Managing Conflicts How Managers Make Peace

Living in a multifamily dwelling requires tolerance for other people, particularly when those people are noisy, smelly, or have questionable taste in door decorations. In New York, where the majority of people share a wall with at least one other household, tolerance gets tested on multiple fronts. When one person’s floor is another person’s ceiling, residents are constantly reminded of how close they actually are to their neighbors.

And proximity does not always mean congeniality. While many shareholders and unit owners can easily address their concerns with an offending neighbor, and that neighbor will readily make adjustments to accommodate those concerns, sometimes a situation simply requires the involvement of a third party. 

Peaceful Enjoyment 

In the case of co-ops, condos, and homeowners’ associations, the property’s managing agent is the party typically tasked with listening to both sides of the conflict, assessing the veracity and severity of the claims, and offering suggestions for resolution. “It is an agent’s responsibility to make every attempt to amicably resolve disputes,” says Georgia Lombardo-Barton, President of Barton Management in Manhattan. “Whether it’s a co-op or condo, each apartment resident is entitled to proper and peaceful enjoyment of their apartment. All situations that violate that right must be abated immediately.”  

The approach to conflict resolution that Lombardo-Barton uses starts with an investigation of the complaint. Sometimes a resident complains about an odor or noise from an unknown source, or attributes the nuisance to the wrong unit. Neighbors are consulted and details sorted out. Depending on the nature, frequency, and time of day of the disturbance, determining its source and whether it violates the building’s proprietary lease can be a weeks-long affair. 

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2 Comments

  • Hi, Darcy, Sorry I missed you deadline on this important article. So many of these disputes do not belong in litigation, nor should they be allowed to fester, spoiling what should be a healthy and friendly community. As a mediator I have totally ended the bad feeling and anguish in coops and condos that often polarize these virtual communities. We do this by putting the disputants together in a room with a neutral mediator knowledgeable in the law with years of training and experience, whose only objective is to draw upon this experience and creativity to discover the interests and issues of the parties, and help them find ways to live together as neighbors. This process in overwhelmingly successful when dealing with people in good faith. It also works well when coopters and unit owners are in a dispute with their boards or management. The litigation cost usually exceeds the amount in dispute, is public, and can take years, rather than days, to resolve. And, when a case if finally resolved, the decision is often what neither party really wants. In mediation the parties themselves determine what works for them, often leading to a win-win solution.
  • Thank you for the follow-up, Michael. I know first-hand how you have assisted Seward Park when disputes between neighbors have required mediation assistance. In our overly litigious society, I hope that more people avail themselves of the type of mediation you offer so that fewer disputes end up in costly and lengthy court battles.