View Point

By Giuseppe Leone

Saturday, May 8, 1999

Working out
conflicts in condos

IT seems a paradox: In order to enjoy your independence in a condominium, you must accept the cost of inter-dependence. You must abide by the house rules and get along with board members, neighbors and managing agents, who can make life enjoyable or miserable there.

Of course, the vast majority of condo owners understand the need for clear regulations, and the role of board members and managing agents in enforcing them. That's why few condo conflicts are really about "what" should have been done.

Most conflicts are about "how" people communicate. When, for whatever reason, condo owners feel their opinions are less important than the house rules, it's easy to feel resentful and become hostile.

At that point, the fact that the house rules are reasonable and crystal-clear may not be enough to prevent a personal war.

It is always in the condo owner's best interests to resolve conflicts with board members, neighbors or managing agents as soon as possible, through clear and effective communication. As more time goes by, the harder and more expensive any solution becomes.

Therefore, it helps to know what one can do to take care of one's peace of mind and wallet:

Tip No. 1: Calm down. When our minds are filled with anger, problems inevitably seem worse. Besides, anger is contagious and, soon, the situation blows out of control. If you wish people to stay calm, set a good example. It usually works, helps a lot and costs nothing.

Tip No. 2: Know what you want. Before arguing with board members, neighbors or the resident manager, be prepared. Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself:

Bullet What is the exact problem?

Bullet What, specifically, do you want the person to do?

Bullet What makes you think that your request is reasonable?

Bullet What are fall-back alternatives?

Bullet Under which conditions would you rather sell your condo unit and live elsewhere?

Tip No. 3: Know how to get what you want. Condo owners have several options for resolving conflict. Each option entails an increasing amount of time and money.

Obviously, the first option is to work things out between yourselves. Ideally, the result should be an agreement that everybody can live with and which is compliant with house rules. A lot of conflicts can be resolved this way, provided all parties have sufficient communication and negotiation skills.

The second option is to ask the assistance of a professional mediator familiar with condo disputes. Mediation is a process in which parties who disagree meet with a neutral third-party, who facilitates negotiations but who doesn't have any decision-making authority. The parties decide how to resolve their problem in a way that is mutually acceptable. They also discuss how to maintain their condo relationship.

The third option is arbitration. The condo dispute is submitted to a neutral arbitrator, who examines the evidence, listens to the parties and renders a decision. Inevitably, one party wins and the other loses.

Arbitration can be either binding or non-binding. In the former case, the award made by the arbitrator is final and cannot be appealed; in the latter, a party can still go to court for a trial "de novo," which means trial "from scratch."

The fourth option is going to court. Like the arbitrator, the judge makes a decision based on the facts and the law.

For condo owners, ending up in court has two major drawbacks. First, it always has a detrimental effect on the future relationship between the parties. Second, it can be very expensive in terms of time, money and headaches.

Nonetheless, litigation is a valid option for condo owners who are particularly angry, or for disputes that cannot be resolved any other way.

Giuseppe Leone is a Kaneohe resident and mediator.

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