Handling HOA Neighbor Disputes: A Few Tips
It happens in every community, at some point or another: A spat opens up between two neighbors, likely over an issue as seemingly trivial as a barking dog or a poorly maintained lawn. Of course, to the parties involved, these issues are not trivial at all, and it may reach a point where the HOA Board is asked to step in.
When this happens, our first word of advice is to remember what we’ve just said: That no matter how trifling or silly the issue may seem, or how one-sided, you can’t trivialize the concerns of your neighbors. Make sure to be empathetic to both parties, and to listen to their concerns without dismissing them as silly.
The next thing to remember is that, as a member of the HOA Board, your job is not to babysit anybody. In most cases, it is perfectly reasonable to ask the neighbors to work things out on their own—to sit down, as two adults, and reach a compromise that leaves both parties happy.
There are, of course, exceptions to this. One is when one party is clearly violating HOA policies. You should enforce policies as consistently as you can, which might mean telling the neighbor with the barking dog that he or she is in violation of your community’s noise ordinances. You don’t want to take sides, but you do need to stand by your community guidelines.
Another important point is that some of the disputes you hear about may actually involve some serious issues of health and safety—and if that’s the case, you may have a duty to call the fire department, police, or animal control service to have things taken care of.
If all else fails, it may fall to the HOA Board to offer some level of counseling or conflict resolution. Check your governing documents, which should offer some indications as to how this should be handled. Remember, above all, that you want to be consistent with your own policies, to be fair and compassionate to both sides, and to do whatever you can to avoid alienating any of your neighbors!