Sunday, January 23, 2005

MENDING FENCES: Mediation seen as way to address homeowners' association disputes in California

Mediation the answer for neighborhood disputes
Community associations—condominium or homeowners' associations—are booming. According to the Community Association Institute, over a quarter of a million community associations are in existence here in the U.S. Almost 50 million Americans live in an association-managed community—or one out of every 6 Americans.

There are advantages to living in an association-managed community—in some of the tonier communities residents share access to such amenities as tennis courts and swimming pools.

But there's a down side as well. As a means of preserving property values, community associations are typically governed by rules and covenants which place restrictions on what property owners can do with their property. These rules, sometimes arbitrarily enforced, can place stringent limits on property owners, imposing strict rules on everything from mailboxes and flags to landscaping and exterior paint colors.

Needless to say, disagreement often arises as to how these rules should be enforced or interpreted. This generates a huge amount of misery and litigation for association residents who run afoul of these rules.

As someone who has mediated disputes involving condominium associations, I know from experience that these kinds of conflicts can be highly contentious. Good fences do not always make good neighbors.

The California Law Revision Commission is considering a proposal to establish an agency with oversight of homeowners' associations. The services and resources that would be available through such an agency would include mediation services.

That’s a great way to mend fences.

Thanks to my friend and colleague Moshe Cohen for alerting me to this story.