Finding Common Ground
What’s the ultimate goal when resolving a dispute? Understanding the motivations on both sides is critical. Assuming there’s no personal vendetta involved, the underlying issue usually revolves around one of the following issues.
If you are a resident, you probably want to:
- Protect or improve your property value
- Have the freedom to use your property based on your personal preferences
- Live in an area with well-maintained common facilities
- Not be made to pay excessive amounts in fees
- Be treated fairly—not feeling like you are singled out for fines when other people “get away with” similar behaviors
If you represent the COA board, you probably feel it’s important to:
- Apply the rules of the covenant equitably, avoiding unfairness
- Maintain common spaces and individual units in a way that protects or improves property values
- Avoid dealing with angry residents
- Not struggle with budget issues because of unpaid dues and fees
As you can see, there’s certainly overlap in what both parties desire. In the final analysis, residents and board members all want to enjoy a good quality of life in a harmonious and attractively maintained community.
When you meet to resolve problems with your condo association, it’s important to address both the factual aspects (what’s happening and what needs to change) and the emotional aspects (how the parties feel about the issue and what will make them feel satisfied).
Important Steps for Residents
Whether you just received a letter telling you about a fine or have been told you can’t remodel your unit the way you wanted, the first step is to stop and take a breath. Your immediate response is going to set the tone for the ensuing encounter. The best way to start a conversation is with curiosity rather than anger. Write your response letter with this in mind. Ask neutral questions to help you better understand the board’s decision.
Base any appeal on facts rather than your personal feelings, keeping in mind that the board members are bound to act in accordance with the COA bylaws and any applicable state laws to protect the interests of the association as a whole. If you don’t have a copy of the governing documents for your COA, obtain a copy and read through them. Ask for help if you can’t find a passage that specifically applies to your situation. Understand and follow the appeals process, documenting your steps along the way. If there are cases of other residents being treated differently under similar circumstances, make note of those as well.
Don’t risk your property in the process of making a dispute. This can happen if you withhold your association dues. Failure to pay may result in a lien being placed on your property and even foreclosure in the long run. This may seem unfair, but if you agreed to the terms when you purchased your unit, it’s important to uphold your end of the bargain. If you have been assessed a fine that you feel is unwarranted, discuss having payment for that specific fine placed on hold until the dispute is resolved. As always, get everything in writing.
Do consult with legal counsel if you are having a serious or potentially costly conflict with your COA. The result may be one of the following:
- You receive advice on what to do next
- Your attorney negotiates with the board on your behalf
- The matter ends up in litigation
If you must sue, that’s a valid last resort. But it’s not something to threaten the board or individual members with to get your way. Remember, these are your neighbors!
Challenges for the COA Board
When it comes to handling conflicts, there are many mistakes COAs make that can create havoc.
- Failing to understand the governing documents and apply the rules consistently to all residents
- Waiting to address a long-standing issue until it becomes a crisis
- Letting a board member who has a personal stake in the matter take charge of the resolution
- Not responding to residents’ concerns in a timely fashion
- Not following dispute resolution procedures
Whether your board is dealing with a problematic behavior from a resident or addressing a grievance, it’s essential to follow written procedures, use common sense, and stay professional. Rely on experienced, respected members of your board to help brainstorm creative ways to help create win-win situations for all members of the COA.
One of the smartest options is to have someone mediate the issue who knows the rules, can be impartial and has a lot of experience with resolving problems with your condo association. Ardent Residential is a good choice because we work with the Board and the condo owner to find a middle ground. Our management company also has specific strategies to help your association reduce conflicts and keep residents happy. To find out more, contact our team today.