Within a dense, urban melting pot such as New York City, condominiums and cooperatives flourish with diversity. Communities have a plethora of different personalities coexisting, so it’s a fact of life that conflicts or disputes may arise. While many parties may be able to settle their differences amicably through discussion and negotiation, sometimes disputes escalate and require a more complex solution.
When open discussions don’t bring resolution, the next step to consider is mediation or arbitration. These alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods will assist in resolving matters between parties without the need for costly litigation. Not only can mediation and arbitration save both parties the time, money and hassles of a court case, they also may be required, depending on state laws or association documents.
As a member of your condo or co-op board, if you find yourself in the middle of an issue or dispute involving your association, homeowners or other stakeholders, and you don’t know your options, an experienced property management company can provide necessary guidance. However, if you prefer to take legal action, remember to first consult your building’s attorney as soon as possible to ensure that both you and the board have a full understanding of all legal options, limitations and requirements.
Here, we’ll give you a brief overview of what both conflict resolution processes entail and how they’re different.
Facilitated by an independent, neutral party who works with both sides, mediation can be a voluntary or mandatory, effective, cost efficient and non-adversarial method of ADR. Attorneys are optional in mediation. The process, guided by a mediator, consists of productively discussing the issues of the two parties and negotiating a resolution. Since a mediator is not a judge, they should never choose sides or determine outcomes. Rather, the mediator’s role is to help both parties reach a settlement agreement that they each consider satisfactory and fair. Neither party is forced to accept a mediation decision and may leave the mediation process at any time if they feel it does not serve their needs. Conversely, if both parties agree with the results, the mediator may recommend that they sign an agreement at the conclusion of the mediation process.
Considered a less formal version of a court trial, arbitration is an adversarial form of ADR. It is facilitated by an arbitrator (sometimes, more than one), whose role is similar to that of a private judge. Both parties should be represented by attorneys while present at an arbitration. After evidence and sworn testimony is provided from witnesses, and relevant documents are reviewed, the arbitrator makes a final decision, which may be binding or non-binding, depending on what both parties have agreed to in advance. Non-binding arbitration is basically a professional opinion about the expected result if the case were to go to trial. Binding arbitration is a final decision that cannot be appealed and with which both parties must comply.
If you find that neither of these processes is successful, you may choose to escalate the matter to litigation. This will involve attorneys, and possibly judges and juries depending on how far it goes. It is possible to reach a settlement after beginning litigation. If that is the chosen route, it is very important that you first consult with your managing agent – if you’ve partnered with one – as well as your building attorney. Legal counsel will be able to advise you on your situation, options and best practices for dispute resolution.
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