How Can Homeowners Amicably Resolve Disputes?
While it’s possible for litigation to be conducted amicably, in the vast majority of cases, that’s not what happens. Instead, you get hard feelings, tons of stress, and big legal fees. So, if at all possible, it’s usually best to try to resolve disputes informally.
Sometimes, simple polite communication is all it takes. Before sending a formal letter from an attorney demanding that the board enforce a certain covenant, an owner might instead just talk to a board member or raise the issue at a member meeting. Florida’s Homeowners’ Association Act specifically grants members the right to be heard at meetings. Fla. Stat. §720.305(2)(b). Or, if there’s a disagreement over whether a planned home renovation does or does not comply with the community’s covenants, the owner and the board might try informally negotiating a compromise that satisfies all parties.
In requiring pre-suit dispute resolution, the Florida legislature recognizes that negotiated agreements are quite often better, quicker, and cheaper than litigation. Fla. Stat. §720.311. Prior to filing suit, an aggrieved party serves a written mediation notice on the other party via certified mail. The notice describes the nature of the claim and proposes potential mediators. The other party then has twenty days to respond, and they jointly have 90 days to schedule the mediation session.
Mediation is confidential, and anything disclosed at mediation is inadmissible and cannot be considered by a judge in a future civil action, except if the future action is an attempt to enforce a mediated agreement. Costs are split 50/50 between the parties, and a party who refuses to mediate is barred from recovering attorney’s fees and costs in a later case.
In many situations, having a knowledgeable, neutral third party provide an informed opinion is enough to convince an otherwise obstinate board member or homeowner to reassess a contentious position. If mediation is unsuccessful, the parties can either move forward to litigation or agree to proceed with mandatory arbitration. If you need a mediator, you can visit the American Arbitration Association - Mediation Section for a mediator referral.