Many Floridians – as well as millions of other Americans – are bound by rules set by a homeowners’ association (HOA). It can often feel like we’re at the mercy of our HOA, which can control things as seemingly insignificant as how long we can leave our holiday decorations and what color (or what shade of white) our window blinds can be. Of course, HOAs do far more important things than keep the condo or townhouse complex or neighborhood looking its best and remaining a comfortable and safe place to live.
New homeowners sign on to a lengthy set of rules in the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). New few read this lengthy, detailed document until one of those rules is enforced against them or they’re looking for a rule that supports action they want taken against a neighbor.
While most disputes between HOAs and homeowners are resolved internally, sometimes it’s necessary to have a third party step in to help the parties reach a resolution and avoid ending up in a lengthy, costly court battle.
Often mediation is that first step. It involves a trained mediator (a third-party neutral) listening to both sides and helping them reach a resolution that’s generally somewhere in the middle of what each party is seeking. This can be far less confrontational than a court battle, which is often best for parties that will need to continue co-existing when the dispute is resolved.
This process also involves a third-party neutral. However, unlike in mediation, that person will be the one to ultimately make the decision rather than the parties involved.
Arbitration is typically more like a court case than mediation is, with both sides presenting evidence and possibly witnesses. In the end, there’s a greater chance that one side won’t be happy with the outcome. However, when parties aren’t able to work together in mediation, arbitration can be a way to avoid litigation while still being able to present your case to someone whose job is to fairly consider both sides.
Florida law addresses “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) for HOA disputes, which includes both mediation and arbitration. It’s a good idea to learn more about that law. Even though you’re not going to court, getting some legal guidance can help you protect your rights and present your case in a way that will give you a better chance of a favorable outcome.