A survey conducted in 2016 by the Community Associations Institute found that 65 percent of people who live in a neighborhood with an Association find it to be a positive experience, and 22 percent of residents are neither pleased nor displeased. But that other 13 percent? You guessed it. They’re unhappy.
Worse, a 2015 survey conducted by the Coalition for Community Housing Policy in the Public Interest showed that 72 percent of respondents with an Association said they had been involved in a dispute with their board that was difficult to resolve.
Not surprisingly, the two most common reasons for conflict are related to the collection of dues or assessments and the enforcement of rules. People don’t like being told what they can and can’t do, and they really don’t like being asked for money. The stakes can be high, and that means the potential for ugliness can be high, too. Many associations have the ability to fine homeowners who don’t comply with rules, file a lien against a home and even foreclose on a property – and this can be irksome to homeowners.
Still, enforcing rules and collecting dues are the two most important duties for any board. The rules ensure that everyone living in the community is able to enjoy their property and the dues allow the board to meet the community’s financial obligations.
Here are four things every board can do to keep the peace and minimize conflict:
1. Consistently enforce the rules.
No one wants to nag or police their neighbors. However, being laid back about the rules and dues actually makes it more likely that your community will have problems. Your board decided on these rules in order to keep the community pleasant and livable for all, and the homeowners bought their properties knowing that these rules were in place. Residents need to see that everyone is subject to the rules and that the rules are the same for everyone.
2. Know the rules, all of them.
If you’re not quite sure what the bylaws say, go back and reread them before citing any residents. You can be sure residents will read up before they respond. Make sure that what you’re asking a resident to do or not do is clearly stated in the rules. If you find that there’s some ambiguity, be ready to accept that there may be a simple misunderstanding and be ready to look for a compromise.
3. Be pleasant.
Serving on a board can be a thankless job. You aren’t paid for it, it takes a lot of time, and your neighbors often don’t appreciate all the work you put in – especially when they’re in violation of a rule or policy. It’s easy to snap back or get impatient with an irate resident, but doing so will only make matters worse. Remember, these violators are still your neighbors. Listening to their concerns and showing empathy will go a long way in diffusing a tense situation.
4. Communicate in writing.
Sometimes, even when you’ve made every effort to work with a resident, the dispute can turn nasty. You may even have to involve lawyers. It’s always a good idea to create a paper trail, as doing so will help your board prevail should you wind up in court. Communicating in writing also allows you to make other board members, and even the other residents in the community, aware of the situation and it allows you to avoid a “he said, she said” situation.
Association boards will inevitably find themselves in disagreements with residents. No one likes being cited for violations or being asked to pay dues and assessments. But all-out war with your neighbors is not inevitable. You can minimize conflict and maintain peace by consistently enforcing the rules as they’re written, being as polite and understanding as possible, and handling all your disputes in writing.