All posts by SoCal

Top 4 Things to Do If a Neighbor Complains About You

One of the best things about living in an HOA-managed community is that you have a state-regulated legal entity to keep you and your family safe, and ensure that peace is upheld amongst neighbors. You also have a legally-bound, neutral entity to turn to for disputes and complaints between neighbors.

What can you do if your neighbor filed a complaint against you?

If you were contacted by your HOA because of a complaint filed against you by your next-door neighbor, don’t fret. And try not to get angry either. Know that a complaint doesn’t immediately mean you’re guilty of whatever your neighbor is accusing of or that you will be immediately evicted from the community. Here’s what you can do if your HOA notifies you about the complaint:

1. Stay calm and composed

Once you receive word from your homeowners association about the complaint, stay calm and keep your composure. Your neighbor will probably be waiting for your knee-jerk reaction (which they could use to further fuel their complaint saying your anger is but one more proof of your guilt), so don’t give them the satisfaction of being right.

2. Review details of the complaint

The complaint should clearly state the specific issue down to the last detail (date, time, parties involved, witnesses, etc.). Back-track and review events as you remember them. It’s important here to be as clear about your recollection as possible. Write down specific details that you remember from the incident as you might be able to use these on your dispute.

3. Know your legal rights

Do your own research about your legal rights as a member of the community. Review the HOA’s CC&Rs. Research on state regulations regarding the specific issues raised by your neighbor, if applicable. To make sure too that you won’t be violating any laws or stipulations from the HOA’s by-laws and CC&Rs, consult a lawyer. If you only need general advice, there are sites online that offer free legal counsel and consultation. Check them out to see if they can help you with your specific concern/s.

4. Attend the HOA-mandated hearing of your case

The HOA will be doing its own investigation about the complaint and if they find that the complaint has merit, they will schedule a hearing, which is basically the board inviting you and the complainant to a meeting to hear both your sides. It’s important to attend every hearing because your absence could be construed as disrespect for the board and the HOA (which could be a point against you).

Filing a complaint against your HOA? Here’s what you need to do first

Filing a complaint against an HOA is not something new. In fact, it’s fairly common. However, as common as it is, you should know that complaining against a homeowners association isn’t as simple as storming the HOA office to voice out your issues. There are steps you need to take first for your own protection. Simply put, you need to make sure you are proceeding within legal boundaries to prevent a lawsuit.

If you are considering filing a complaint against your HOA, here are the initial steps you need to take:

1. Clearly identify your concerns and issues

What issues do you wish to take up with your HOA? You have to be clear about them. Remember that you are complaining against your association, which means you’re complaining against an entity that was legally put in place to oversee your community. There are laws governing its role in the community, including the role of each member of the board. With that said, you need to be specific about your concerns. Clearly state each issue and have evidence to back it up.

2. Go over your HOA by-laws and CC&Rs

As mentioned above, there are laws governing the HOA, which include rules and regulations that homeowners must abide by as well as rules and mandates that state the role of the HOA Board and its specific members. Carefully go over these by-laws and CC&Rs to ensure that your issues and concerns against the HOA are indeed within their duties and responsibilities. For instance, if your issue is something that concerns a public amenity like a park or community pool, you have to check if the specific issue is indeed the responsibility of the HOA. Sometimes there are specific stipulations that prevent an HOA from taking action.

3. Are you complaining against the HOA or a board member?

Remember that the HOA is managed by its Board of Directors, with each one having a specific role in the organization. You have to determine whether you are complaining against the entire HOA or just a member of the board. How do you determine which is which? Again, you have to go back to the CC&Rs and by-laws. If your complaints are directly related to the general responsibility of the HOA, then you could probably file a complaint against the association.

On the other hand, if your issue is the specific responsibility of one particular board member, then your issue is probably best taken up with the board member in question.

As you can see, filing a complaint against an HOA takes time and effort; but if you truly believe your concerns are legitimate and must be acted upon immediately for the safety of your HOA-managed community, then there’s no reason for you not to pursue it.

