Depending on our profession and habits, we may interact with dozens of people on any given day. And amidst all of these interactions, we inevitably experience annoyances: being squashed among fellow commuters on the train; scoffing at the dude ‘man-spreading’ across three seats; standing in line at the grocery store and clearing our throat at the lady who is quibbling about a 25-cent coupon; and avoiding the annoying coworker with terrible breath who always wants to talk endlessly about his boring weekend plans. We air our grievances by complaining to friends over drinks or texting the angry-face emoji to our significant others. We blow off steam and we get over it.
But what if the issue isn’t on the train or at CVS, but at home? And what if it’s not momentary, but continuous? Our homes are the sanctuaries between four walls where we escape the crowded trains and frustrating work environments. So when the gripes and grumbles are where we dwell and decompress, it’s harder to just shake it off. Sometimes, a minor gripe between two condo or co-op residents – or between a resident and their board – can metamorphose into something much more serious, and expensive. Once the scales start tipping toward lawyers and litigation, it may be time to step back, take a breath, and try to get things back on more amicable footing. One way to do that is with what’s commonly referred to as alternative dispute resolution, or ADR.
Nobody Likes a Lawsuit
Lawsuits are expensive, acrimonious undertakings that can erode both the finances and the morale of building communities, but luckily there are alternatives to knockdown, drag-out litigation. Mediation and arbitration can resolve conflicts without involving courts, and can be a cheaper, friendlier way to restore peace to the microcosm that is a cooperative or condo building. As the New York City Bar’s co-op and condo residential dispute guide suggests, “Mediate, don’t litigate!”
Scott B. Piekarsky, Esq., managing member at Piekarsky & Associates, LLC in Wyckoff, New Jersey, agrees and explains that the most common points of conflict between residents and condo boards typically deal with everyday things like noise levels, pet-related concerns, parking area violations, and non-payment or lateness of fees. If a resident’s assessment bills aren’t being paid on time, or they insist on blasting the Rolling Stones at 6 a.m. every Saturday, and a late notice or simple, ‘Hey neighbor, can you turn your music down?’ isn’t solving the problem--then action may need to be taken to maintain quality of life and keep the building happy and healthy. However, if such an issue escalates into a serious dispute and the threat of litigation is brought into the mix, it can make a bad situation worse.
If there is a problem in a building, and the usual protocols of late notices (in the case of arrearages), cease-and-desist letters (in the case of noise complaints) or general notices to remind residents of their community rules and regulations aren’t improving the situation – or if communication and civility between residents and the board has broken down – a professional mediator can be introduced before there is even a whiff of lawyers or courtrooms. But how to know when it’s time to bring a mediator in, and who should make that call? A resident embroiled in a nasty spat with a neighbor may or may not have the wherewithal to calmly call upon a mediator, so in many cases it is the property manager who receives complaints and then sends out the bat signal for a mediator.