Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will,” and as we all know, stuff happens. When it does, no matter what the specifics of a situation might be, we generally don’t want to end up in court; it’s time consuming, expensive, and has a way of leading to a lot of acrimony and bad feelings on both sides of a given dispute.
So, what do we do when our community association or HOA board is faced with a conflict with a contractor or other vendor and we don’t want to have our day in court? According to Andrew Batshaw, executive director of the high-rise division of national community management firm FirstService Residential, the most important thing a manager can do is “Make sure that there’s a clear set of expectations prior to work beginning.”
“A lot of times when there’s a dispute between a vendor and a board it’s because the expectation level wasn’t clearly set in the beginning,” Batshaw explains. “Expectations can be properly set by doing a defined contract containing a strong RFP process, and making sure that all parties come together for a pre-construction meeting. It’s about having an understanding, setting those expectations before the work begins, so that everyone is on the same page and there is clarity as to what needs to be done. That resolves a lot of issues that can occur at the back end.”
When it comes to keeping any given project on track – and intervening in the event there is a problem – the managing agent is the first line of defense. “When things do go wrong,” says Batshaw, “addressing those things at the time they happen, rather than waiting for a project to finish, is the way to proceed. If you find that a vendor is supposed to provide material ‘A’, but instead provides ‘B’, don’t wait till they’re done with the work to point it out. Make sure you address the discrepancy tight off the bat. For community managers, that means contractors won’t always do what you expect, but rather what you inspect. The association manager needs to get out of the office and inspect what’s going on, even if they’re using a project manager. Get out there and see what work has been done. Being proactive is important. Deal with problems in the moment.”
The flip side of boards and managers not being engaged and present during a project is an administrative team that micromanages – and that can cause a whole different set of problems. If a detached, uninvolved board or manager is bad, one that hovers and is constantly meddling in every tiny aspect of a construction or renovation project may be worse. The former may overlook important issues, but the latter will likely cause a great deal of bad blood and acrimony with any vendor or contractor who crosses their threshold. “There has to be a level of reasonableness,” Batshaw advises. “When you lose that reasonableness, that’s when things can get out of control very quickly, and you wind up in costly litigation. The only people who win in court are attorneys.”