How do HOAs handle disputes between neighbors? Here are the initial steps…

Homeowners associations have a set of rules that every household-member must strictly follow. Failure to do so could result in penalties or in worst-case scenarios, expulsion from the community, which means you could be evicted from your house. In general, the HOA is legally allowed to make such a decision. A homeowner could be evicted if it has been proven that they have put (or are putting) the safety of the community or a neighbor at risk. Disagreements between neighbors are one of the most common causes of a situation getting out of hand, thus endangering the safety of another.

How do HOAs handle disputes between neighbors? Here are the initial steps they take to prevent the situation from escalating:

1. Request for a formal complaint in writing

Here’s the thing, the HOA cannot immediately intervene in a dispute between neighbors. Everything must be handled professionally, which means the HOA will have to request for a formal complaint from one of the parties involved. If the complaint was made verbally, a formal written complaint will still be requested by the HOA. This is so everything is on record, for safety and legal purposes, among others.

Understand that the HOA may choose not to intervene in a dispute related to personal matters like dating and relationships, whether romantic or family related. They can only intervene if the situation has put others in danger (including one of the parties involved).

2. An HOA Boar member will be assigned to investigate

For homeowners associations that have an HOA management company helping them out, the HOA manager will be the one to do the investigating. If there is no HOA manager, the HOA Board will assign one of their Board members to the case to investigate.

3. Investigation

The HOA, through their HOA manager or Board member, will look into the situation to find out all the facts. Understanding that the dispute could very well end up in a lawsuit, they will be thorough about the entire process, making sure not to leave out or overlook important details. Those involved should expect to be interviewed.

4. Intervention

Based on all evidence and information gathered from the investigation, the HOA will then decide whether or not the situation is something they could or should intervene with. This decision will be made by all HOA Board members. Having a lawyer present during discussions on whether or not to intervene will be helpful since they can provide a legal insight or give their legal advise.

These are but the initial steps to how an HOA handles disputes between neighbors. For HOA disputes between the association and a homeowner, the process starts with
Internal Dispute Resolution.

4 Ways HOAs Benefit Homeowners

Whether you are moving into a residential property you recently bought or have started renting, chances are you’re moving into an HOA-managed community. Nowadays, you’ll hardly find a residential property that doesn’t belong to an HOA. For those who have never lived in such a community before, the top-of-mind question usually is “Do I really need a homeowners association?” Find out below why an HOA-managed community is the best place for you and your family:

1. You have “instant” support and assistance

Moving into a new neighborhood usually means you have no one to run to for support or assistance during the first few months or even first year in your new home. When you belong to a homeowners association, you’ll immediately have access to the support and assistance they provide to all their members. You’ll have peace of mind knowing you’ll have someone to run to in case of emergency.

2. You will feel safer at night

In relation to the above, knowing that you’re moving into a community that’s kept safe and secure by the HOA 24 hours a day, seven days a week translates to sleeping soundly at night. This is especially true if you have young kids sleeping in the next room. You know they are safe inside your house and within the premises of the community.

3. Property value is maintained

When you live within an HOA community, there are certain rules and regulations you must follow for several reasons, one of which is to maintain property value. Since a real estate property is an investment, it will be prudent on your part to take the necessary steps to ensure that its market value will not depreciate, and instead, even appreciate. This makes for a good investment should you decide to sell in the future. Even if you don’t plan to sell, it’s best to keep this in mind when looking for a new house to move into.

Studies reveal that an HOA can significantly increase property value, more than five or six percent from those that don’t belong to an HOA community.

4. Access to amenities

From private parks to pools, gyms or fitness centers, function halls, and more, HOA communities provide certain amenities to their homeowners. These are private amenities that can only be accessed by the homeowners and their families, and since these are maintained by HOAs, you’ll know they’re safe, clean, and of course, functional.

There are several other benefits to moving into an HOA-managed community. Do your research on the HOA regulating your property so you’ll know whether or not it is ideal for you.

