Homeowners associations, sometimes abbreviated as HOAs, are private association-like entities often formed either ipso jure in a building with multiple owner-occupancies, or by the developer for the purpose of marketing, managing, and selling homes and lots in a residential subdivision. They can have outsized power in a neighbor and can be a real challenge to navigate. In the past, people have sued homeowners associations for things like harassment, breach of fiduciary duty, and overcharging on projects.
If you are a person or employee who has a problem with their homeowner's association, this guide will show you how to file a complaint and sue them in small claims court.
Dispute can help you generate, notarize and file a small claims case within minutes from your phone or computer.
What Can I Do to Make a Complaint Against the HOA
If you are working with an HOA, you have several options for seeking out a solution to your dispute with the organization:
- Meditation: Ask to host negotiations. The HOA will discuss the issue with you (the homeowner) to come up with a resolution. The method is a fast and cheap way of resolving homeowners' disputes. Your HOA may already have a meditator listed in the by-laws.
- HOA's internal by-laws: In this route, the homeowner refers to the declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions in their by-laws. These documents contain information on the internal method for resolving conflicts among HOAs and homeowners. You should reference this like a contract when working with the HOA.
- Sue in Small Claims Court - Small Claims court is a fast, cheaper way to sue another person or company for money. Often, lawyers are not allowed (saving you money on representation) and many states let you sue for up to $10,000. A judge will hear out your argument, review your evidence and they can order the other party to compensate you.
How to Take Action in Small Claims
One of the most accessible legal forums is Small Claims Court, where you can sue a company or individual for up to $10,000 in most states without the need for a lawyer. Small Claims Court offers you the opportunity to explain your complaint to a judge who has the power to order the other party to pay you the money that is owed.
In addition, Small Claims Court has additional benefits for the layman seeking legal action:
- Small Claims Court Processes and procedures are generally simpler to follow than other more formal courts
- Small Claims Court Filings are cheaper than filing in other courts
- Lawyers are not usually allowed in Small Claims Courts.
- The process is fast. You can usually expect a hearing within 1-2 months after your filing.
Types of Disputes Against Homeowners Associations:
You may want to think about the reasons you considered suing a Homeowners Association. In the past, people have sued for the following reasons:
- Landscaping - The HOA is responsible for the neighborhood's curb appeal. There are rules on overgrown lawns and unkempt exteriors. For instance, you can be fined for growing the wrong types of trees or overgrown shrubs.
- Renting the Property - All HOAs have varying rules, and some restrict subletting for security and insurance reasons. You may need written permission to rent out your home and should adhere to the occupancy limits.
- Parking - An HOA may limit the type and number of vehicles you can park on your property. For instance, most associations allow parking RVs, boats, and commercial vehicles on the property. They regulate the neighborhood speed limits, and breaches can warrant a fine.
- Pets - Homeowners associations limit the number of pets, breeds, and sizes. They also have restrictions on where the pets can walk, which enhances residents' safety.
- Noise - Almost all HOAs have noise regulations and restrict loud noises at certain times.
How to Sue a Homeowners Association Yourself
It's important to note that the process can vary from state to state. But typically, suing in small claims court involves the following:
- Identify the organization and its Registered Agent: Knowing the Homeowners Association's legal name and address will help you contact the right organization. You can find this information on the Secretary of State's website where the company is incorporated. Identifying the registered agent will also help identify who you'll have to serve.
- Write and Send a Demand Letter - Many courts ask that you send (and show proof) of a short, one-to-two-page formal request that lets the recipient know that they’ll face legal action if they don’t comply.
- Fill Out the Court Forms - Each court has different forms required to file a case with them. Some states (such as California) have one form that covers the whole state, while others (such as Florida) have different forms depending on the location of the court. Don't forget you'll need to sign these forms and possibly have them notarized as well.
- File the Forms with the Court - You'll need to either access their online portal or head to the courthouse directly to file your completed forms. Often, the court asks you to bring multiple copies so they can distribute the filing appropriately and they always charge some type of filing fee. The price of this fee varies ($25 - 400 depending upon the courthouse) and it can be awarded back to you if you win the case.
- Serve the Defendant - If your case is accepted, most courthouses will ask that you "serve" the other party. This means you are notifying the defendant that a hearing is going to occur and the reason for it.
- Attend your Hearing - After all that is said and done, you'll want to prepare for court and then attend your scheduled hearing where you'll present your case. Hopefully, the judge is empathetic toward your issue, and rules in your favor.
You may notice that even if filing in Small Claims Court is easier, it can take up a lot of your time. That's not to mention the time you may lose repeating a step or two if you accidentally do something wrong.
Whereas, if you use Dispute, you can generate a demand letter and small claims document within minutes from your phone or computer. We will connect you with the right forms from the courthouse you choose, and even file them on your behalf.
How to Sue a Homeowners Association Using Dispute
Here’s how you can file a small claim case with Dispute in a few easy steps:
1. Head to our website to access our software:
2. Click "Get Started" and choose the "Small Claims" service (or another if you'd like to start somewhere else).
3. Enter your case information including your info, the defendant's info and a summary of the issue.
4. Choose the courthouse where you want to file, answer their form's specific questions, and sign the document.
Now you're on your way to preparing and filing a case directly with the court from your phone or computer.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Who is the Registered Agent?
- The Registered Agent may vary depending on who you're filing against, and where you are filing. It's best to check with the Secretary of State's database wherever the business is registered to check for this information.
Do I need a lawyer for Small Claims Court?
- Not necessarily. One of the easier things about small claims court is that lawyers aren’t usually required. This may make the small claims process less intimidating and more affordable. But, still, the small claims process can get complicated. Consider filing through Dispute, as we simplify the small process with our software.
How much does it cost to file a Small Claims Case?
- Court Filing Fees: The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit depends on how much you are suing for and where you are suing. You can expect to pay between $30 to $400 to file the lawsuit. _If you cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees. _Dispute charges a small fee to help generate, sign and/or file any documents on your behalf.
- Serving Costs: Once the lawsuit is filed, you must notify the company that you have sued them. This is called "serving." Serving Costs can range from $20-100 depending on the local area.
If you have any questions about filing a small claims case against your Homeowners Association or accessing Dispute's software, please reach out and contact us.