Down Economy Exacerbates Strife Within Community Associations

It is said that conflict increases in good times and in bad, when there is more to quibble over or when resources are scarce.  As the economy continues to sputter with unemployment and foreclosure rates remaining at record levels, this phenomenon appears to be playing out within common interest developments throughout the nation. Though not yet an epidemic, my unscientifically-supported analysis from personal experience and anecdotal empirical evidence reveals a recent spike in conflict between condo and HOA homeowners and boards of directors.

There are studies and theories that support the hypothesis that when people feel oppressed, downtrodden or powerless against the true cause of their despair, rather than face the adversity head-on, they attack each other. Without attempting to validate or challenge the soundness of my oversimplified description of this phenomenon, it appears to be playing out within condo and homeowner associations as neighbors lash out at one another.

This conflict plays out in many ways, including owners who flagrantly disregard covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs), association board members who fight amongst themselves and both owners and boards who take untenable or irrational stances against one another. Many of these seemingly minor clashes turn into major and protracted battles that often result in heightened emotions, personal animosity and large legal fees.

Associations are facing unprecedented foreclosures and owners with past-due accounts–many owners simply walking away from their homes. For new communities, there are stories of developers who went bankrupt mid-project and abandoned the project, leaving the few owners who bought straddled with the full cost of managing and operating an underfunded development.

Suffice to say that this unrivaled level of economic despair has resulted in exceptional rates of conflict in shared interest communities across the country. Though I can’t do anything to reduce the economic difficulty that associations are facing, the following tips may help avoid unnecessary conflict within a community of homeowners:

  1. Exercise common sense.
  2. Ensure that the association’s governing documents are clear, unambiguous and consistent with applicable laws.
  3. Uniformly interpret and apply all CC&Rs; avoid selective enforcement. If a variance or permit is provided by the board, document the grounds in committee or meeting minutes.
  4. Be willing to revise outdated or obsolete rules and policies that no longer work for the community.
  5. Enhance communication between the Board and homeowners.
  6. Run concise and efficient Board and membership meetings.
  7. Provide ample notice of meetings to homeowners and provide for some level of homeowner input.
  8. For issues that are expected to be contentious, plan ahead and formulate a game plan to tackle the issue – from identification all the way through resolution.
  9. Avoid Board Member conflict of interest.
  10. Act rationally and reasonably.

Lastly, it is usually beneficial to think before acting. Is it the owner or board member who deserves the wrath, or is the root of the problem something larger?  Whatever the cause, face it head on reasonably and proportionately.  And don’t forget to use and rely upon professionals well suited to provide assistance, including professional managers, mediators, facilitators and, if needed, legal counsel.

If your association needs assistance in resolving a conflict, feel free to contact Barker Martin, P.S. by selecting the “Contact” tab at the top of this blog page.  We promise, we won’t just march into court.

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