When someone moves into a community, they often look for the friendliness and camaraderie that living in an association brings. But with many personalities often butting heads on everyday living situations, it can often get tense and things can go awry. Neighbors argue with each other, associations complain about residents, and residents complain about associations. Minor issues can often be settled quickly and cordially without involving anyone beyond the disagreeing parties. But that's not always the case. And when it isn't, things get tricky.
Many disputes can arise between residents—anything from noise and assessments, to common area usage or differing interpretations of bylaws, says Matt Lacy, a liaison for the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Problems between residents have a greater chance of being resolved quickly, since association managers can act as a third party. A good association manager can often use his or her authority within the building to resolve an issue without the need of outside help.
Disputes between residents and boards can be more complicated. Emotions can run high if residents feel wronged by a board's use of their authority, and if a resolution can't be reached, the use of an association manager as a third party can also prove to be problematic, since managers by necessity work closely with boards, and may give residents the impression of partiality to board concerns. Due to such conflicts of interest, the opposing parties are often better off seeking outside help in such a situation.
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR for short) has been gaining popularity in recent years as an effective problem-solving method—partly because of its results, and partly because of the logjam of court cases already wending their way through the system. ADR can be a powerful tool to cut through red tape and legal entanglements to get real results.
The problem-solving process should start with the association manager doing what he or she can to diffuse the situation. Most conflicts—even difficult ones—can be guided toward settlement by a competent, level-headed association manager. For example, in the case of a noise problem, a solution might be to speak with the individuals in dispute, installing some soundproofing measures, like carpeting or foam insulation, or setting reasonable hours if the sound relates to music playing or construction work and the like.