Turn on daytime television and you might get a false impression that people like to go before a judge to work out their differences. There are so many cookie-cutter court shows like where they make the process look simple and quick. The truth is, however, that going to court is expensive, often very time-consuming, and more complicated than it appears on television (although to be fair, those who air out their differences on the tube usually get a stipend.) Filing a lawsuit in the context of a condo association is also a recipe for acrimony between neighbors, board members, and management, and should really be considered as the last resort in problem solving.
Arbitration vs. Mediation
Even in the most harmonious of associations, problems can arise, either between neighbors, between residents and board, or resident-versus-management.
“Owner-versus-board is the most common ADR dynamic,” says Philip Alampi of TAP Property Management in Glen Ridge. “It happens because in the late 1980s, many of the condominium complexes in New Jersey were being built so quickly that attorneys were using documents [for new developments] that other attorneys had used for other developments without really understanding the project that was being built. Because they used boilerplate information, sometimes the information was not as exact as it could or should have been—and that left many things open to interpretation.”
Those loopholes and vagaries can make for rough waters when one person (a board member perhaps) interprets a rule differently than a resident owner, and argument ensues. Fortunately, arbitration and mediation can help settle disputes while avoiding the courtroom entirely.
What’s the difference, you ask? The American Arbitration Association (AAA) differentiates between the two like this on their website (www.adr.org): “Arbitration is the submission of a dispute to one or more impartial persons (known as ‘neutrals’) for a final and binding decision, known as an ‘award.’ Awards are made in writing and are generally final and binding on the parties in the case. Mediation, on the other hand, is a process in which an impartial third party facilitates communication and negotiation and promotes voluntary decision-making by the parties to the dispute.”