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Subject: Confidentiality for Complaints
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09/30/2019 12:17 PM  
Every now and then, our homeowners complain about relatively minor issues that are covered in our HOA covenants, e.g. trash cans left out for days, vehicles parked (stored) in driveways for days, weeds in neighbor's yard, etc. When the complainant calls our property manager about these, she insists that she has to tell the "complainee" the name of the complainant. Our property manager drives through our community once a week and notes these kinds of violations (if she sees them) and sends a letter to the homeowner urging them to correct the situation. I can't find anything in our covenents, By-Laws or other governing documents that requires the complainant's name to be shared. do other HOAs handle these "minor" violations? By "minor" I don't mean to downplay them, but to contrast them with property line disputes, architectural violations, encroachments, etc. which usually result in written complaints and require legal work/arbitration to address.



09/30/2019 12:58 PM  
I don't act solely on a homeowner complaint. When a homeowner reports a neighbor, I tell them that I will conduct my own inspection. Then, if a violation is issued, I can honestly say that I observed the trash can or car repair or unmowed lawn or whatever. If they are breeding pets or leasing on Airbnb, I try to find (or ask the complainer to provide) an ad or some other 3rd party verification.

That way, it doesn't matter who complained - I'm basing the violation on my observation or my research.

If it's something like a neighbors' security light shining in their window or a barking dog, or some other scenario where it's going to be obvious who is reporting them, I urge the complainer to try and work it out directly with their neighbor first. In my experience it's much easier to resolve the situation if the person being complained about feels like they haven't been tattled on.

I tell homeowners that I won't personally disclose who complained, but that any emails they send to me in my capacity as a manager are part of the books and records of the association, and could be subject to review by any member of the association upon request, so they should not consider what they write to me to be 100% confidential. Complaints that include any reference to the ethnicity, race, religion, familial status, sexual identity or gender of the homeowner being complained about are not followed up on because doing so creates at the very least the appearance of bias. I tell homeowners that if they want to report their neighbors they tell me the address and the violation they think is occurring, and nothing else.



09/30/2019 1:20 PM  
What's minor to you could be considered major to someone else, so a good day of thumb (to me, anyway) is to consider how many people are impacted. If you get a lot of complaints on the same homeowner, that could be something the needs to take up. Especially if there's a safety issue, like someone's dog nearly biting passersby and not being leashed when outside. Overflowing trash can also be an issue because it's ugly and can create a health hazard (rats and such love this stuff).

Regarding confidentiality, it shouldn't take much for a board member or two (preferred) to swing by the offender and see if you can see what the complainant is talking about. For examp!e if a hard has lots of weeds, you can take a photo (time and date stamoed) and then the board becomes the complainant. That said, the board should get the complainant 's name and phone because if things escalate, that person may need to be a witness. That's another good way to determine if someone simply wants the board to do their dirty work. We do have due process in this country, after all, and unless you can come up with a compelling reason you want to remain anonymous, you need to be willing to go to that person and handle the matter.

Some property manager's have a service where they do periodic walk or drive -throughs to find problems, so you could consider that. The board can specify what issues the company should look for so they don't waste time on nonsense. Homeowners should also be told what issues will warrant the board's attention and it will not get involved in individual neighbor -neighbor disputes. The CCRs can be enforced by one homeowner against another, so if they can't or refuse to resolve issues like grown people, let them duke it out in small claims court.



09/30/2019 1:26 PM  
For the type of complaints you described:

- All complaints must be in writing.

- We notify the owner via email that we received a complaint about XYZ. We close the email by saying "thank you." We don't ask them to take care of the problem - since we aren't taking a position on whether the purported violation happened or not. All we know is that we received a complaint - and that's all we say.

- We never disclose who the complainer is.

- We never disclose to the complainer if any followup action is taken by the HOA.

- If we get too many complaints by one owner or against one owner, we discuss how to handle the particular situation.

Sikubali jukumu. Read all posts at your own risk.


09/30/2019 1:56 PM  
In my community, minor violations are first handled with a "friendly reminder" letter from the PM, which usually sorts things out. We also don't react to a complaint without some sort of reasonable evidence (photos, complaints from multiple persons, observation by the PM or a board member). At that point the violator probably doesn't really need to know who complained since the evidence speaks for itself, and there aren't any fines or other consequences yet - and it can worsen what might already be a unfriendly situation between some neighbors. Totally a judgement call.

It's only for more serious or repeat violations, or if there isn't any supporting evidence (eg. noise complaints), that we expect the person who complained to be willing to go on record. If the accused requests a hearing, then I believe he or she is entitled to know who filed the complaint. If the dispute ends up in court, and the board can't produce witnesses or evidence. then it's just hearsay and the judge will rule in favor of the accused homeowner.

There is always a potential issue if something ends up in court, and that's attorney-client privilege. If we're dealing with a dispute that we believe may escalate, we give our attorney a heads-up - he can tell us what we must disclose and what may remain confidential. We then disclose only what is required, in writing, and nothing more. Loose lips can lose court cases.

Some homeowners have a problem with going on record - they expect the board to do the dirty work and leave them out of it. But it's amazing how many complaints evaporate when the complainer isn't allowed to be anonymous. Some also believe that the board should act as a police force. I had one owner furious with me when I told him that I hadn't seen what he was talking about, and that he needed to provide supporting evidence or put his complaint in writing with his name attached - otherwise we wouldn't do anything until the evidence was produced. He stomped off in a snit, and nothing ever came of the complaint.

(South Carolina)


09/30/2019 2:13 PM  
All complaints must go to the BOD, even those phoned/sent to the MC go to the BOD. The BOD will investigate and if we find merit in the complaint, the MC sends a violation letter. We will investigate verbal complaints as if they are true, we want to know.

First violation letter is nice. Simply asking the violation be corrected. The 2nd gets a little more threatening in like fining is mentioned. The 3rd letter commences fines and mentions liens.

We have only ever had one homeowner not correct the violation and we are dealing with him now. It is a minor one. We are small patio homes with small backyards. Each backyard has a 6ft privacy fence around it. We have a Covenant that says nothing can be built without BOD approval. We have a R&R that nothing can be built that exceeds the height of the fence. We also believe in out of sight (as in below the fence) is out of mind. As an example there are garden sheds, hot tubs, etc. that do not exceed the height of the fence. Granted they should have asked for permission but that said, out of sight etc. The violator built a roofed, gazebo that is far above the height of the fence and never asked us permission which we would not have given. He also is one of our biggest behind in dues offenders so we are going after him for both.

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Forums > Homeowner Association > HOA Discussions > Confidentiality for Complaints

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