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...
"A problem between the board and the residents can be a disgruntled shareholder who ultimately is upset with building management, the board or another shareholder," says Bruce F. Bronster, of Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf, LLP in Manhattan. "The problems could be a noise issue, smells, or pet problems. Usually the first line of the problem is to talk to the super, or someone who is in charge of the building. It depends on how the shareholder wants to handle it."
If Mrs. Trumbull had been a real-life resident of a NYC condo and had complained to her real-life board president that the Ricardos were breaking the rules, she could reasonably expect that something would be done. If Board President Mertz failed to enforce the rules, Mrs. Trumbull would probably threaten litigation.
It's no secret that lawsuits are expensive, acrimonious undertakings that can severely erode both the finances and morale of building communities. When a disagreement between a resident and the board escalates into a serious dispute and the threat of litigation is brought into the mix, it can make a bad situation worse. And perhaps the most irksome thing about these types of issues is that to a large degree, they're preventable. Time and again, attorneys and managers cite board inaction or opacity as the reason why resident grievances ignite into litigation.