By Brendan Ford, Founding Partner
Are you on team pickleball, or do you find its rapid rise noisy? With 36.5 million players nationwide, it’s clear that pickleball is making a racket in the sports world. As HOAs introduce courts to cater to this trend, they also navigate challenges, from spirited debates to legal disputes. This underscores the need for HOAs to up their game in understanding pickleball and strategize to address players’ needs, homeowners’ rights and associations’ obligations.
Pickleball Wars Intensify
At Ford & Duilio, the most common pickleball issues we have seen HOAs grapple with include safety concerns and noise. With pickleball’s ever-growing participation, the risk of injury increases significantly, becoming a concern with HOAs. Additionally, pickleball generates pronouncedly more noise than tennis, which becomes a disruption with locals and legality problems with HOAs.
Safety concerns. People of all ages play pickleball, and it’s become the nation’s fastest-growing sport. But with this increased activity comes increased risks of injuries. According to a recent UBS Group AG report, pickleball injuries may cost Americans $377 million in health care costs this year, accounting for 5% to 10% of unexpected medical expenses.
When individuals are injured on HOA property, there is always the risk that a lawsuit may follow, alleging a dangerous condition, negligent upkeep, or other premises liability theories. This risk increases if the alleged injury occurs due to a fellow homeowner’s actions or inactions on the pickleball court.
Noise nuisance. By far, the most common complaint with HOA is noise. There are a few reasons why pickleball is noisier than tennis.
- The materials used to make the ball and paddles. Pickleball balls are made of plastic, while tennis balls are made of felt. The plastic pickleball ball makes a louder sound when it hits the paddle than the felt tennis ball. Moreover, pickleball paddles are made of wood or graphite, while tennis rackets are made of strings; this means that pickleball paddles produce a louder noise when hit
- The size of the court. Pickleball courts are smaller than tennis courts. This means that the ball is hit more often and with more force, which can create more noise. Furthermore, pickleball games often host four people on the court, whereas tennis matches only house two. This means more people are on each court, causing more human noise.
- The speed of the game. Pickleball is a faster-paced game than tennis. This means that the ball is hit more often and with more force, which can create more noise.
- The environment. The environment of the court can also affect the noise level of pickleball. For example, the sound will be amplified if the court is near a wall or other hard surface. The loudest sound produced hundreds of times during a pickleball match is inherently louder than those of sports like tennis or basketball.
“We hear the ball hit the paddle from inside our homes all day long, 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. I want to stress that it’s all day, nonstop,” said Katie Pazan, a resident of a luxury townhome community within earshot of the Goleta Valley Community Center.
Goleta, home of UC Santa Barbara, has been embroiled in a legal battle for months over the future of pickleball on a 27-year-old tennis court at the Goleta Valley Community Center in the city’s old town district.
Last year, the center asked the City Council to greenlight a plan to convert the tennis court into four pickleball courts, permanently resurface and paint the playing surface, install fixed net posts, and replace damaged fencing. The city owns the outdoor facility, but the nonprofit center has leased it for years and said it would pay for the upgrades.
During several hours of public meetings, local officials read and heard testimonials from hundreds of pickleball fans who support the project and a handful of nearby residents who consider it a nuisance.
Legal claims against municipalities in California and across the country have forced similar resolutions because volume levels associated with pickleball violate noise restriction ordinances for residential areas. As one resident said, the claims often result in “really ugly neighborhood drama,” but people who live near the courts typically win out.
Here are but a few examples of recent lawsuits involving pickleball courts. In these legal proceedings, and dozens more like them, people claim that allowing pickleball violates local municipal codes, HOA rules, or condominium associations’ rules:
- In 2022, a couple in Scottsdale, Arizona, sued their HOA after the HOA converted a nearby tennis court into two pickleball courts. The couple claimed that the noise from the pickleball courts made it difficult to enjoy their backyard and that the HOA had yet to consult them about the decision to convert the tennis court.
- In 2021, a homeowner in San Diego, California, sued his HOA after being fined for playing pickleball on the community’s tennis courts after hours. The homeowner argued that the HOA’s noise restrictions were unreasonable and that he was not disturbing any of his neighbors.
- In 2020, a group of homeowners in Austin, Texas, sued their HOA after the HOA approved a plan to build a pickleball court in the community’s common area. The homeowners argued that the pickleball court would increase noise levels and traffic in the community.
- In 2022, a couple in Rancho Mirage, California, sued their HOA after the HOA converted a nearby tennis court into two pickleball courts. The couple claimed that the noise from the pickleball courts made it difficult to enjoy their backyard and that the HOA had yet to consult them about the decision to convert the tennis court.
- In 2021, a homeowner in La Jolla, California, sued his HOA after being fined for playing pickleball on the community’s tennis courts after hours. The homeowner argued that the HOA’s noise restrictions were unreasonable and that he was not disturbing any of his neighbors.
- In 2020, a group of homeowners in Corona Del Mar, California, sued their HOA after the HOA approved a plan to build a pickleball court in the community’s common area. The homeowners argued that the pickleball court would increase noise levels and traffic in the community.
- In a lawsuit against Newport Beach, California, a Corona del Mar woman claimed the sounds of people playing pickleball 100 yards from her home caused her “severe mental suffering, frustration and anxiety.”
- A South Carolina couple filed suit against a country club near their home, alleging that late-night pickleball games caused “unreasonable interference with” their “enjoyment of their property.”
These are just a few examples of the many lawsuits that have been filed involving pickleball and HOAs. As the popularity of pickleball continues to grow, we will likely see more of these lawsuits in the future.
Bounce, Bounce, Mediate!
These conflicts can be challenging to resolve and, as seen above, sometimes lead to cases. If you are an HOA board member or a homeowner who is experiencing conflict over pickleball, there are a few things you can do to try to resolve the issue:
- Review your HOA’s governing documents. Your governing documents may have specific rules or regulations about pickleball, such as noise restrictions or hours of play. If so, be sure to enforce these rules consistently.
- Talk to the players. The best way to resolve conflict is often to talk to the people involved. Meet with the players causing the problems and try to understand their perspective. See if there is anything you can do to accommodate their needs, such as setting aside specific hours for pickleball or installing noise-reducing fencing.
- Be clear about your noise restrictions in your governing documents.
- Consult with your members before making any changes to the common areas.
- Be flexible and willing to compromise.
- Install noise-reducing fencing or other measures to reduce noise levels.
- Educate your members about the noise levels associated with pickleball.
If you cannot resolve the conflict independently, you may need to bring in a mediator. This neutral third party can help you and the players find a mutually agreeable solution.
Here are five reasons why mediation is a far better alternative to litigation:
- Voluntary: Mediation is voluntary, meaning both parties must agree to participate. This contrasts litigation, a compulsory process that can be forced on one or both parties.
- Confidential: Mediation is a personal process, which means that anything said in mediation cannot be used in court. This can create a more relaxed and productive environment for the parties to discuss their dispute.
- Cheaper: Mediation is typically much less expensive than litigation. It does not require the same legal fees and court costs.
- Faster: Mediation can be a much faster process than litigation. This is because it requires a different level of discovery and pre-trial preparation.
- Efficient: Mediation can help to resolve disputes more efficiently than litigation. This is because the parties are actively involved in the process and working together to find a solution acceptable to all parties.
If pickleball makes you sour, contact Brendan Ford at email@example.com to explore your options.