One of the most common issues that a Condo Board member faces is resolving Condo Association disputes. As a Board member, you are a combination of a legislator and an executive, so your job is often the role of mediator, judge, and sometimes executioner. Sometimes these activities are extremely formal – such as a Condo Association hearing. Other times you’re resolving issues between Management staff or Management and Owners. This process can be challenging and frustrating, but these tips will help you get to the bottom of nearly any circumstance.
1) Find Out What the Complaint Is
This seems like an easy one, and it often is – but until you know the issue you’re solving, it’s hard to do more than that. With things like noise complaints, the issue is straightforward. When there is a dispute between an Owner and Management, things might be more complicated. Sometimes the Owner wants something and the dispute is because Management was simply not able to give it to them. For example, an Owner might want a fee waiver, which only the Board can grant, and then the Owner gets into a fight with Management, not understanding the situation. Other times, an Owner might want a simple apology. Make sure you know what you’re resolving when you’re dealing with Condo Association disputes before you take any further action.
2) Identify Everyone Involved
Next, you need to figure out who was involved. Sometimes this is straightforward – for example, a dispute between two Owners that is a classic “he said, she said.” Other times there might be a public incident where there were witnesses. Whatever happened, make sure you get a good grip on what’s going on and what was heard. Sometimes you’ll need to do a little sleuthing, and sometimes the players involved won’t want that. For example, if there is a dispute regarding your Management, you may have to push to get them to identify potential witnesses. In other cases, potential witnesses might refuse to bear official witness due to personal ties – for example, they don’t want to rat out a friend, even though they observed a negative incident.
3) Get Detailed, Consistent Accounts From Everyone
The next step is to try to reconstruct what actually happened. Everyone experiences the world through their own lens. What one person might view as rude may be perfectly acceptable to another. Your job is to figure out what happened. For complicated, ongoing issues, try to reconstruct a timeline. This might occur when Management is resolving a lengthy, complicated issue with an Owner, and then it gets escalated to the Board. You need to push on both parties to provide you with a timeline of what happened when. The Board should not try to reconstruct things themselves. Politely ask both parties to provide you a list of what happened and when so you can get to the bottom of it.
For more acute issues (like a dispute in a public area), try to reconstruct the event using video footage, witness reports, etc. Try to get people to make witness statements. Identify what caused the issue to reach its boiling point. You want to find out, as they say “who swung first” – perhaps even literally. Identifying who started it is a crucial step for dealing with Condo Association disputes.
4) Dig In to Inconsistencies
Once you have your evidence, you want to find out where the gray space is. For example, in a hypothetical dispute between Management and an Owner, if an Owner alleges non response from Management but you’ve got evidence of a response, show it to the Owner and ask for clarification. This also can apply the other way around, of course. When confronted with inconsistencies, people’s responses will be very telling. If they huff and puff but can’t provide any facts, you’re probably getting closer to figuring out where things went wrong. On the other hand, if the hypothetical Owner provides proof that your Management may have hid from your Board, you’re also on the way to figuring out who is aggrieved.
Don’t Make Mountains Out of Molehills
Condo Associations seems to love making mountains. Perhaps it’s the desire for drama because everyone is bored, or the love of attention from some people, but sometimes issues can spiral out of control. Try to get to the bottom of the issue, correct the problem, and then, if needed, implement good policies to prevent it from happening again. Don’t initiate a witch hunt. Some Board members will likely want to go into overdrive. Shut that shit down. Solve the problem and move on. Don’t make new ones. If you can master that skill, not only will you be a pro at resolving Condo Association disputes, you’ll also help prevent new ones.