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HOA neighbors: you're all in this together

Moving to a townhouse development or condominium building managed by a homeowners association (HOA) can be a real shock to some people. Despite the bylaws that must be read and signed off on by every new member before moving in, some of the restrictive covenants come as a surprise. To others, there are no covenants that can be restrictive enough. Figuring out ways to get along with your neighbors is often the first step in avoiding costly litigation.

Dealing with neighbors who don't understand the covenants

Some people moving into a townhouse development have never lived under the rules of an HOA before. They don't understand that restrictions regarding changes to the exterior of the building do, indeed, apply to them. It is not uncommon to find HOA members digging gardens along the edge of their patio and planting unauthorized plants that may spread unchecked throughout the landscaping if allowed to grow.

Others have difficulty understanding why a shade or two difference in touch up paint may alter the appearance (and property value) of every attached unit in the building. Violations like these are common, even when the HOA is professionally managed.

One of the benefits of living in a planned community is getting to know and trust your neighbors. That starts with communications. Before filing a formal complaint about a new neighbor taking on an unauthorized project, ask whether it can be resolved through a simple conversation. Many people may not realize why the restrictions are in place and a simple explanation may go along way toward getting along.

If you must file a complaint

Your HOA will have a formal process for filing a complaint or notification of a possible violation. Learn what the process is and follow the proper steps. Then allow the board or appropriate committee to do its job. While it may not seem that the matter is being resolved effectively or efficiently, there may be legal issues involved that must be worked through one careful step at a time. 

If you have not received a response or see a resolution taking place after several weeks, follow up through the appropriate process. Interrupting a board member's afternoon at the swimming pool is not the proper way to follow up.

If an unfair complaint has been filed against you

If you have been notified that a complaint has been filed against you because of an action you took on your property or because of noise violations (for example), your first step should be to address the complaint through the official appeal process your HOA has in place. Confronting the neighbor who filed the complaint is never a good idea and could lead to unintended legal consequences.

If the HOA attempts to enforce an action that is outside of the restrictive covenants, you have the legal right to hire your own legal counsel to negotiate a resolution or seek a solution through the courts, if it has turned into a litigation matter.

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