Condo Association Warfare

Condo Association Warfare by Gary Shaffer

{4:30 minutes to read} A friend recently told me about a situation involving her neighbor at the condo development where she lives. She and the neighbor were never close friends, but they were friendly toward each other, saying hello and chatting when they would see one another.

About a year ago, however, things began to change. The flowers my friend had planted in her front yard for several years were now not to her neighbor’s liking. And the awning that provided shade on the rear of my friend’s unit, which faces west and can get hot in the summer, was suddenly a violation of the condo rules. The awning had been up for about seven years.

During our conversation, I asked my friend about this woman. How old was she? 70 or so. Did she have any family? Yes, she had a daughter and grandchildren, but the daughter had died of cancer several years ago. A short time later, the woman’s husband had also died of cancer. The grandchildren still visited, but there’s no getting around the painful circumstances of her recent years.

But wait, there’s more. The neighbor also started complaining about the condo board, and without any basis, began accusing the property manager of embezzling condo funds that were to be used for ongoing maintenance. My friend was on the board and therefore guilty of either misfeasance or malfeasance.

The stage has been set for a condo board fight. Based on what I know, it seems like my friend’s faction should prevail and her neighbor is primed to become a sore loser.

All condo board fights are different. Sometimes there really is misfeasance or malfeasance. Sometimes people take liberties with their houses that can rightly offend their neighbors. Sometimes small slights or misunderstandings balloon into much larger affairs. But, as Lenin so succinctly put it, “What is to be done?”

The first thing that comes to my mind, and I hope you’re sitting down, is MEDIATION.  

The goal of a mediator is not to judge or come up with solutions:

Oh, what’s so bad about those flowers? She’s had them for years. Why don’t you just let it go?

Or,

Hey, it can get hot in the back. What’s wrong with a little protection?” Etc.

A mediator’s job is to help parties develop their own solutions to their disputes, and that path can be circuitous at times.

Mediators typically find something out about the people who appear before them beyond the details of the dispute. This helps create a connection with the parties, and sometimes that becomes tangentially helpful. One never knows how things will pan out, but here, the complaining neighbor has clearly suffered some tragically painful losses during the time she has lived next door to my friend.

There may or may not be any direct connection between those losses and her assorted condo/neighbor complaints. But in this instance at least, a mediation could provide an opportunity for expressions of sympathy that certainly won’t take place at a board meeting or in court. And that can help people move from being adversaries to, well, just being people. Slowly, emotional priorities can become reorganized, bitterness lessen, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles become topics for discussion.

A mediated solution between warring neighbors does not mean they become BFFs. But maybe the awning stays up, some mutually agreed upon flowers get planted, and neither person feels compelled to wait inside an extra minute or two before going out so as not to run into the other

Gary ShafferGary Shaffer
Shaffer Mediation
Gary@ShafferMediation.com

About Us

An honors graduate of Harvard University and the Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University, where he also served on the Law Review, Gary brings more than 30 years of litigation and negotiation experience to his practice as a mediator. He has successfully negotiated and mediated resolutions in family matters, employment cases, commercial disputes, personal injury cases, and major civil rights matters.

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