Avoiding Lawsuits Dealing with Friends, Foes and Finances

I Love Lucy is one of the most beloved sitcoms in all of television history. In one episode, after Little Ricky is born, the baby is screaming and screaming, keeping awake the next door tenant, Mrs. Trumbull. Mrs. Trumbull complains to landlord Fred Mertz, demanding that he do something about it. According to Mrs. Trumbull, the building rules state that babies aren't allowed. Okay, it's a rental building...and it's a sitcom, so of course everything turns out all right by the end of the 30 minutes. Mrs. Trumbull even ends up loving Little Ricky and becoming his babysitter.

Wouldn't it be great if all problems in a building were handled so smoothly and succinctly? If at the settling of a disagreement, everyone became friends and lived happily ever after? Sure it would— but it would also involve some wishful thinking. The reality is that in co-op and condo living, problems are bound to arise between residents—as well as between the residents and the board—and unless these issues are handled deftly, they can easily balloon into something even more divisive and unpleasant.

Well, That Escalated Quickly

Parking issues, noisy complaints, pet problems and rental restrictions are the most popular causes of conflicts between residents, the pros say.

In addition to these types of events that may lead to litigation, Keith Hales, president of Hales Property Management, Inc. in Chicago, says that many conflicts between boards and residents are a result of lack of tact and poor communication.

“People go to the doctor if they have abdomen pain because they want to figure out [the cause] first before it turns into something really bad. Same holds true with condo meetings,” Hales says. ”You have to make sure from the get-go that any topic the board is going to discuss is handled in a very professional manner and will be received well by the association. In other words, anticipate how it will be received. Special assessment is another popular conflict. Boards and owners get into conflicts where a building needs $100,000 worth of work and the building only has 20 units. There's a specific way to deliver it so there isn't any conflict moving forward. You back it up with facts—you did your homework, you have all three [price] quotes—so when questions do come up, you have answers,” he says.

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