3 Things HOAs are Doing to Help Financially Struggling Residents

HOAs are generally strict about the collection of fees and dues. In fact, by-laws and CC&Rs
include a stipulation that clearly defines penalties and consequences for late and delinquent homeowners. In a worst-case scenario, a homeowner may be evicted for being a delinquent payer. Homeowners associations may send several reminders first and may even conduct an interview with the homeowner to find out if their financial situation has changed. Eviction is always the last course of action.

But this time around, being a delinquent payer may not be the homeowner’s fault given that the world was plunged into a financial crisis when COVID-19 caused businesses to file for bankruptcy and/or close shop for good. People lost incomes and depleted their savings, which means not only are they unable to pay bills and association dues, they are also having a difficult time providing for their families.

What are HOAs doing to help their residents in this time of global crisis? Here are a few steps they’ve taken to help ease the burden of their financially strapped residents:

1. Relief from dues for a specific period

At the height of the pandemic, a lot of homeowners associations across the country stopped collecting membership dues as their residents struggled to cope with financial losses caused by the pandemic. This meant HOAs had to dip into their emergency funds for important expenses. This also meant minimizing HOA expenses to the bare essentials only.

Some HOAs stopped collecting membership dues for three consecutive months; others longer.

2. Reduced membership dues and other fees

To help residents pay their dues and fees, some HOAs reduced these by a considerable amount. Some HOAs also scrapped other fees; keeping only membership dues until such time when economies and finances become stable again.

3. Flexible due date

Before the pandemic, HOAs were strict about due dates but they have been flexible and lenient about this since the start of the pandemic. Members are given a longer payment period for their dues. If they are still unable to make payment on the “absolute deadline,” HOAs discuss payment options with their residents to help them make payments without adding to their financial burden.

While these changes in fees and dues negatively affected the HOAs operations and emergency funds, HOAs deemed it more important to take care of their residents first because being homeowner-members themselves, they too have been impacted by the pandemic, which means they may be going through the same difficulties as their neighbors.

3 Points to Consider for HOA Emergency and Disaster Preparedness

COVID-19 has changed the way we live in ways no one ever imagined. To say that the disease took the world by surprise would be an understatement. No one saw it coming. Everyone scrambled to keep up with the sudden changes it brought upon the world. Homeowners associations, for one, had to implement immediate changes to keep their respective communities safe from the threat of the novel coronavirus.

In general, every homeowners association across the nation has an emergency and disaster preparedness plan already in place but when COVID-19 hit, no one was prepared for it because no one saw and understood the scope of damage it could do. HOAs knew they had to make changes in order to keep their communities safe. Below are some of the points they considered to update their disaster and emergency preparedness plan amidst COVID-19:

1. Follow CDC and WHO recommendations

The first thing HOAs did was to follow the basic health and safety recommendations of the CDC and WHO. Every homeowner-member within their jurisdiction were asked to do the following: wear a mask when stepping outside, frequent hand-washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, limit trips outside the home (going out only when absolutely necessary), and practice physical distancing.

In addition to these, HOAs also implemented a “no-guest” policy where guests from outside the community aren’t allowed to visit except in emergency medical situations. Public amenities were also closed: swimming pools, gyms, and parks

2. At-risk residents are identified

At the onset of COVID-19, the WHO and CDC identified at-risk individuals as those who are aged 55 years old and above. In response to this, HOAs too identified vulnerable residents within their community and implemented additional regulations to keep them safe. These additional recommendations generally included fully restricting trips outside, which means they will rely on their household members or caregivers to procure supplies and other necessities for them. Medical appointments may also be restricted to at-home visits by their healthcare practitioner.

3. Evacuation

In the event of a disaster or emergency where residents need to be evacuated, HOAs must develop an evacuation plan that will still keep the residents safe from COVID-19. That means evacuation plans need to still strictly follow health and safety protocols recommended by the CDC. The biggest challenge is maintaining physical distancing during evacuation and after when residents are already gathered at the designated evacuation center/location.

These are only a few changes and considerations HOAs made to keep their residents safe in this time of the pandemic. Emergency and disaster preparedness plans may be updated from time to time to keep up with the new changes brought on by the pandemic.

