Lawsuits are an unfortunate, expensive fact of life these days—chances are that at some point in your lifetime you’ll be involved in one to at least some degree. In you live in a condo or HOA, legal issues arise all the time. Sometimes it’s the resident who sues the building for some grievance, other times it’s the building that goes after an individual resident. Maybe Jane Doe in unit 3A is six months behind on common charges, or John Doe has consistently caused all manner of trouble since moving into his apartment and feels that the community's rules just don't apply to him.
Clearly action needs to be taken, but a lawsuit within a building community makes for a delicate situation, often roiling up bad feelings and costing everyone money and time. Handling a suit properly from the start can help minimize these negative outcomes.
So what is the first thing you should do when you get the word that a legal action has been brought against you or the board? Being served a summons can cause great consternation for anybody, but the key thing for board members, managers and residents alike, say the legal professionals, is not to panic or stick one's head in the sand. "Doing nothing is the worst possible thing you could do," says Fran McGovern, of McGovern Legal Services, LLC in North Brunswick., "because if service has been made and no action has been taken by the defense, the plaintiff can enter default judgment."
The wiser course of action is to just take a deep breath, sit down, and read the paperwork you've been sent. Once you have an idea what it’s all about, it’s time to talk to your or your building’s attorney. "Some people think that involving lawyers makes things worse," says Ronald L. Perl, an attorney with Hill Wallack in Princeton, "and in some cases that is justified—but association attorneys should be problem solvers."
Once the relevant documents have been received by counsel, the discovery process begins.