Fighting an HOA no easy task

Many have tried, and most have failed when bringing legal action against their homeowners association.

If a homeowner has a complaint, the first thing he must do is take it up with the board.

Rana Goodman, who served for five years as president of the Whitney Ranch Homeowners Association but now lives in Sun City Anthem and is a homeowner activist and lobbyist, said if the board doesn’t reply in a reasonable amount of time in a way that addresses the homeowner’s need, then the homeowner can file a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office.

The Ombudsman’s Office is in charge of processing claims submitted to mediation or arbitration. It also is supposed to help homeowners understand their rights and responsibilities as set forth in their associations.

“The o mbudsman is like the mom,” Goodman said. “The HOA is the bad kid, and the homeowner is the bad kid. The o mbudsman has to sort it out. Why bring in a lawyer? It messes everything up.”

Both parties then sit down and work to settle the dispute. Jonathan Friedrich is an HOA advocate who has studied many HOA cases through the Nevada Real Estate Division, where the Ombudsman’s Office is located.

“According to NRED, if a homeowner takes his dispute to arbitration, there is an 85 percent chance the homeowner will lose ,” Friedrich said. “You have a better chance of going to the casino.”

According to the Ombudsman’s Office for Owners in Common Interest Communities and Condominium Hotels, in all the cases reviewed in fiscal year 2010, 43 were in favor of the HOA, eight were in favor of the owner, 16 were settled, 13 were withdrawn by the claimant, five were withdrawn by NRED, 15 were dismissed by the arbitrator, four were split decisions, four were withdrawn because of the claimant going into bankruptcy, 11 went to mediation and one had no decision.

When there is a split decision, each side pays an equal portion of the fees. According to Friedrich’s research through NRED, of the 18 cases reviewed by arbitrator Alvin Apfelberg , only one was decided in favor of the homeowner between 2005 and 2009.

According to Nevada Real Estate Records, fees charged in fiscal year 2011 by NRED arbitrators are between $360 to $7,000, opposed to fees charged by attorneys representing HOA boards ranging from $800 to $20,000.

Goodman said if a person loses, an HOA could recoup the cost of all legal fees, in addition to the fines. Goodman has filed complaints against her HOA, including one for being told she couldn’t speak at an HOA board meeting.

In the past five years, Goodman has filed six complaints with the Ombudsman’s Office . Each time when mediation was to occur, the association brought in an HOA lawyer.

Goodman said she had to decide whether it was worth the fight to hire an attorney to represent her against the HOA lawyer. She often dropped the case.

The irony of fighting an HOA is that a person pays for his own legal representation to square off against an HOA attorney, which the homeowner also is paying for through HOA fees. To file a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office, visit red.state.nv.us.

Contact Henderson and Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at mlyle@viewnews.com or 387-5201.

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