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More than anything else, common interest community (CIC) homeowners and volunteer leaders want HELP.   

We've designed Condo Connection to provide loads of practical, easily accessible information for every common interest community.  Learn how to escalate and view the resource table below for additional assistance with your concerns. 

The internet offers several online forums where you can seek free advice.  If you've run out of free resources, please consider hiring a professional in order to avoid expensive and time-consuming litigation.  You might also consider advocating to change your state statutes with some help from HOA United.

The New York State Attorney General: “In most cases there is no government agency that can help unhappy owners who are having problems with their homeowners association.  Good luck!” John Oliver HOA Segment April 2023

Why Accountability Matters

Aside from a relative few highly publicized incidents (the June 2021 Surfside collapse, fraud in Florida leading to receivership, Indiana, here, and here and other notable criminal activity), failures of CIC governance go largely unnoticed by both homeowners and the general public.  Lack of awareness is due in part to homeowners' lack of access to ensure their associations are accountable (even in states with progressive, robust requirements).  Even the prescriptive accountability and transparency requirements of UCIOA (adopted by multiple states) fails to deliver its intended effect because associations (Boards, managers and attorneys) look the other way.  Homeowners in most states typically have one final recourse: prolonged litigation with five- and six-digit attorneys’ fees.  A Community Association Manager (CAM) with CAI and CAMICB designations and a decade+ of management experience said this in our Candid CAM Interview:

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): A Critical Tool

California, Florida, and Hawaii have all adopted mandatory ADR provisions.  View a list of excerpted ADR statutes and dispute resolution recommendations.

While some CAI chapters offer mediation (example: Washington State), homeowners have rightfully expressed concern about feeding into that ecosystem.

Ombudsperson Programs

The quest for accountability in CIC governance and operations has led seven states to instantiate ombuds programs.  Are they value-added?

CAI's reporting on the subject is decidedly in the anti-ombuds camp.  The nature of ombuds programs is non-binding which rankles homeowners seeking a remedy because wrong-doing can be identified, but not enforced (including way to compel refunds of illegally charged fees, etc.).  CAI argues against greater community association oversight (in many forms) by framing complaints registered as a percentage of the number all CICs and/or owners that exist.  Most of those owners are not well versed in the law and undeniably only a fraction of all the complaints that exist and/or infractions that occur are actually registered.  That particular position -- an attempt to rationalize wrongdoing and/or the need for oversight -- is puzzling because it's akin to saying "there are only 100 murders in the state every year, yet there are 3,000,000 residents, so we don't need oversight for that particular crime."

"In many cases, the threat of public accountability is enough to get condo boards to respond to complaints..." Heather Gillespie has served as the Virginia State community association Ombudsman since 2018. 

Condominium Authority of Ontario Dispute Resolution Tweet 112723

The Condominium Authority of Ontario is proof positive that government-run dispute resolution can be extraordinarily effective (2023 statistics):

Did you know that nearly 2/3rds of CAT cases are quickly and affordably resolved through negotiation or mediation? Parties often resolve their disputes in Stage 1 – Negotiation through a settlement agreement, which sets what each party will do to resolve the dispute.  CAO

Condominum Authority Tribunal (CAT) Guide to Effective Negotiation

Lawsuits: Often the Only Resort

The average homeowner lacks reasonably affordable, readily accessible enforcement mechanisms to compel compliance with association governing documents and state law.  Lobbying efforts from CAI -- that are primarily designed to further the needs of its "Business Partners" -- have provided false and misleading information to homeowners and vendors.  Common interest communities need both precise legislation and easily accessible processes and remedies when things go askew.

State Rep. Juan Carlos Porras worked with Hammocks residents Villalobos and Real to draft House Bill 919, which Porras touted as the “HOA Bill of Rights.” 

But the amended law, as passed, remains weak, say homeowners and [Florida Attorney General] Fernandez Rundle.  Read AG Rundle's December 2022 op-ed.

“The DBPR needs the authority to give citizens an avenue to fight for themselves against big-money associations and big-money lawyers they’ve hired to bleed you dry...The lobbyists for the big management companies and real estate law firms argued that criminal penalties would have a chilling effect on volunteers who want to serve on boards.”  

