Turn on daytime television and you might get a false impression that people like to go to court to work out their differences. There are so many cookie-cutter judicial shows like “The People’s Court,” “Judge Judy,” and “Judge Joe Brown,” where the process is made to look simple and quick. The truth is, however, that going to court is expensive, often very time-consuming, and more complicated than it appears on television (although those who air out their differences on the tube do get a stipend).
Filing a lawsuit should really be considered as a last resort when it comes to problem solving. For those who’d rather not incur the expense and endure the lingering acrimony of a lawsuit, there are other, often more productive options to consider.
Why Don’t We All Get Along?
Of course, it would be ideal if there weren’t any problems between residents and the board or if any problems did crop up they were easily resolved. Ideal, yes. Realistic? Not so much. In any community, there are bound to be disagreements from time to time. In some cases, they are resolved on their own, with both parties coming to an agreement without the need for someone to step in. However, that’s not always the case and the next logical step might seem to head to the courts so a judge can decide on the outcome.
Fortunately, there is an alternative that attempts to solve problems and minimize the need to step into a courtroom at all. It’s called alternative dispute resolution and the concept is simple: all parties meet with a mediator—a neutral party—and try to solve whatever the problem might be. If mediation doesn’t work, the disgruntled residents meet with an arbitrator (similar to a judge who will render a verdict.) Still at a standstill? The next step may be litigation.
Alternative dispute resolution has been gaining popularity in recent years as an effective problem-solving method, with one reason being the abundance of court cases already in the system. In New Jersey, the state’s Condominium Act requires that boards offer mediation as an alternative before the feuding residents or resident and board head to court. To that end, the New Jersey chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI-NJ) offers its own ADR program as an alternative to the traditional justice system. CAI-NJ mediators are trained by an education program developed by the chapter. The fee for ADR for CAI members is $250, and $350 for non-members.