Tools for Resolving Disputes
Disputes are probably inevitable in a group living environment like an association. When disputes arise between a homeowner and the developer, between neighbors, or between an owner (“Member”) and the association itself, the key tools for resolving them are
- The association’s internal dispute resolution processes
- Going to court
- Using alternatives to the courts, e.g. community mediation
- Filing a complaint with a government agency
“Going to court” is often the first dispute resolution tool that homeowners think of, but it is the probably the least desirable given its cost and the length of time it takes for disputes to be heard by a judge. Sometimes “Filing a complaint with a government agency” can be more beneficial than using the courts, since agencies are usually staffed by subject matter experts, e.g. the Contractors License Board processes complaints solely about contractors. However, while there’s no charge to file a complaint with a government agency, it can also be a slow process.
“Filing a complaint” is not the same as going to court, but you will have to have your facts assembled as though you were going to court: you will have to assemble the names of parties involved, dates of events, documents sent and received by you; personal notes and emails; statements by witnesses; and any relevant association documents.
Having your facts assembled before you file a complaint enables the agency to deal with it more quickly, though keep in mind that the agencies listed in Part II of this section receive hundreds of complaints a week. [If you decide to file in small claims court, click on the Small Claims Court.]
“Filing a complaint” means you are asking a government entity or trade association to help you resolve a dispute. Homeowners have filed complaints against their association or one of its vendors with city or county government, with state or federal agencies, or with a trade association like the Better Business Bureau. Sample complaints are posted on the CCHAL website and are available to CCHAL Contributing Members.
Alternatives to the courts. Instead of using the courts to resolve a dispute, homeowners can consider other tools including
- Neutral Evaluation
- Settlement conferences
- Internal Dispute Resolution (IDR)
The umbrella term for these tools is ADR or Alternative Dispute Resolution. The Judicial Council – the state agency that manages the courts – has a special section on its website describing each type of ADR and which type is suitable for what kind of case. There is a video on each ADR type. See https://www.courts.ca.gov/3074.htm
Internal Dispute Resolution: Homeowners should remember that state law requires every association to have in place its own Internal Dispute Resolution process or IDR (Civil Code §§5900 – 5920). The law requires HOAs to have written Operating Rules for using IDR and to distribute them annually to Members under Civil Code §5310(a)(9) so that homeowners can readily use this dispute resolution tool “at home.” The homeowner can bring any third-party to this session – neighbor, spouse, mediator, or attorney. The homeowner does need the HOA’s permission to bring a third-party or to provide advance notice.
A chronic complaint from homeowners has been that HOAs ignore the homeowner’s request for IDR. These complaints were documented by a statewide survey done by CCHAL when AB1738/Chau was being heard at the State Capitol ( LINK )
However, a state law effective in 2020 now requires associations to engage in IDR when a homeowner requests it. The association can take no further legal action against a homeowner concerning the dispute without first participating in IDR. (See Civil Code §5910.1)
Homeowners in the Los Angeles area can also contact Loyola Marymount’s Center for Conflict Resolution for free or low-cost dispute resolution services. [Given the pandemic, some services may be available online as well as in person. See https://www.lls.edu/academics/centers/loyolacenterforconflictresolution/