Residents within a homeowners association (HOA) rely on the HOA’s governing body to make wise decisions that benefit the community, utilizing their dues responsibly to improve the community.
To successfully achieve this, some may need to occasionally levy HOA special assessments or additional bills on top of the regular dues. HOA special assessments can be used to pay for emergency repairs as well as large expenses, such as the construction of a new community asset.
However, HOAs must abide by a strict set of rules when utilizing special assessments; failure to do so can be a violation of homeowners’ rights. If you have a dispute with your HOA due to a special assessment, you may be wondering what to do next.
Typically, two options are available: mediation and litigation. Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of mediation and litigation when it comes to resolving HOA special assessment disputes.
What Is Mediation?
Mediation is the process of resolving a dispute (in this case, with a homeowners association) through the use of an unbiased mediator. Mediators are trained professionals who specialize in assisting conflicting parties to find a middle ground.
Mediation occurs outside of court and seeks to have disputing sides reach a mutual agreement. For mediation to be successful, both sides are responsible for collecting and presenting their evidence. Mediation can be accomplished alone or through the assistance of an attorney.
What Is Litigation?
Litigation is the term describing the process of bringing a case before a court. Unlike mediation, attorneys are almost always involved, and there are numerous additional requirements, such as filing fees and deadlines, discovery process, and other court-regulated requirements to follow as part of the process.
Inside the courtroom, a judge or jury will determine the outcome of a case, ruling in favor of the HOA or the homeowner depending on the laws applied and evidence presented.
The court’s decision is final unless it is successfully appealed, in which case an appeals court will review the case again and determine a verdict.
Mediation vs. Litigation for HOA Disputes
Both mediation and litigation are viable options for resolving disputes with a homeowners association and each presents advantages and disadvantages.
In the use of mediation, HOA governing bodies and homeowners can enjoy flexibility, both in terms of the type of resolution and the process of achieving this goal. Mediators often work around the schedules of the involved parties, unlike a court date which must be strictly adhered to.
Unlike a judge or jury, the role of a mediator is to seek common ground between the two parties rather than to determine who is right or wrong. Any mutual agreement becomes final and is considered a binding agreement.
However, when participating in mediation, you do not have to agree with or accept the mediator’s resolution. If the attempt to mediate is unsuccessful, litigation can be pursued.
Litigation is a more complex process, and as a result, the cost is higher than mediation. Factors include the hiring expense of the attorney, filing fees, or any private investigative research.
The case is presented in a courtroom with a judge and possibly a jury. There are stringent rules and deadlines governed by the court which apply to filings, presentation of evidence, and laws applied to the case.
When the court makes a decision, that decision is final. While the case may qualify for appeal depending on the details, an appeals court is not necessarily obligated to accept the appeal, all of which will incur additional costs.
For those who believe their HOA has violated the law, litigation can typically recover more damages or levy punitive actions against the HOA more effectively than mediation.
Mediation and litigation are both acceptable within the realm of HOA disputes. If you opt for mediation, be sure that you, as the homeowner, are an active participant in the selection of a mediator. This will ensure that the HOA does not select a mediator who is biased toward their best interests.
If litigation is the proper path for you, remember that while attorneys cost money, their expertise is invaluable in the courtroom. They advocate on behalf of their clients, gathering evidence and presenting it in a compelling way that sees greater success on average than clients who represent themselves.
Get Help from California’s Top HOA Special Assessment Attorney
If you are involved in a dispute with your homeowners association, have an attorney review the facts of the case to confirm the existence of the case. If litigation is the path for your case, be sure to work with attorneys who have experience with HOA disputes.
The attorneys at Lehr Law can defend your rights as a homeowner when special assessments are applied improperly. Contact Lehr Law to schedule a consultation.