3 Key Changes in HOA Operations in the New Normal

One of the biggest changes that the pandemic has brought on everyone is physical distancing; that is, keeping yourself at a safe distance from everyone else. This means no close, physical contact with anyone outside of your household, which dramatically changed how businesses ran operations, and how goods and services are purchased and delivered. In the HOA landscape, this also meant limiting physical contact with the board and the community.

What changes did homeowners associations make in order to fulfill their duties? Here are some of them:

1. Virtual meetings

Much like everyone else, HOAs too had to learn to adapt to online platforms for their day-to-day tasks and needs. Virtual meetings are scheduled and subsequently held to discuss important HOA matters, especially those relating to the pandemic and how to keep the community safe. Quarterly meetings

that were once held inside the HOA office are now conducted online. Emergency meetings are also held online.

The challenge here is having a platform that allows all homeowners to attend the meetings as well if they do so wish. Some HOAs provide the option of audio participation to allow more members to join the meetings.

2. Settling disputes between neighbors

In the past, disputes between neighbors were resolved following a step-by-step protocol, which generally involves filing a complaint, sending a notice to the defendant-member, conducting separate interviews, interviewing witnesses (if applicable), and finally, conducting a hearing to hear both sides at the same time. The pandemic has changed all this. Complaints and notices are sent online, and interviews and hearings are conducted online as well. Disputes then could take longer to resolve during the pandemic.

3. Voting and elections

For issues that need votes from the board and/or household members, as well as elections of HOA board directors and members, ballots are sent to each household and picked up by the HOA representative or dropped off by the homeowner at a designated drop off area. In general, anything that needs to be voted anonymously will be done through house-to-house ballot-voting instead of the usual ballot-voting at the HOA office or community center.

Apart from house-to-house, mail-in ballots, some HOAs have also provided their community with an online portal for electronic voting.

While in-person or face-to-face meetings, elections, and such are now allowed, physical distancing regulations should still be strictly followed. HOAs must then ensure that personal attendance for public meetings or hearings will still be at a limited capacity.

5 Things HOAs are Doing to Cope with the Pandemic

Homeowners associations

are, to a certain extent, responsible for the general well-being of the community they serve. That said, they have to ensure that every household within their jurisdiction is well-informed about COVID-19, specifically, health and safety protocols mandated by their state or region. So for instance, HOAs in California should have informed their respective communities about the Stay at Home Order signed into effect last December 5, 2020. Such regulations are important to know because related violations could mean penalties for the HOA and the member in question.

What other things should HOAs do to help their community cope during the pandemic? Here are some of them:

1. Financial relief

The pandemic has negatively impacted everyone’s finances and homeowners associations understand this. That’s why many of them have provided and still are providing some form of financial relief to their homeowners. These could include non-eviction of delinquent tenants, relaxed payment terms for delinquent members, and temporary reduction of HOA fees.

2. Keeping members updated on COVID-19-related news and information

It’s important for everyone in the community to be well-informed about COVID-19, particularly, facts and data about community transmissions, new and/or mutated coronavirus variants, regional and state-wide regulations, and other such important information. By keeping members informed, everyone will be made aware of new threats or risks, or regulations that should be followed, so they can act and take steps accordingly.

3. Staying on top of HOA-related laws

There are certain HOA laws that will take effect in 2021 to protect both the homeowners and the association. Some of these include rental restrictions, which prohibit HOAs from turning down renters (“unreasonably restrict”), except short-term renters, and limiting the number of rentals in their community. For rental restrictions, HOAs are given until the end of December 2021 to draw-up new governing documents to incorporate these changes.

4. Regular site inspections for cleaning and disinfecting

It is the HOA’s responsibility to keep all common or public areas in their community safe for all homeowners, especially during the pandemic. Safety measures at this time focus on ensuring all surfaces and “touchpoints” are regularly cleaned and disinfected, which include door handles, elevator buttons, and handrails.

5. Health and safety reminders posted in high-visibility areas

Printed health and safety reminders are posted in public and high-visibility areas. Some HOAs use graphics and images to make these reminders easier to understand and remember even for kids. These health and safety reminders are also evaluated from time to time to see if additional tips should be included or some items changed.

