Can’t we all just get along? It's a million-dollar question. When someone moves into a community, they often look for the friendliness and camaraderie that living in an association brings. But with many personalities often butting heads on everyday living situations, it can often get tense and things can go awry. Neighbors argue with each other, associations complain about residents and residents complain about associations. Minor issues can often be settled quickly and cordially without involving anyone beyond the disagreeing parties. But that's not always the case. And when it isn't, things get tricky.
Many disputes can arise between residents. “It could be anything from noise, there being a dispute over assessments owed, use of a common area, disputes over interpretation of declarations or bylaws,” says Matt Lacy, the Chicago regional liaison for the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Problems between residents have a greater chance to get resolved quickly, since property managers can act as a third party. A good property manager can use his or her authority within the building to resolve an issue without the need of outside help.
Disputes between residents and boards can get complicated quickly, since emotions can run high if residents feel wronged by a board's use of their authority. If a resolution can't be reached, the use of a property manager as a third party can also prove to be problematic, since managers tend to work much more closely with boards, and tend to side with them. Due to such conflicts of interests, the opposing parties will usually seek outside help in such a situation.
“Something that really gains the ire of unit owners is the passage of special assessments. Because now the board is spending at a time you didn't expect to spend it, and you might not agree on what they're spending it on. And they might challenge the board's authority on their ability to pass assessments, says David Hartwell, managing partner of the Chicago-based community association law firm of Penland & Hartwell, LLC.
In such cases, residents may feel strongly about their case, but when it comes to assessments, state law is quite clear. “The Illinois Condominium Property Act was changed a few years back, that says now the authority to pass special assessments rests solely with the board of directors,” says Hartwell. Residents would be smart in such cases to seek legal counsel before they threaten litigation or even arbitration.