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Tips forTaking HOAs to Small Claims Court

Tips for Taking HOAs to Small Claims Court  

by Emilia Der Sarkissian

1. what issue you are suing for

2. how it broke the law

3. what is owed to you

  • Use the template on the state’s website to prepare a demand letter. This will ensure you do not overshare and will have a professional format.  The demand letter should say:

  • I am writing to you because of ____, in violation of ____, i am owed ____ by ____ date. (three points + a deadline)

  • Send the demand letter via certified mail.

  • Small claims court is often described as a gamble or the wild wild west. Even if you win, a person who does not want to pay can appeal or employ methods of non-payment. Additionally, it  hurts your investment if the HOA has a bunch of lawsuits. Try to settle if you can.

  • To protect yourself from gossip, avoid sharing too much information about the trial. The HOA Board will need to speak the lawsuit into the record. You can show your neighbors the results after you are successful.

  • Think of the judges as very busy people who see multiple trials each day. They will probably only skim your papers, especially in a busy court with a dozen cases a day.  Avoid paragraphs and keep statements brief and direct.

  • Additionally, do not expect the judge to be familiar with HOA laws or your CC&Rs. They see all types of small claims court cases: Car accidents, personal injury, employment disputes, family matters, property damage, etc. You will benefit from adding a print out of the violated law to the evidence packet.

  • Save your arguments for the trial. Do not reveal your hand by typing out your argument in a letter. Instead, use invoices, email trails, link to the law, and photos for evidence and bring the argument orally

  • Every small claims court does things slightly differently, sometimes very differently. attend a trial of small claims in the same court you will sue in so you are familiar with the process

  • Include pictures, consider a photo journal. You can print important photos on a large sheet of paper and show them at the court

  • Manage your own guilt: don't withhold relevant information in order to protect the people you are suing. use your options to subpoena someone, tell the truth instead of trying not to embarrass guilty people. remember the people you are suing are adults and you are giving them the chance to correct their behavior

  • Manage your own anger: Do not ask for too much or try to be petty. This will work against you.

  • Prepare your arguments (speaking points), and also prepare counter arguments for what you expect the defendant to say.

  • Dress nicely on the day of the trial (of course). try to wear plain clothing and appear put together. you may need to stand longer than you expect while you wait to get into the court so wear comfortable shoes. Bring water and drink coffee if that is your regular routine.

  • If you have the option to mediate, but for whatever reason don't want to, accept the opportunity for negotiation so that you can hear the opposition's arguments

  • HOAs that I have seen are not always made up of mature people with self awareness interested in growth and self development. To avoid retaliation and discomfort in your own home, be very courteous, be very very polite and keep your distance from the homeowners leading up to and during/after the trial. make sure all claims are backed by evidence and don't act rudely or unprofessional even if you really really want to, and they also really really deserve it.

  • Expect nothing, but be proud of yourself for defending yourself. And never, ever, ever, ever give up.

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