It seems a paradox: in order to enjoy your independence in a condominium, you must accept the cost of inter-dependence. You have to abide by the house rules, and get along with board members, neighbors and managing agents, who can make your life there more enjoyable, or more miserable.
Of course, the vast majority of condominium owners understand the need for clear regulations, and the role of board members and managing agents in enforcing them. That’s why few condominium conflicts are really about “what” should have been done. Most of the conflicts are about “how” people communicate. When, for whatever reason, condominium owners feel their opinion is less important than the house rules, it’s quite easy to feel resentful and consequently to become hostile. At that point, the fact that the house rules are reasonable and crystal-clear may not be enough to prevent a personal war.
It is always in the condominium owner’s best interests to resolve conflicts with board members, neighbors or managing agents as soon as possible, through clear and effective communication. The more time goes by, the harder and more expensive any solution becomes. Therefore, it helps to know what one can do to take care of one’s peace of mind and wallet.
Tip #1: Calm Down
When our mind is filled with anger, problems inevitably seem much bigger than they really are. Besides, anger is contagious. One’s anger stirs up somebody else’s anger, and pretty soon the situation blows out of control. If you wish people to stay calm and be respectful to you, there is only one thing you can do: start first, and set a good example. It usually works, helps a lot, and costs nothing.
Tip #2: Know What You Want
Before arguing with board members, neighbors or the resident manager, be prepared. Here are just a few questions you need to ask yourself:
- What is exactly the problem?
- What do you want your listeners specifically to do?
- What makes you think you are being reasonable?
- What are your fall-back alternatives?
- Under which conditions would you rather sell your apartment, and live somewhere else?
Tip #3: Know How to Get What You Want
Condominium owners have several options for resolving conflict. Each option entails an increasing amount of time and money, and can be used before trying the next one.
Obviously, the first option is to work things out by yourself. Ideally, the result should be an agreement that everybody can live with and is compliant with the house rules. A lot of conflicts can be resolved this way, provided all parties have sufficient communication and negotiation skills.
The second option is to ask the assistance of a professional mediator familiar with condominium disputes. Mediation is a process where parties who disagree meet with a neutral party, who facilitates communications and negotiations between them, for reaching their own agreement. The mediator doesn’t have any decision-making authority. The parties decide how to resolve their problem in a way that is mutually acceptable. They also have the opportunity to discuss how to maintain their condominium relationship, by communicating more effectively and respectfully. Nowadays, mediation can be conducted both face-to-face (at the mediator’s office) and online (through video or phone conference, and email).
The third option is arbitration. The condominium dispute is submitted to a neutral arbitrator who examines the evidence, listens to the parties, and finally renders a decision. Inevitably, one party wins and the other loses. Arbitration can be either ”binding” or “non binding”. In the former case, the award made by the arbitrator is final and cannot be appealed. In the latter, a party can still go to court for a trial “de novo”, which in plain English means trial “from scratch”.
The fourth option is going to court. Like the arbitrator, the judge makes a decision based on the “facts” (Who did what, when, where, and how) and the Law. For condominium owners, ending up in court has two major drawbacks. First, it always has a detrimental effect on the future relationship between the parties. Second, it can be very expensive, in terms of time, money and headaches. Nonetheless, litigation is a valid option for condominium owners who are particularly angry, or for disputes that cannot be resolved in any other way.