Handling Conflicts Between Residents and Staffers When People Stop Being Polite (and Start Getting Real)

A board would do best by its constituents to address any conflict regarding staffers or contractors as soon as they happen (iStock).

While the residents of a condominium, cooperative or homeowner's association may stay fixed for years happily coexisting in a communal environment, there remains a revolving door of staffers, contractors and vendors servicing the property in some capacity. And it stands to reason that certain personalities might not prove compatible. Even as little as a mistaken glance can cause friction, and words misinterpreted – or intentionally used to antagonize – can stimulate genuine conflict.

The question thus presents itself: what responsibility does a board have to mitigate a dispute between service workers and residents in its community? Is it wise to intervene, or better to let the individual parties settle the conflict on their own? And at what point is a board responsible for both sides? These disagreements are unfortunately common, and it's important that an association be prepared to smooth things over if necessary, before things get out of hand.

Where's the Beef?

“As much as we would like to believe that problems involving individuals should be handled by themselves, that's rarely what happens,” acknowledges Andrew Brucker, an attorney and partner with Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP in New York City. “If a unit is emitting too much noise, it's common for the board to become involved. When smoke from one apartment seeps into another, the board ends up in the middle. And these situations are difficult. Despite the fact that these problems are the nature of multiple-dwelling living, the 'harmed' party doesn't want to hear that. The board must learn to walk the tightrope necessary to handle these issues carefully. Establishing and enforcing house rules may be the best place to start.”

It can be difficult to ascertain which complaints are worthy of intervention, and which are rote and par for the course. “I manage a large residential building in Queens with a full-time door staff,” relates Cody Masino, a broker with real estate management company David Associates in Forest Hills. “We get regular complaints like 'the doorman is out of uniform' or 'the doorman failed to deliver a message.' But I have also received other types of complaints that are not so easily addressed, such as 'the doorman ignores me' or even 'the doorman is smug.' I find that it's always best to get both sides of any story before addressing the issue in a more direct fashion.”

Staff Infection

While a board's responsibility is to best represent the owners, it's worth remembering that a vendor or staff member's job is at stake, and to lend a professional some benefit of the doubt.

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