How to Deal with Owners Publicly Defaming Your HOA

by AssociationLawGroup

Negative blogs and websites about HOAs are now becoming rather commonplace, although they can be a major problem for homeowners associations. Here are some tips for stopping them.

A growing number of HOAs are now experiencing owners who are taking their complaints public, either trashing the HOA through a blog or spreading a newsletter to other owners. No matter how mild the complaints, this can be a real problem for homeowners associations. Solving this problem can also be tricky, although you do have a few options.

Image: Jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

How Widespread is the Problem?

This problem seems to becoming more common throughout the country. According to Ben Solomon, founder of Association Law Group which represents Florida HOAs, it's nearly always the minority of people who are the angriest with the most time on their hands. Unfortunately, a single person can reach a wide audience online and spread their displeasure, potentially ruining years of work from HOA leaders who have spent their time developing recognition for their community and establishing a reputation for beautifully maintained property and nice amenities.

Why is this a Problem?

Negative reviews and complaints always seem to get the most attention. Imagine you're reading reviews of a product, a community or a service online. Which review will most likely get your attention, the 5 positive reviews or the one review that's merely venting anger? Search engines also do not really give weight to the author of the content, so a person searching for your Florida HOA online may find a website trashing your HOA before seeing the official website. This can seriously harm the public's image of your community and have a big impact on those considering moving into your homeowners association. In a worst case scenario, this problem may even impact the property values in your community.

Should You Sue?

So, can you sue the owners to get them to stop? This solution tends to work best if you feel there is confusion between the official website and the owner's website or blog. There was even a case in 2005 in which a federal district court placed an injunction against an owner after they registered a website domain with the same name as the condo association just to voice their criticisms and complaints. The association sent a cease and desist letter to the owner, who then changed the name of their website but not the domain.

In this case, the court felt that the website was luring people in only to spread disparaging remarks and was actually detracting from the HOA's trade and service marks, or trademark. It's typically easy for an HOA lawyer to get an owner to take down their website or change the name if they're using the association's logo or creating confusion.

Other Options

The first step is to check how widespread the problem really is, as there may not be many people that are actually reading the blog or website. You may also want to offer the owner the chance to submit their posts to the association's official website, which gives the board some amount of control yet also makes it apparent that the association allows owners the opportunity to express their feelings.

One of the best options is to make sure you always communicate openly with owners, as a great deal of these problems start when owners don't feel like they're getting enough information, often related to a single issue in the community. Respond to complaints and provide truthful information to owners to combat this problem. Always do your best to stop negative information and outright lies by spreading the truth, either by responding directly to comments or posting the information on the association's website.

When You Should Ignore It

According to most HOA attorneys, it's often best to ignore the problem if it's very benign and doesn't seem to hurt property values in your community. The real problem is when the owner is improperly using materials from the HOA (such as the logo) or the issue becomes so severe that it qualifies as defamation or slander. Along with the logo, other examples of materials the owner should not be using to voice their complaints include email lists from the HOA and association records.

Remember, suing can be a large burden on the homeowners association and waste a great deal of time and money to persue an uncertain outcome, at best.

Updated: 10/31/2012, AssociationLawGroup
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