Neighbor disputes are a common occurrence within HOAs as in all other communities. Fortunately, the majority of these disputes never rise to a level of seriousness that leads to physical confrontation or other malicious acts that exacerbate the dispute. Most HOA boards of directors take a hands-off approach to neighbor conflicts. This is typically due to lack of governing document authority to act or the fact that, in most cases, involvement by the board is a no-win situation.
When boards do become involved in these types of disputes, rarely does it successfully resolve the matter. Board involvement often makes the matter worse. Inevitably, the disputing neighbors usually come to believe the board of directors is taking the other neighbor’s side.
HOA boards that have effectively dealt with issues such as this have taken a limited approach, generally advising the disputing neighbors of two positions the board will take. The first position being the board of directors will enforce the covenants with both parties, with no preference for either party. For example, if one of the parties puts up a sign in their yard disparaging the other party, the board will enforce the sign provisions in the governing documents. The board will take no position on what is printed on the sign.
The second board position is to recommend third-party mediation to both parties. Mediation is similar to counseling in that a mediator meets with the parties and attempts to resolve their dispute. Mediation typically brings both parties together to discuss their dispute with guidance from this impartial mediator. It is said mediation works particularly well by managing both parties’ expectations.
Thus, in a successful mediation, both parties come to realize that while they may not be 100% satisfied with the resolution of the dispute, they are satisfied that the matter is resolved.
In most instances, the mediator can convey points to both parties that resonate more effectively since they are originating from an impartial third-party. The mediator, many times, will be able to effectively convince both parties that their current behavior is not going to lead to a successful outcome. Thus, assuring them that resolving the matter is in everyone’s interests.
This highlights the underlying problem of many neighbor disputes, the unintended escalation. In almost all instances, neither disputing party comprehended in the beginning how the dispute would evolve. The mediator uncovering the origin of the conflict and how it evolved and where it could evolve to, is an effective mediation method.
In short, mediation is about negotiation and compromise. For mediation to work both disputing parties must be open to the mediation process. They must be flexible and open-minded. When parties cannot move beyond their emotions, mediation tends to be ineffective.
While the board of directors may have no effective direct solution to these types of issues, advising disputing neighbors of the HOAs and the board’s position may help them resolve the matter on their own. Sometimes it goes back to the old saying you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your neighbors. WDMC
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