Homeowners Association Grievance Procedures: Resolving Subdivision and Condo Owner Conflicts in Tennessee
by Tennessee mediator Margaret M. Huff

Disputes often arise among homeowners in a subdivision or condominium complex governed by by-laws, restrictive covenants, and rules set by a Homeowner Association Board of Directors.  The issues are varied - landscaping, noisy teenagers, vandalism, unpaid maintenance fees, dog owners not respecting front lawns, encroachment on common areas, interior damage caused by leaking roofs . . . .  The possibilities for neighborhood disputes are endless.  Parties to a conflict may include neighbor/neighbor, homeowners/Board, Board/management company staff, or homeowners/management company.

A grievance hearing procedure may be an effective part of a well-designed conflict management system for a homeowners association.  A grievance committee established by the Board can assist in managing conflicts that have escalated beyond resolution through friendly reminders about the rules, publication of rules in the association newsletter, and the like.  The Board could then refer difficult disputes to the Homeowners' Association Grievance Committee.

The Homeowners Association Board would be wise consult with an attorney and a mediator about an appropriate grievance hearing format to be adopted by the Board.  The homeowner dispute resolution hearing format will set the tone for helpful communication and a positive discussion of issues.  A mediator can be retained to preside at the grievance hearing and prepare a report on behalf of the Grievance Committee.  Since the neutral mediator does not live in the particular subdivision or condo complex, the disputing parties may feel more comfortable about the dispute resolution process. 

The Board's grievance hearing rule may require the parties to share a written statement of issues and any documents prior to the hearing.  In some circumstances, the disputing parties may be able to resolve their differences before or immediately after the hearing, eliminating the need for a written report from the Grievance Committee or a decision from the Board of Directors.  Below is an example of a conflict resolution hearing format that a Board could adopt and provide to disputing parties.

Grievance Hearing Format

This grievance hearing format is a set of steps to follow in this homeowners’ association conflict resolution process to ensure that alleged violations of the by-laws, covenants, conditions, restrictions, regulations or policies of [ABC] Homeowners’ Association are resolved fairly and uniformly.  At the hearing, the person(s) with a complaint (the “Grievant”) and the responding person(s) (the “Respondent”) have an opportunity to state their case, provide evidence, ask questions and summarize their position.  The Grievance Committee has the authority to limit evidence that is repetitive or not relevant to the issues.  The parties are encouraged to consider settling the dispute themselves.

The time estimates are provided to give everyone a rough idea of how much time we expect to spend at each stage of the hearing.  You are not required, but you may bring witnesses and/or an attorney to the grievance hearing.  Thank you for participating in this hearing.

1.  Introductions, opening remarks, and clarification of issues

a.  Introductions and begin grievance hearing (5 minutes)
b.  Member of Grievance Committee:   summarize hearing process and state Committee’s understanding of what the issues are (5 minutes)
c.  Grievant:  clarify what the issues are (3 minutes)       
d.  Respondent:  clarify what the issues are (3 minutes)       

2.  Presentation of relevant evidence regarding grievance
a.  Grievant presents testimony and documents (15 minutes)
b.  Respondent presents testimony and documents (15 minutes)

3.  (Optional) Inspection:  opportunity to look at any physical item at issue, at the request of the Grievant, Respondent, or Grievance Committee (10 minutes)

4.  Opportunity for questions and rebuttal of evidence
a.  Grievant answers any questions from Respondent and members of Grievance Committee (5 minutes)
b.  Respondent answers any questions from Grievant and members of Grievance Committee (5 minutes)

5.  Any additional questions from members of Grievance Committee (5 minutes)

6.  Closing of hearing - summaries of evidence and relief requested
a.  Closing statement/summary by Grievant (5 minutes)
b.  Closing statement/summary by Respondent (5 minutes)

7.  Hearing adjourned

8.  Closed session and written report

At the conclusion of the hearing, the Grievance Committee will meet in a closed session to deliberate on their findings and then vote.  The Grievance Committee will make a written report on its findings and issue a recommendation to the [ABC] Homeowners Association Board of Directors with a copy to the Grievant within 7 days after the date of the hearing.  The written report will contain:
a.  a statement of the purpose of the hearing,
b.  the issues considered,
c.  a summary of the testimony, other evidence presented, and the Grievance Committee’s conclusions from the evidence,
d.  a recommendation to the Board of Director for final disposition of the grievance by the Board.

9.Responses from Grievant and Respondent

Within 5 days after the date the written report is submitted to the Board of Directors, the Grievant and Respondent may submit to the Board of Directors written responses to the written report.

Conclusion

Conflict management can be a part of a well-run homeowners association. Try grievance hearings to reduce the risk of litigation.  Effective conflict management can help repair damaged relationships among neighbors.


Copyright Margaret M. Huff (2007-2009).  All rights reserved.

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