Can You Sue an HOA for Harassment?
Diversity: it’s what makes our communities great and our country greater. Homeowners’ associations throughout the country are filled with people of all different races, beliefs, lifestyles, and personal preferences living side-by-side.
Despite their differences, all community members agree to the same terms and conditions set forth in the governing documents of their HOA. In turn, the association board members are tasked with implementing those rules and guidelines.
Sounds easy enough, right? Maybe not.
Unfortunately, despite all efforts and in virtually every HOA, conflicts between the board and homeowners are bound to arise. In fact, harassment or bullying has been – and remains – one of the most common complaints from members about their HOA.
Complaints of bullying and/or harassment vary among HOAs and can range from a simple dirty look between a board member and resident to pet disputes, to discrimination based on race or religion. HOA members with disabilities may claim that the HOA has failed to make needed modifications; others might feel targeted by a single board member because of their lifestyle or personal choices. Homeowners may even choose to sue when the association fails to properly maintain a common area or amenity. When it comes to member-HOA disputes, the possibilities are endless.
Can a Member Sue?
A homeowner always has the right to sue their association, but their success is dependent on many different factors. Lawsuits are costly for both parties, and the plaintiff will only be successful if they can prove that the association is in violation of its own rules and regulations or has violated state or federal laws designed to protect homeowners from wrongful discrimination. For example, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits the discrimination of individuals based on their color, race, sex, religion, familial status, or national origin. It also requires specialized protections for people with disabilities.
How to Avoid Lawsuits
Many HOA board members are understandably concerned about the potential liability, both personal and for the association as a whole. However, there are simple ways for boards to better protect themselves against liability and maintain good relationships with homeowners:
- Understand the law. Many states have laws in place to limit the personal liability of board members. For example, Colorado law states that the bylaws of nonprofit corporations can contain limitations on the personal liability of board members.
- Governing Documents. Generally, an HOA’s bylaws or CC&Rs contain provisions that require the association to cover expenses incurred from defending a lawsuit. They will usually also contain exclusions for gross negligence or willful misconduct by a board member.
- Liability protection can be a great comfort to HOA board members if, despite their best efforts, a homeowner still chooses to sue. While liability insurance only protects the association from property damage or personal injury claims, adding Director’s and Officer’s (D&O) insurance to their policy can further protect board members in the event of a lawsuit.
Preparation is key to avoiding issues and minimizing costs associated with HOA lawsuits. Contact Spectrum Association Management today to ensure your HOA has the right policy in place for preparation and peace of mind.
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