Continuing this week’s theme of communications, today I’m going to give Owners some tips on how to email your condo association in a positive and effective way to get the results you want. Bad stuff happens in home ownership – whether a house, townhouse, or condo. With a regular house, if something breaks, you have the responsibility to fix it – pretty straightforward. In an Association, things aren’t so simple. Many issues require interaction with your Board or Management due to the fact that there are so many common elements and so much is covered by the Bylaws. Other times, you might need to interact with the Powers That Be because of a proposed rules change or to get approval for something with architectural control. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you craft effective emails to get a positive result.
Do clearly identify the issue affecting you. What is the problem – is your unit leaking? Do you need something repaired? Do you need architectural approval? Identify how it is affecting you. Is it truly urgent (water is gushing into my unit right now!!) or is it a less time-sensitive issue like getting blinds approved? Finally, document when the issue happened (if applicable) – when did you first notice it or request assistance?
Do provide supporting documentation if you have it. Most people have cell phone cameras. Take a picture of what it is if it’s something visual. If it’s a records problem, document and PDF it. These are important both for the resolution of your problem and for establishing a document trail if you need to escalate.
Do clearly identify what your desired outcome is. What will make you happy? State it in a polite way. “Maintenance broke my window by accident. I would like it repaired back to the original state as quickly as possible since it is allowing the elements in.” Be polite, respectful, and reasonable.
Do follow up regularly, in a polite manner, particularly if you aren’t hearing back. Boards can be very slow – for non-urgent life safety issues, I suggest following up weekly. Issues that Management can resolve should be taken care of in a week. Non-urgent issues involving the Board often will take a month to resolve. This is because your Board needs to reach a majority decision on your issue and is a volunteer body. Sending polite, regular updates lets them know you still care.
Do document all of your interactions with the Board and Management. Save them and keep a timeline. If you need to escalate from Management to the Board, the timeline will be useful to show how you’ve been trying to fix it. If you have to seek legal counsel, a timeline is one of the first things a lawyer will want to see.
Don’t use all caps in your email, or for large portions of your email, or use unwarranted hyperbole. If there is one thing that automatically makes a Board member think “Wow this person is a jerk” – it’s the use of all caps in an email or overly dramatic declarations of hardship. You maybe can get away with one word in all caps. More and you will be judged a jerk. I don’t go out of my way to help jerks. I do the bare minimum for them. Be factual and reasonable about what the problem is. Taking three paragraphs to describe why you need your new blinds approved for architectural control RIGHT NOW doesn’t make us prioritize any extra.
Don’t rant about how you pay Condo fees. Stuff breaks, shit happens. Everyone in the building pays Condo fees. Paying Condo fees just means that your Association (often) will fix it – but it doesn’t guarantee you instantaneous service, and demanding such again triggers the jerk factor.
Don’t threaten legal action – at least until you read my earlier post. Understand that (speaking broadly) – the Association’s legal obligations usually boil down to “do something in a reasonable amount of time.” The “something” and “reasonable” are what keep lawyers gainfully employed and lead to slow resolution through the legal system. Now, if the Association is refusing or being completely unresponsive on something that is clearly an issue, like a broken common element causing you distress, then go for it. But these cases are rarely so clear-cut.
Straightforward, well-organized emails from Owners are shockingly rare. As a result, they are very powerful when sent to Management and the Board. Seeing something clearly laid out and concise makes me want to fix your problem. I get plenty of ranting emails (pages long) that I tune out – if I have to go on a literary expedition to figure out what your problem is, you’ve dramatically lowered my motivation to help you. As a Board member, I want to help you – so give me the ammunition I need. Give me the facts and I can go to bat for you. And I like to think other good Board members will do the same. But we’re human – if you’re a jerk, don’t be surprised if no one is in a rush to fix your problem for you. But follow these tips when you email your condo association and you’ll be on your way to getting the solution you want.