Listening to Residents Helps Everyone The Suggestion Box

When it comes to questions of home and hearth, even the best of friends may argue. So it should come as no shock when co-op and condo associations, boards and residents fall into disagreements. It's what's done to settle or hopefully prevent these disagreements that can make all the difference in the world.

As with marriage or any relationship, good communication can go a long way in preventing disagreements—or at least stopping them from getting out of hand. "People have an inherent need to live in harmony," says Peter Glanvill of Wilkin Management Group in Mahwah. "The old adage that the root cause of all problems is broken communication is true."

Listen First, Talk Later

Every community, no matter how well run, will have resident complaints. Homeowners may have issues with a neighbor, or with groundskeeping, or with an unexpected assessment. The single most important way to prevent those issues from escalating is for associations and boards to listen. "It's almost a philosophy that a homeowner's association must adopt," Glanvill says. "It's not as simplistic as saying, 'let's talk.' It's a realization that board members and residents both have the best interests of the community at heart. It should start from there."

One way to reduce the number of resident issues is to ensure that everyone understands the rules and regulations of the community. "Most problems arise from rules and regulation enforcement and interpretation," says attorney David Byrne of Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville. "And also from confusion over who's responsible for what."

Associations will save themselves a lot of headaches by making sure that residents have read and understand the bylaws and know what their responsibilities are in terms of taking care of their own property and needs. "The more transparent board members can be with residents in their daily operations, the better their chance of avoiding problems," Glanvill says.


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Managing Board Conflict

How to Maintain Harmony

Handling Conflicts

When Should the Board Intervene?

Participation by Proxy

Handling Proxy Voting in Your Building or HOA



  • What can be done to ENSURE that people know about the community they are buying into and understand the rules and restrictions BEFORE they've purchased? Many people have no clue about community rules and restrictions until after they've closed and moved in. It seems there should be some sort of law that requires a meeting with the board, or association legal counsel to explain and sign off on the documents beforehand. Buyers never see the rules when they are looking. There is also an issue of community "culture" that is important. For instance single owners who are looking for a lively party atmosphere may feel very restricted in a more family oriented, quiet community and there will eventually be friction. A person who is looking for a carefree lifestyle, and wants a high degree of privacy may be devastated to find out that he/she's moved into a small self managed association where community chore days are and participation on the board are essential to keep the property maintained and management business tended to. We require disclosure about construction defects and issues with the property - there should be full disclosure about rules, responsibilities and restrictions of living in a community, and some sort of information as to the cultural climate of the neighborhood. There should also be an explanation that board members are community volunteers, and not professional managers. Should you move into a community where there are no interested or qualified candidates to fill board positions it could be a financial and emotional disaster. Ensuring there is understanding on both sides BEFORE a purchase is closed would eliminate probably 90% of the issues, and lots of heartache for buyers.