between home owners and their association boards and/or community management companies often arise out of miscommunication, poor communication, and sometimes sheer pride. Unfortunately, disputes can get out of hand when the parties are committed in being “correct” rather than being committed to resolution.

Many times, home owners are confronted by their community’s management company and/or board members because of violations of the community’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions convents and regulations (also known as governing documents). The community is usually within their right as long as the compliance “requests” are communicated within the legal and governing documents guidelines. Usually compliance with the governing documents is not an issue as most residents act in accordance within their community guidelines. However, other home owners attempt to fight their communities through escalation, which usually ends up in court. If the association acts within its governing documents as well as legal guidelines, the court will usually rule in favor of the association.

Sometimes, frivolous laws suits are filed by disgruntled home owners, whom have personal disagreements and disputes with their board members or the community management company. The courts typically do not look kindly on frivolous law suits and will usually award the common ownership community with remuneration of their attorney’s fees.

However, what happens if your common ownership community does not act within the law and/or the governing documents? There is no shortage of stories of abuse and corruption within community management companies and community directors. According to the American Homeowners Resource Center (AHRC.com) and the Maryland Homeowners Association (Marylandhomeownersassociation.org), community home owners have legal rights that should not be violated. The Maryland Homeowners Association cites the Code of Maryland as the source for local home owner rights. The ongoing potential for abuse and corruption within common ownership communities was underscored when the State legislature created the Task Force on Common Ownership Communities in 2005 to look into the problem. The Task Force’s recommendations (published in 2006) include dispute resolution models that were modeled after the Montgomery County Commission on Common Ownership Communities.

The Montgomery County Commission on Common Ownership Communities (housed within the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection) was established in 1991 and is committed to providing owners, tenants, residents, boards of directors, and community management companies with information, assistance, and impartial dispute resolution programs. The CCOC provides these services to the public with integrity, transparency, and a commitment to the highest ethical standards.

An additional resource for home owners is the Maryland’s Attorney General’s office of Consumer Protection. The OAG has been authorized to enforce the Maryland Condominium Act, and as of 2007 the office is authorized to enforce the Maryland Homeowners Association Act (as a result of the Task Force on Common Ownership Communities).

Responsible community management is not a one sided affair, nor should it be evaded. Unfortunately, everyone will not agree all the time and disputes will arise. Fortunately, neutral resources exist to help community management companies, boards of directors and home owners work out a resolution before things get out of hand.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of July 14, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.