Homeowner associations (HOA) are increasingly becoming the norm in California. A recent study by Community Associations Institute found that homeowner associations, co-ops and condominiums house 1 in 5 Americans. That means more than 66 million Americans are members of these associations, organizations that represent their property and have the authority to impose certain restrictions, mandate certain property standards and impose sanctions. In California, about 1 in 4 property owners are part of a HOA.
These communities, typically run by elected boards, provide certain alternative options, including facilities and amenities homeowners would not otherwise be able to enjoy. They also help to protect property values by preserving a community's character.
Although many people report a positive experience with these associations, homeowner association disputes inevitably arise. When they do, they can have a costly and lasting impact on a homeowner's ability to enjoy their home and their neighborhood. Associations have the authority to levy fines and assessments, seize property and take a host of other measures against homeowners who refuse to abide the rules. Recently, The Sacramento Bee published a report on a long-standing homeowner association dispute involving a disabled former Marine pilot and his access to the community pool.
That might seem like a minor sticking point, but many people buy into homeowner associations specifically for the purpose of being able to enjoy certain amenities.
According to the Bee, the initial complaint was filed two years ago with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, arguing the association had illegally discriminated against the plaintiff by refusing to fix a broken chairlift at the pool. This was despite the fact that he'd been filing complaints about the issue since 2011.
This case dragged on for two years, but plaintiffs finally won $110,000 in a mediated settlement agreement, provided they move out of the development.
As our Newport Beach homeowner association dispute attorney can explain, homeowners associations are legally bound to follow state and federal fair housing laws, including those protecting the disabled. However, because there is no government entity that regularly oversees them, there often isn't any other means of redress when a dispute arises. This case was unique for the fact that a state agency with special oversight (here, with housing discrimination) had the authority to intervene. In most cases, this means any disputes are resolved via lawsuit.
The process of resolving a homeowner association dispute can be complicated and arduous, and that's why it's best to consult with an attorney to determine your best course of action.
The plaintiff in this case is a 77-year-old former Marine who is totally and permanently disabled due to injuries incurred during his military service, which included rescuing orphans and nuns from the Rwandan genocide. He said he needed to be able to use the pool to exercise his limbs, which had become damaged as a result of a jet crash. However, the chairlift that allowed him to get in the pool had been broken for years, even after he made numerous requests to fix it. Then even after it was fixed, the plaintiff was required to get the battery from out of a locked storage shed, which he couldn't do because of his disabilities.
On one occasion while trying to do this, his foot got stuck between the footrest and the wall of the pool, causing him severe pain with no help.
Part of the mediation deal is that in addition to the settlement, he'll also be able to sue for personal injuries, an option he and his wife are exploring.