Handling association complaints: 5 tips to manage them effectively
Managing a community involves many responsibilities, including handling complaints from residents, which can be challenging. As a board member, your ability to manage and resolve complaints fairly and effectively is crucial to promoting a harmonious and stable environment for your residents. Your board's response can determine whether complaints are resolved successfully or lead to further dissatisfaction among residents. Continue reading to explore different types of association complaints and 5 tips for effectively managing them.
Association complaints come in many forms and can range from complaints about residents – such as a resident smoking in a non-smoking area – to complaints about association rules, such as dissatisfaction with swimming pool hours. Regardless of the nature of the complaint, handling it promptly and professionally is essential to prevent it from escalating.
Let’s take a look at some common association issues that can lead to complaints.
Fees: Association fees are essential for maintaining community facilities and amenities. However, some residents might feel they are not getting value for their money or complain when fees increase significantly and/or unexpectedly.
Offensive signs or flags: Offensive or controversial displays can cause tension among residents and conflict with community guidelines.
Maintenance: Residents may complain about maintenance issues within common areas and shared facilities, as neglected maintenance can detrimentally impact a community's appearance, property values, and residents' quality of life.
Pets: Noise, waste, and damage caused by pets are common complaints raised to community association leaders.
Parking: Limited parking space and improperly parked vehicles can lead to inconvenience and frustration among residents. Complaints often arise when residents perceive their parking access is hindered.
Noise: Noise disturbances can disrupt a peaceful living environment. It is common for residents to complain about loud music, parties, or even construction work.
To effectively address residents’ complaints, the board of directors should have procedures in place to manage them. Your professional management company can help create an efficient complaint management process.
Does your board need guidance to help ensure your community’s rules are clear and easy to follow? Read: Easy and Effective Community Rules Enforcement
Here are some valuable tips to help your board effectively handle association complaints:
Tip #1. Establish a procedure for submitting complaints
Establishing clear and well-documented procedures for handling association complaints cannot be overstated. Residents must feel confident that their concerns will be heard and addressed transparently and efficiently. This is crucial for maintaining trust between community members and association leadership.
“As community caretakers, it is our responsibility to listen to our residents and address their concerns,” said Ilgim Hosea, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Our commitment to maintaining open lines of communication enables us to promptly resolve grievances before they escalate. This demonstrates our unwavering dedication to ensuring the satisfaction and well-being of the properties and the people under our care.”
A complaint submission plan should encompass the following:
Contact information and instructions on how to file a complaint. This helps ensure proper reporting, which is crucial for addressing problems promptly and preventing them from escalating into more significant issues.
A timeframe for researching the issue and communicating the status with the resident. Include how the complaint will be investigated, how long it may take, and the actions to be taken based on the review outcome. The investigation process should be transparent, timely, and thorough.
Follow-up. An explanation of the process and rationale behind the decision should be communicated to the resident. This should be done while emphasizing the overarching objective of promoting the community's well-being.
Tip #2. Check your governing documents
When confronted with complaints about your association's rules or residents, consult your association’s governing documents for relevant provisions including the bylaws and Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs). CC&Rs are the rules established by your community that outline what association members can and cannot do. They cover a range of aspects related to community living, including property maintenance, architectural standards, landscaping, behavior, and common areas. Residents within the association must abide by these CC&Rs as a living condition in the community, and violations should result in penalties or other enforcement actions by the association.
Tip. #3 Consult with the board and your management company
If checking the law and your governing documents does not yield any results in handling specific complaints, discuss the complaint with the rest of the board and your property manager. Remember, if you have a property management company, their role is to ensure board policies are followed, as well as advising on how to manage association complaints when they arise. Examine the situation, as well as the parties involved, and work with your management company to determine how to resolve it. If you sit on the board of a large community, consider creating a complaint committee.
Tip #4. Responding to complaints
This initial contact should acknowledge receipt of the complaint. When a resident presents a complaint, thank them for their input and assure them that their concerns have been heard. In some instances, an acknowledgment is enough.
If warranted, research the complaint and work towards a solution as soon as possible. The sooner you resolve the issue, the better. Your prompt response to the resident's needs will show them you care about their concerns.
Lastly, maintain an open line of communication. Let the resident know you are available to discuss the complaint and want to hear their feedback.
Tip #5. Know your obligations as a board member
As a board member, resolving conflicts and listening to complaints is part of your job. But are you obligated to respond to every single complaint you receive? Many boards receive constant emails from residents with complaints and questions that can make them feel harassed. Associations aren’t required to respond to every member’s question, comment or complaint. Chapter 718 of the Florida Statutes, also known as the Condominium Act, provides a mechanism for associations to respond to written questions from members sent via certified mail. However, this is not a requirement for homeowners’ associations. Keep in mind that if someone has a legitimate concern, it is preferable to review and respond to it. In many instances, the resident may point out something crucial to the association's operation. However, if you find yourself on the end of repeated letters, phone calls or emails, you may need to take a different approach to resolving the issue. Hosea suggests involving the residents, making them a part of the solution. “This could mean inviting them to become a part of a committee. Residents will feel valued and heard if they are involved in the solution part of the process."
Read our article, Conflict Resolution for Condo and HOA Community Association Board Members for information on how to handle disputes when they arise.
Creating an effective plan for managing association complaints is essential to maintaining order and harmony within a community. When residents have a clear avenue for raising concerns and grievances, it not only promotes transparency but also gives them a sense of security and confidence that their voices are being heard.
If you need help managing your association’s complaints, contact FirstService Residential.