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What to do when an HOA member threatens to sue?

On behalf of Steven Waldinger

Homeowners Associations offer many benefits, but unhappy members could sue the association’s board.

Homeowners Associations are defined by the Attorney General of New York as:

[A]n organization created by a real estate developer for the purpose of developing and managing a community of homes, town homes and/or condominium units. It is given the authority to enforce the covenants, conditions, and restrictions as well as manage the common elements of the development.

These organizations can provide members with a number of benefits, including an expected community appearance outlined in the bylaws that can help owners retain their property values, community areas maintained by the association, a sense of community and other amenities. But what happens when a member of the association accuses the Homeowners Association (HOA) of failing to enforce the covenants, conditions or restrictions of the development?

What HOAs should know about a member’s ability to sue

In order to help reduce the risk of a lawsuit in the first place, it is important to ensure that the HOA board is following applicable laws. One of note in these situations involves the requirement to hold meetings. New York state law requires that HOAs hold annual meetings for all members. These meetings provide an opportunity voice concerns that the HOA is failing to meet its obligations. Examples of concerns that could arise include a failure of the board to ensure that common areas are taken care of as outlined in the covenants, conditions or restrictions or issues where some members are granted permissions while others are denied. If the member or members believe these concerns are not addressed at the meeting, they could move forward with a lawsuit.

In most cases, involvement by the Attorney General only occurs when the HOA fails to meet commitments made in the offering plan. As a result, unless the lawsuit claims these commitments were not met, the lawsuit would likely only involve the member or members that are making the accusations.

What to do if the HOA is sued

If an issue is brought up at the meeting, it is wise to document it. Gather information about who is making the complaint, get details about the complaint and note any response made by board members. This will aid legal counsel in the event that the lawsuit moves forward.

Lawsuits involving allegations of a failure to meet these obligations is just one example of a legal issue an HOA can face. Additional examples can include personal injury lawsuits, allegations of discrimination and accusations of Fair Housing Act violations. In the event of a lawsuit, it is wise for the HOA to seek the counsel of an experienced Community Association law attorney to protect the group’s interests.