Top 5 HOA Tips for Celebrating Christmas Amidst COVID-19

To say Christmas is different this year is an understatement. COVID-19 has turned the entire world upside down and with it came changes that no one saw coming. Among the things that drastically changed during this time of the pandemic is how special occasions and milestones are celebrated. This Christmas season, homeowners associations may allow celebrations in their communities but with a few restrictions to minimize the risk of contracting the coronavirus and keep everyone safe.

Here are a few HOA tips on how to celebrate Christmas or other special occasions for that matter without increasing your risk or exposure to the virus:

1. Follow CDC guidelines

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has been on top of the situation since the onset of the pandemic. They have been providing guidelines on practically everything that has to do with keeping everyone safe while going about their business. With that said, HOAs should remind their homeowner-members to strictly follow CDC guidelines on celebrations.

2. Celebrate with household members only

Household members are those who live in the same house with you, which could be your immediate family and other relatives. As much as possible, it is advised that celebrations should be held among household members only as each of you follow the same health and safety protocols, and you are all aware of each other’s comings and goings.

3. Keep gatherings down to a small group only

If it really can’t be helped, and you must invite a few people over, make sure to keep the guest list to a bare minimum. In other words, make the gathering small. And since you will be inviting people from other households, you all must follow the general safety protocols recommended by the WHO and CDC: wear a face mask (and a face shield, if possible), always wash your hands with soap and water (make sure to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds), and sneeze in the fold between your arm and elbow. Remove your mask to eat and drink, and wear it afterwards.

4. Celebrate outdoors

One of the latest findings about the novel coronavirus is that it can infect other people through airborne transmission. And airborne transmission poses a higher risk in enclosed spaces, so for small gatherings, it is strongly advised that you hold it outdoors for better air circulation, if possible. Make sure to double-check with your HOA about outdoor gatherings at this time.

5. Practice physical distancing

If you’re inviting guests, make sure to practice physical distancing (at least six feet apart from one another at all times), so arrange seats in a way that will make it easier for everyone to keep their distance.

Also, do not hesitate to un-invite those who are feeling sick on the day of your small party.

Top 4 HOA Reminders About Decorating for the Holidays

The holiday season in 2020 may not be as fun and festive as the previous years, but this shouldn’t stop you and other homeowners in your community from celebrating the most wonderful time of the year. Putting up a few holiday decorations might just get you and your neighbors in a more festive mood. Before you do any decorating, however, it is best to check with your homeowners association about regulations on holiday decorations in your community.

Common rules for holiday decorating in HOA-regulated communities

HOAs ensure the communities they serve keep a certain standard to protect property values, maintain the exclusivity of the neighborhood, and basically ensure the community remains a thriving, nurturing, and safe environment for its homeowner-members. That said, they do have a say in what homeowners can and cannot put up in front of their homes, on their roofs, and other exterior areas when it comes to holiday decorations.

1. Nothing loud and gaudy

Keep in mind that any decoration that will ruin the aesthetic appeal of the entire community is prohibited. This might mean no loud and gaudy decorations. Everything has to be tasteful. So it’s best to check with your HOA about the decorations you wish to put up before actually installing them to save you time and effort in case you will be asked to take them down.

2. Follow schedules

HOAs regulate when homeowners can finally put up their holiday decorations and when they need to take them down. Usually, homeowners can start decorating their exteriors at least one month before Christmas and remove them no later than two weeks after the holiday.

Homeowners also need to be mindful about the specific times of the day when they can turn on their Christmas lights and when they need to turn these off.

3. Be mindful of fire hazards

If you’re putting up a real tree, make sure to keep it away from the fireplace, radiator, and other fire hazards. Also make sure that the tree doesn’t dry too much that it turns into a fire hazard, so regularly check the tree stand and make sure that it has enough water at all times.

4. Keep decorations within your property

Last but not the least, when installing your decorations, make sure none of these cross-over to your neighbor’s. Keep those holiday decorations in your own home; meaning, refrain from decorating common areas (at least without the consent of the HOA).