“I have a Complaint!”: Tips and techniques to defuse ticking time bombs in your communities

As any legal counsel for homeowners associations can tell you, many of the most expensive and complex legal disputes between homeowners and their associations begin with a only a minor frustration. Perhaps, a neighbor has one to many late night get-togethers with friends, or the architectural committee approves a slightly different shade of green, or you receive a notice about your weeds when you just pulled them yesterday. However, considering the following measures can help to resolve many common homeowner disputes efficiently and pragmatically before frustration turns to litigation:

Hold regular meetings.  Holding regularly scheduled meetings, even if they are often only lightly attended, provides a forum for interested homeowners to engage with the Board, to learn about the projects they may see in the community, and to discuss concerns in order to ensure that issues are given appropriate attention.

Keep lines of communication open.  Publishing community rules, meeting minutes, and even seasonal maintenance reminders, may seem like a small measure, but it can help enhance the visibility of the association in the community, and maintain a level of transparency that inspires confidence in the minds of homeowners.

Create clear guidelines and enforceable rules.  Establishing clear and comprehensive architectural guidelines, rules and regulations, and reasonable enforcement policies, including a schedule of applicable penalties serves two beneficial purposes:

  1. It simplifies the task of the community manager and the board in addressing most issues that come up regularly in common interest communities.
  2. It maintains uniformity with respect to how violations will be enforced across the community.

When a dispute does happen, maintaining constructive communication between directors, managers, and homeowners is key. Results-oriented complaints usually can be settled in the initial stage and the result will be fewer complaints in the future. Here are some techniques to follow to ensure efficient results:

  • Keep the tone polite and professional. Try not to get angry or emotional.
  • Avoid using threats. Threats diminish productive communication and can cause others to respond emotionally, losing sight of the key issue in the process.
  • State clearly what you want done.
  • Listen and ask questions.
  • If negotiation is necessary, be ready to suggest alternative solutions.
  • If there is an agreement, confirm it. If the problem is complex or money is involved, confirm the agreement by letter.

Written by: Michael Shupe
February 2014