Four times since 2016, Fernandez Rundle has attempted to strengthen laws protecting HOA members and condo owners by making boards more accountable and subjecting dishonest ones to criminal charges.  Four times, her proposals died in the Florida Legislature.  She tried again during the spring session to add “criminal bite” to the law and open access to HOA financial records to “allow owners to expose wrongdoing long before money can disappear or be stolen.” But said the law fell short of expectations, she said. “While the amended law does not include all the protections I proposed, it does criminalize kickbacks and various forms of election fraud, making it a positive step forward,” she said. — Miami Herald: Florida’s largest HOA is unraveling the mess caused by its ex board. It’s costing millions

Legal fees should not be prohibitive to seeking justice ... — Attorney Jesmany Jomarrón: Homeowners need more legal resources to combat corrupt HOAs

The current system is very good IF the Board are good actors.  BUT if the Board is corrupt and if the Board are bad actors…it is my opinion that the current system is NOT adequate.  — Spencer Hennings, former Florida Condominium Ombudsman (excerpted from coverage by CBS Miami)

Ebony Lucas, an attorney at The Closing Firm, said it is difficult and expensive for longtime owners to use the protections provided by the Act in court:

"At one time there was a discussion about a condo ombudsman, so people don't have to spend so much money in litigation, and there's no arbitration," Lucas explained. "I think it would be helpful to owners to not have to go through very costly lawsuits for issues that are clearly violations of the Act." Article

Three Legged Stool

Homeowners are part of a three legged stool of accountability in community associations.  The balancing act falls apart without them.  What are the legs?

Constituents -- in every form of government -- must take responsibility to do their part to create positive, meaningful change that works for them.  With the exception of intentional acts designed to circumvent the law or governing documents and/or to undermine the power of the members, blaming elected volunteer leaders for failures is a shell game.  The Board is not, in many circumstances, the bad guy.

It's reasonable for the governed to know their rights.  To understand this, look no further than your local city or country government.  When do things change?  When someone starts paying attention and takes action.  Can we expect everyone to know their rights or to take action?  Absolutely not!  A majority of adults are unwilling to sign a petition or answer a 2 minute survey.  

Surveys like this one show that community associations are generally unwilling to spend money on education and, more to the point, homeowners and volunteers are often unwilling to invest their time and energy being educated.  How involved are you in your local government affairs?  Do you attend city and county council meetings?   Do you provide public comment?  Do you write emails and letters to your elected leaders?

With the exception of Montgomery County, Maryland and an attestation OR education requirement in Florida, states across the country have NO requirement for community association volunteer leaders to receive education.  For those who choose to take the time to become educated, their rewards are: 1) self-enlightenment and 2) the ability to share their learnings and 3) to benefit their community.  For the most part, nobody cares if someone earns a ‘badge’ by taking an unregulated education course.  A statutory requirement is the only way to transform education into something more than a novelty.

Community associations are never going to have a tax code level statutory requirement that envisages every possible scenario and that closes every loophole.  Furthermore, some of the most fundamental challenges faced by community associations have nothing to do with gaps in the statutes and everything to do with failure – by professionals and homeowners alike – to adhere to requirements that already exist.

Government citizens in many countries have the same powers as homeowner members in community associations: to elect and recall their elected officials.  If a majority of the voting members of the city, country, state -- or in this case community association -- are unwilling to make a change, that's as far as it goes except when there’s an actionable case correcting a violation of the governing documents or statutes. 

Engaged homeowner members are the beginning and the end.  Members can create solutions in much the same way as they can promulgate challenges.  Some homeowners -- intentionally or not -- allow themselves to become victims.  Don’t allow yourself to be a victim.  Be the change you want to see!

GET HELP! with your Common Interest Community

Get Help! with your Common Interest Community (CIC)

What to Do: Escalation Path

ADVOCATE.  PARTICIPATE.  ESCALATE!

Remedies Matrix: Circumstances, Time and Money

What to Do: Remedies Matrix - Circumstances, Time and Money
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