Like any organization, homeowners associations (HOAs) make mistakes. Even the best HOA can suffer from occasional mismanagement, human error, and other problems that negatively impact residents. Association managers can help their clients handle mistakes. When the association is at fault, managers can mediate the HOA dispute and resolve it.
But what happens when the association another party accuses the association of a mistake it didn’t make? Unfortunately, associations often deal with disgruntled residents who misinterpret the association’s actions or wrongly blame it for a grievance. These false mistakes can be troublesome, and in extreme cases, may result in drawn-out court battles or legal arbitration.
Always be prepared to deal with false HOA mistakes. The following tips can help you assist your clients if another party falsely accuses their association of a mistake they didn’t make.
Tip #1. Get Complaints in Writing And Keep A Document
Most false HOA mistakes begin with a complaint. If a resident approaches you during office hours to discuss an issue, get him or her to write it down immediately after telling you.
With CINC Systems’ customizable web portal, you can empower residents to submit these complaints online, which is essential for several reasons.
First, it makes it easier to bring the problem to the attention of your clients’ board members. By showing them the written complaint, you won’t accidentally leave something out or paraphrase.
Second, written complaints create a document trail. If the situation escalates, it will be useful to document the issue’s timeline. In a dispute, a document trail provides helpful context and transparency that protects all involved parties.
If the resident’s complaint involves property, you can encourage him or her to include photos or videos that relate to the issue — this assures the resident that you and your clients take the matter seriously. It may also provide legal evidence for the HOA’s defense. For example, if the resident believes that the association’s actions caused damage to their property, photos, or videos may reveal that this untrue. To further protect your client, you should take pictures and videos whenever possible.
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Tip #2. Refer to The Association Bylaws
When dealing with false HOA mistakes, make sure to consult the association’s bylaws and other relevant documents such as the Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CC&Rs). These documents may provide valuable information to guide you in dispute resolution.
Additionally, bylaws and CC&Rs usually delineate an association’s legal responsibilities. For example, let’s say there’s a homeowner who is accusing the HOA of property damage because a tree fell on their garage during a windstorm. Is the association liable in this scenario?
In real life, multiple factors would influence the outcome, such as the location of the tree. In our example, the association’s bylaws may include a legal provision that the HOA isn’t responsible for weather-related damage — this would render the resident’s accusations of blame null and void.
Tip #3. Collect Documentation in the Association’s Defense
When dealing with false HOA mistakes, hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. You and your clients should have a contingency plan for situations that escalate to legal action. As soon as another party accuses your association, begin collecting evidence in their defense.
As mentioned previously, a document trail of events, including photos and videos, are excellent starting points for a legal defense. Additionally, collect statements from involved witnesses.
It can also help to gather relevant service records. Returning to our fallen tree example, the complainant may say the association did not do enough landscaping maintenance to cut excess branches. You can easily refute such claims by providing invoices and descriptions of services rendered from the association’s landscaping company.
Tip #4. Understand Defamation Laws
Defamation is a legal term that refers to situations where individuals spread false or damaging information. There are two defamation categories:
- Libel: When defamatory remarks are in the form of written communication.
- Slander: When defamation is in the form of verbal communication.
In either case, it must be provable that the defamation causes actual harm to the victim, such as injuring their reputation and causing them to lose business.
If the resident who falsely accused the HOA is openly discussing the grievance or writing about it online, it will most likely be considered defamation — this gives the association a significant advantage should the situation move to the courts. As long as the association can prove that the resident’s statements are untrue, they will have the law on their side.
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Tip #5. Consult An Attorney
No one likes a lawsuit. In most cases, you and your clients should do your best to resolve false mistakes outside of court. If you can’t definitively prove that the complaint is invalid, try to reach a reasonable solution without escalating the matter.
However, depending on the nature of the false HOA mistake, it may be prudent to consult an attorney about whether your clients intend to fight back legally. If your client’s HOA has an attorney on retainer, this will most likely be one of their standard services.
The association can prepare itself and take any extra steps needed for its defense by talking to an attorney. If necessary, an attorney can send official letters to the resident who is complaining about the false mistake. Many times, this is enough to discourage the resident from proceeding with further actions.
CINC Helps Handle False HOA Mistakes
CINC helps associations by keeping time-stamped records of all interactions, providing association managers with a fully customizable website and portal for receiving complaints, and other resident communications. This robust system offers a streamlined process for a simple online documentation trail that helps your association deal with false HOA mistakes. To learn more about CINC Systems, try a free software demo today.