Nuisance complaints annoying your HOA? Here are the most frequent issues and how to deal with them.
We wish we could promise that everyone in your HOA community will live in harmony. That would be lying, however. Most HOAs are lucky to go a few weeks without someone lodging a complaint. Nuisance complaints represent a high percentage of the grievances you’ll have to deal with as a board. Here are some of the most frequent complaints and tips for how to deal with them.
What qualifies as a nuisance complaint?
While the term “nuisance” suggests that such complaints are a minor issue, the opposite is true. They are a frequent cause of legal action by and against other homeowners.
Nuisance complaints typically consist of one or more issues, including:
- An activity that unreasonably interferes with the use or quiet enjoyment of another resident of their separate interest or exclusive use common area
- A use that creates conditions that are hazardous, noxious, or offensive
- A violation of a local, state, or federal law
Here are some common examples of nuisance complaints. No doubt you’ve already had to deal with many of these:
- Odors (cigarette/cigar smoke, garbage, pets, food)
- Noises (loud conversations, yelling/fights, musical instruments, home theaters, construction work, barking dogs)
- Aesthetic issues (clutter in driveways, yards, balconies, patios)
- Health and safety issues (outdoor fires, rodents, hoarding, smoking, pets)
- Renter’s bad behavior
It is up to you as an HOA board to deal with all complaints, however minor they may seem. If your association does enforce nuisance covenants and rules quickly and thoroughly, it can impact your legal standing to enforce them in the future.
Let’s look at ways you can deal with some of these nuisance complaints.
Secondhand smoke complaints are very common. First, you must determine if smoking is occurring in an exclusive use common area. If so, the board can enact a rule banning smoking in these areas (if you do not already have such a rule in your governing documents). Association members can also vote to approve a CC&R amendment with the development, which bans smoking in exclusive use common area balconies and patios.
Be sure to look into your state and local laws regarding smoking within communities. There may already be regulations on the books to deal with such problems.
Owners who violate the restrictions can be called to attend a hearing to address the complaint. If there is no resolution, you may need to decide if the complaint is egregious enough to pursue an enforcement action or a lawsuit.
Noisy neighbors are no fun. Whether the noise is coming from an upstairs unit or the house next door, they can really be a source of frustration.
Many noise complaints are related to impact noises from hard surface flooring in buildings. Surfaces like wood, tile, and stone tend to amplify noises. Your governing documents should include standards that must be met in terms of flooring surfaces and attenuating materials (padding and underlayment) that can help muffle sounds such as walking, exercising, moving furniture, and play activities.
You can use such CC&Rs to force compliance if an owner violates the flooring policy.
Other types of noise complaints need to be investigated and evaluated by the board. If in doubt, you may need to consult with legal counsel to determine what, if anything, you can do about the noise.
Owners will often use a home or unit as a rental property, and many complaints arise due to the actions of tenants. It’s important to note that owners are ultimately responsible for the actions of renters, including violations of community rules.
Be sure to enact HOA rules that owners must follow when renting a property or unit. This can include presenting CC&R documents to tenants and having them sign a document stating they agree to comply with HOA rules.
If a tenant is in violation, the board must notify the owner and schedule a hearing. The board may discipline owners and require them to ensure no other violations will take place. In some cases, your CC&R rules may even allow the board to evict tenants for governing document violations.
Barking dogs. Uncontrolled/unleashed animals. Owners that don’t pick up after their dogs. These are all common nuisance complaints. Your CC&R documents should include clear pet policies. Owners must follow the community rules regarding pets and HOA boards may pursue discipline is necessary. There may also be some standing to remove pets that have become a nuisance or threat to others.
What if the dispute is between two neighbors?
In some cases, the complaint is a “neighbor-to-neighbor” dispute that doesn’t affect anyone else. If there is no shared community interest — and no HOA rules have been violated — you could choose to let the parties involved resolve the matter on their own.
Note: Be sure to consult with legal counsel to determine if you are obligated to step in.
Manage your association members and your vendors
Handling nuisance complaints are going to take up a fair bit of your time as an HOA board. Use this information to help manage the situation. You also need to ensure the effective hiring and management of vendors who provide services for your community. VendorSmart can help you in a number of ways, from vetting to the ongoing risk and compliance management. Contact us to get started.