Why are Condo Associations Difficult to Work With?


Many Condo Owners have bad experiences with their Association.  These interactions are driven by a variety of factors.  There might be a bad Board filled with individuals who want to cause trouble.  Often, however, the issue isn’t so straightforward.  The reality is that a Condo Board’s job is complex.  Their job is not to look out for the Owner – they must look out for the Association.  And in many cases, that can make Condo Associations difficult to work with.

Fiduciary Duty Reigns Supreme

Fiduciary duty is the Condo Association Board’s only responsibility according to the Bylaws.  They must protect the finances of the Association, and thus, the finances of the Owners.  This often leads to hard decisions.  It might be a special assessment if the Association can’t pay its bills.  It might mean cutting amenities.  And it almost always means that if your request would cost the Association money, the first answer is going to be “no.”  This in mind, from an Owner’s perspective, makes Condo Associations difficult to deal with.

This Doesn’t Always Mean No

Good Boards avoid No.

While it seems Condo Associations excel in being difficult, this doesn’t mean that they’re out to get you.  A good Condo Association will ensure that they are fulfilling their obligations under the Bylaws.  This means that if the Association clearly broke something or impacted an Owner, they need to make it right.  If there was a major project and the contractor punched a hole in your wall, that needs to get fixed.  A smart Condo Association realizes they should do the right thing – and avoid the legal expense of a lawsuit – and correct that which is broken.  A good Condo Association should always follow their obligations as spelled out by law and Bylaws.  But anything beyond those obligations can quickly get into the land of “no.”

But Often It Does Mean No

One challenge, particularly in larger Condo Associations, is the interaction of common elements and Owner units.  A large building might have things like elevators or water pumps next to Owner units.  There are various laws that govern these interactions, particularly when it comes to noise.  For example, say the legal limit for noise is 50 decibels, and the noise is 49 decibels and distracting to the Owner.  The Owner might seek noise controls from the Association, which can be quite costly.  In a situation like this, don’t be surprised if the jerky behavior kicks in.  The Condo has no legal reason to spend money on you, and if they’re looking out for their fiduciary duty, they won’t.  This might make an Owner very unhappy – but it doesn’t mean the Association is wrong.  But it does make Condo Associations difficult.

What is the Financial Precedent?

Assuming there is no legal obligation that would incline a Condo Association to say yes, the question Boards often ask is what is the precedent – f we grant this request for one Owner, would we grant it for all of them?  Fiduciary duty kicks in very fast in these situations and generally leads to a “no” answer.  While sometimes precedent is overstated – other times it is crucial.

Owners Need to Find the Seams

I found them! Oh… it was a metaphor.

While the Condo Association is not your friend, there are ways you can get to yes.  Keeping the reasons a Board says no in mind, there is often a path towards compromise.  If there is no legal mandate towards “yes,” both parties offering some skin in the game is usually the best solution.  As a Board must protect their fiduciary duty, the threat of legitimate legal action can often drive them towards engagement.  A “carrot and stick” approach of legal action and a compromise often works.  For example, if something costs $3,000, offer to split it 50/50.  If the Association refuses, engage a lawyer.  In most cases where the costs are reasonable it is in the Association’s interest to settle.  But if you’re asking for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars – don’t expect them to roll over.  

Are Condo Associations Difficult for no reason, or to protect your money?

Dealing with an Association that loves to say no can be extremely frustrating.  But understanding why the Condo Association is not your friend gives you insight into how you can work with them and why you’re getting the answer you are.  A good Condo Association Board will want to get to yes.  Your job as an Owner is to ensure that you’re giving them a reasonable path to yes.  This might involve compromise.  But it often is the path to a better Condo life.  

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