Conflict Resolution for Condo and HOA Community Association Board Members
In an ideal world, all stakeholders in a condo or homeowners association (HOA) would always agree and work well together. In the real world, however, community association disagreements and disputes are inevitable. And while the parties involved often settle their differences through open and honest discussion or negotiation, sometimes additional strategies are needed to help them agree. In our latest Board Brief, our industry experts discussed strategies to help board members manage conflicts productively and efficiently. Read on to learn how your board can manage disputes when they arise.
Conflict Types and Causes
Board members face many types of conflicts, from differences with residents over fines or dues to billing disputes with vendors and even disagreements with each other. These conflicts can happen anytime and can range from minor disputes to long-term grievances, or even violent confrontations.
Conflicts are rooted in dissatisfaction and frustration among individuals who are unable to achieve their desired outcome. This can be due to miscommunication or misunderstanding, different beliefs or values, lack of trust between participants, rigid expectations from either party or simple personality clashes. A lack of board alignment can even lead to conflict between board members.
Board members who can’t resolve conflicts quickly through dialogue or compromise may require a deeper understanding of why the conflict is happening. Using specialized tools and techniques may help them resolve the issue. A solid property management company can guide and support your board in resolving conflicts unique to your community.
“A conflict is more than just a disagreement,” said David Astrello, regional director at FirstService Residential. It’s a situation in which one or both parties perceive a threat, whether or not the threat is real. And because conflicts involve perceived threats to our well-being and survival, they stay with us until we face and resolve them.”
Tips for resolving conflict
How can board members resolve some of the challenging issues their communities face? Where is the right place to start? The most useful starting point is to try to avoid conflict in the first place. However, If you find yourself facing a conflict, here are some tips for handling it.
1. Define expectations to establish a baseline of what is expected.
By clarifying expectations, everyone understands what needs to be done, creating a sense of shared responsibility. The most effective way to achieve mutually clear expectations is to define and agree on them beforehand.
2. Find common ground.
Get straight to the point by addressing the issue head-on. Acknowledge your differences and let the other person know you want to come to a resolution. Remember to stay empathetic and calm, show genuine interest and actively listen to what the other person has to say. Keep your questions open-ended and avoid jumping to conclusions.
3. Use clear communication.
A key to successfully managing your condo or community association is good communication. As associations routinely inform members about changes to the association's rules and provide other significant information, clear written and verbal communications are essential to help prevent misunderstandings. It’s also important that board members communicate with residents without using overly technical or complex legal language. Using professional, simple, direct communication is always a good practice. Clear and open communication between the association and its members can enhance trust.
“Always remain professional and listen, listen, listen,” said Astrello. “Remember that conflicts are opportunities for growth. Familiarize yourself with common pitfalls and issues within your community and think of ways to collaborate or compromise. By finding common ground, you may be able to resolve the conflict through friendly discourse and good faith.”
Download our infographic, The Do’s and Don’ts of Board Communication to help ensure you’re getting the right message across to residents.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
One beneficial way to resolve differences is through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). ADR refers to a variety of dispute resolution processes and techniques that parties can use with the assistance of a third party to resolve disputes. Disagreeing parties use these methods to reach an agreement without resorting to litigation.
The use of mediation as an ADR method is often viewed as non-adversarial, effective, and cost-effective. The entire process is facilitated by a neutral third party – a mediator. The third party works with both sides to resolve the issues at hand. A mediator is not a judge, so rather than choosing sides or determining outcomes, they help both parties reach an agreement that all consider satisfactory and fair. Either party may leave the process at any time if the decision does not meet their needs.
Arbitration is a less formal version of a court trial and is considered an adversarial form of ADR. It is mandated in some states for certain types of associations and is facilitated by an arbitrator (sometimes more than one), whose role is similar to that of a private judge, and attorneys represent both sides. The arbitrator makes a final decision after listening to evidence, hearing sworn testimony from witnesses, and reviewing relevant documents. This may be binding or non-binding, depending on what both sides have agreed to in advance or what is required by law. Binding arbitration involves a final decision that neither party can appeal and which both parties must abide by. Non-binding arbitration is a type of arbitration in which the arbitrator determines the rights of the parties to the dispute. Still, this determination is not binding upon them, and no enforceable arbitration award is issued. It is up to the parties whether to abide by the arbitrator's decision or proceed with binding arbitration or litigation.
“Litigation and mediation can be costly and time consuming to the association,” said Jacqueline Cress, regional director at FirstService Residential. “As a board member you want to avoid litigation by understanding the grievance and resolving your differences at the association level. ADR can be cost-efficient, time-effective, and give the parties involved more control over the process.”
Did you know even a simple email error can lead to conflict in your community? Download this infographic to learn how you can avoid conflicts with common email mistakes.
But what if the above processes don’t resolve the issue? The next step is courtroom litigation, complete with judges, juries and lawyers. Talk to your association’s attorney about your specific conflict to determine which course of action is best for you, and work with your property management company to learn additional best practices specific to your community.