A giant shrub trimmed to resemble a stock car? Shutters painted an eye-shattering fuschia? Eight not-so-tiny reindeer blitzing across the roof? Some people's idea of design heaven is almost certainly someone else's idea of aesthetic purgatory. In co-op and condo communities, where hundreds of different individuals live (and decorate) side by side, aesthetic conflict is not just a possibility—it's a reality.
In most instances, one look through the community's governing documents will settle any conflict. Sometimes, however, disagreements can become more heated, leading to discontent between unit owners and management—discontent that can lead to unwanted lawsuits and discord in the community.
Looking Good, Feeling Good
Most of the time, there are no good guys or bad guys when a disagreement over community aesthetics occurs. Property managers and boards are trying to protect property values and the interests of all the community's residents when they set limitations. Residents often are simply expressing themselves in ways to which they are accustomed or are simply unaware that a certain bylaw exists that prohibits giant lawn gnomes or lavender siding.
When it comes to a co-op or condo community, nothing has more authority or holds more power than the governing documents. This is a homeowner's bible in both preventing and settling disputes. They are the bylaws and guidelines that help a community live in harmony.
"The rules are there to keep property looking well and to prevent having ridiculous objects around or something that might offend neighbors," says Stan Rothenberg of C&R Realty and Management Co. in Englewood Cliffs. "The holidays can be especially problematic. People have to be careful, and it's important to not upset anyone."