As an attorney who represents co-op boards, building managers and shareholders, one sometimes wonders if the expression—“ You can’t please all the people all of the time” best applies to the idea of creating harmony between these parties. However, I believe that there is hope and that you can try to please more of the people more of the time, if you just listen to what they are saying and respond promptly.
So often the reason parties call in an attorney is because the other party has just tuned them out and is not listening to whatever it is that they want to discuss. In short, they feel ignored. A co-op board may disapprove of some activity on the part of a shareholder. They convey their displeasure to the shareholder, who promptly does nothing to change his or her behavior. When the board is ignored, they call upon legal counsel to get the shareholder’s attention. Conversely, a shareholder may be trying to get the board’s attention on some matter and feels that he or she is being ignored. Sometimes it is true that the only thing that will get people’s attention is a letter from an attorney. However, this article is not about litigating to make your point. Instead, it is about trying to create more harmony in these relationships. Believe it or not, sometimes lawyers actually help people come together and resolve their problems without lawsuits.
Consider this example. A shareholder feels he or she is going to go crazy from the shareholder above who is wearing high heels and walking on a wood floor at all hours of the day and night. The shareholder tries to politely discuss it with the neighbor to no avail. The shareholder then contacts the managing agent who says he will look into the problem, but never calls the shareholder back. The shareholder calls weeks later and learns that the manager has confirmed that the neighbor is in violation of the house rule about carpeting, but feels this is just a dispute between neighbors and does not offer to do anything to help the situation. The shareholder asks for a copy of the house rules and never receives them from the manager.
This is a recipe for a lawsuit. What a difference it would make if the managing agent would do some damage control by following up and returning the shareholder’s call promptly and answering the letter. The manager should also be aware of what the building’s legal responsibility is in this situation, so that he knows how to respond and what action should be taken.
Many shareholders are renovating apartments. They need answers quickly in order to move the project along. Each day of delay is expensive for the shareholder. One shareholder spent a full year negotiating with the board over the terms of their alteration agreement. The co-op had had a bad experience with another shareholder and was trying so hard to avoid problems on this project that they created huge delays and expense for the shareholder.