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. Read on to discover 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, it must be handled promptly and professionally to prevent it from escalating.
Here are some common issues that can lead to complaints.
Fees: To maintain community amenities and facilities, association fees are essential. However, some residents might feel they are not getting value for their money and may complain when fees increase significantly and/or unexpectedly.
Offensive signs or flags: Displays that are considered offensive or controversial can create 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: Complaints around noise, waste, and damage caused by pets are very common.
Parking: Limited parking space and improperly parked vehicles can lead to inconvenience and frustration among residents. Residents often complain when they believe parking access is hindered.
Noise: Noise disturbances can disrupt a peaceful living environment. It’s common for residents to complain about parties, loud music or even construction work.
Boards should have procedures in place to deal with residents' complaints effectively. 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: Tips to Enforce Community Rules Easily and Effectively
Here are 5 tips to help your board handle association complaints:
Tip #1. Establish a procedure for submitting and responding to complaints
It cannot be overstated how important it is to establish clear and well-documented procedures for handling association complaints. It’s essential that residents feel confident that their concerns will be heard and addressed in a transparent and efficient manner. This is crucial for maintaining trust between community members and association leadership.
“Effective communication and active listening are essential components of our role as community caretakers,” said Danny Ellis, president at FirstService Residential. “We are dedicated to promptly addressing resident concerns in a proactive and professional manner, ensuring timely resolution and satisfaction. Fostering open lines of communication and listening to residents’ concerns allow us to address complaints before they escalate.”
A comprehensive plan for complaints should include the following:
Information about how to file a complaint, including contact information. This will help ensure proper reporting, which is crucial for addressing problems to prevent them from escalating.
A timeframe for researching the issue. The investigation process should be timely, transparent and thorough.
A formal approach to advise the resident of the status of the complaint, including any action that will be taken as a result of the complaint.
Tip #2. Check your governing documents and with your attorney
When confronted with complaints about your association's rules or residents, consult with association counsel and refer to 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 property maintenance, community living, landscaping, behavior, architectural standards, 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 your management company and board of directors
If reviewing the law and governing documents doesn't yield any solutions in handling specific complaints, consult with your fellow board members and your property manager. Remember, if you have a property management company, their role is to ensure board policies are followed. They are also there to provide guidance on how to address 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.
Tip #4. Know your obligations as a board member
As a board member, listening to complaints and resolving conflicts and is part of your job. But are you obligated to respond to every single complaint you receive? In most instances, a resident may point out something crucial to the association's operation. However, some boards report that they receive constant emails from residents with complaints and questions meant to harass them. If you find yourself on the receiving end of repeated harassing letters, phone calls or emails, you may need to take a different approach to resolving the issue. Consider involving the resident in the problem-solving process, if possible. This might entail extending an invitation to participate on a committee.
“Involving residents in the problem-solving process provides a sense of ownership, fostering an inclusive environment where residents feel valued and heard," said Jeff Musselman, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Collaboration can build a stronger community.”
Tip #5. Receiving and 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. 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.
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.