Resident Conflict: How to Handle Difficult Situations Like a Pro
Managing a community can be stressful, and resident conflict can add to that stress. It’s in the news every day. In general, people have become increasingly quick-tempered, less patient, and have shorter fuses more than ever. These behaviors are also evident in residential communities.
As a board member, you want to handle resident issues as soon as they arise. Keep reading to learn what’s behind heightened resident irritability and ways to manage and reduce some of the tension.
Causes of resident conflict
So, when did conflicts among residents, staff and board members begin to rise?
“We noticed tensions rising among residents in the communities we manage at the height of the pandemic,” said Amy Sanchez, president of the Central Florida division at FirstService Residential. “With so many people being forced to spend most of their time at home, the boundaries between home and work became increasingly blurred, causing emotional strain.”
As more people suffer from emotional strain and other stressors, such as job loss or financial difficulties, conflicts are inevitable between your residents and property staff.
In addition to concerns about the pandemic itself – concern about the health of the family while dealing with daily news reports on death tolls – this lack of a work-life balance became a significant struggle for many, compounding residents' emotional pressures and creating numerous opportunities for conflict to emerge.
According to the American Psychological Association, stress and aggressive behavior are directly linked. When we are under stress, we are more likely to fly off the handle, and when we fly off the handle, that increases our stress level. It’s a vicious circle.
Residents' increased stress may also be caused by financial strain. The rising cost of living has been a major concern for Americans over the past year. This strain and stress can cause people to lose their tempers faster than they used to.
But whether the rise in conflicts is due to emotional or financial strain, your community association’s team will likely encounter them and have to learn to manage them.
“We've experienced increasing occurrences of resident conflicts that we’ve had to navigate,” said Sanchez. In one instance, a resident hung a banner from their balcony with inappropriate language, violating the community’s appearance standards. When the association asked for the banner’s removal, the resident became agitated and took out their frustration on the office team. They hurled insults and sent emails with threats of violence. The behavior continued without reprieve, regardless of actions taken to de-escalate the situation. For their safety, the staff was asked to leave the property and work off-site until a resolution could be reached.”
There have been some instances where residents living in older buildings impacted by structural integrity issues and modification requirements have felt angry and frustrated by new assessments. This can add to the stress around finances.
“Despite your best efforts to keep residents informed and to help them prepare for the impact, they may still get angry and take their frustration out on you,” said Danny Ellis, president of the Georgia/Tennessee/Florida Panhandle division at FirstService Residential.
How can boards, with the support of their management teams, manage resident conflicts? Here are 5 tips you may find helpful.
Tip #1. Foster a sense of community
A sense of community can facilitate neighborly relationships and help residents strengthen social connections and build trust with each other and staff. As a result, they may be more likely to share any concerns more openly.
“Building and maintaining positive relationships within a community can have so many benefits,” said Sanchez. “It can really improve the overall quality of life and wellbeing for residents and staff. Just think about the possibilities when a board’s primary focus is to foster a sense of community and belonging. It makes you rethink how you manage violations or architectural modifications. All of a sudden, you want to be more friendly and helpful. Neighbors focus more on how they can help each other than on enforcing policy. It’s a game changer and can easily be folded into every board and management decision.”
Learn how the board at Palm Greens 2 in Delray Beach took steps to foster positivity in their community by listening to our podcast, Get on Board: The Kindness Project.
Tip #2. Set behavior expectations
The process of setting and enforcing rules can be stressful, but it's essential for maintaining a safe and secure community. The implementation of policies and guidelines will encourage residents to meet specific safety standards. A good property management company will work with your board to ensure proper protocols are followed.
Tip #3. Seek to understand
It can be difficult for people to express their concerns when they are angry. Is the resident angry with you because they forgot to turn off the water and their unit flooded, or are they worried about the cost of the repairs? Is the resident just expressing an opinion, or are they frustrated with the increase in maintenance fees? A resident's concerns or complaints about a lobby rug or flowers are often more complicated than they appear. Try to find out what’s really behind their concern.
“A resident's frustration may be clarified through conflict resolution techniques,” said Ellis.
Your professional management company can advise on the best approach to manage disputes when they arise.
Learn more about conflict resolution by watching Board Brief: Conflict Resolution for Board Members.
Tip #4. Document all incidents
It is imperative to document resident conflicts when they arise. The written record serves as an official journal and can be used in legal proceedings, if necessary. Mara Jockers, vice president, general counsel at FirstService Residential, recommends including witness or third-party accounts of the incident, as well as the conflict's date, time, and location. You should also save recordings from your security system. And, of course, if you feel physically threatened or believe you or anyone else’s is in danger, call the police.
Tip #5. Be transparent
Clear written and verbal communications are essential to prevent misunderstandings. Be forthcoming with the information residents need, even if it is challenging to deliver. Keep residents informed about potential changes, such as dues increases, so they do not feel surprised or caught off guard.
“Invite your insurance broker and other third-party experts to take part in town hall meetings to explain what residents can expect and allow them to ask questions,” said Ellis. “Many associations have been forced to raise maintenance dues or impose special assessments due to the current economic climate, so this might be a good way to keep residents informed.”
Handling resident conflict can be challenging for any community association board. The range of factors contributing to conflicts can be diverse and complex. But it is possible to resolve them with the right approach. Contact FirstService Residential to learn more about resolving resident conflicts.