Can't We All Just Get Along?
There are certain situations in life that tend to bring out the worst in people, and one of those is when neighbors just cannot seem to get along. Whether at an HOA or condominium, when people of diverse personalities and interests, who would otherwise not be connected in any way, are forced to live in close proximity to one another, it can be a recipe for conflicts, particularly when owners refuse to compromise or communicate with one another. I have yet to see a set of governing document that expressly requires owners to be friends and get along.
For associations, problems normally surface by way of a series of complaint letters or emails from each owner accusing the other neighbor of violating various governing document provisions, or perhaps even alleging the other has displayed rude or threatening behavior. The natural instinct of most boards is to try to take enforcement action by investigating the complaints to figure out which party is right and which party is wrong. Yet, this can be a fool's errand, because "solving" the problem forces the board to choose sides in a situation where, often, there are no complaints other than the two owners' complaints directed at each other. Thus, it can be very difficult, or impossible, to decipher the truth.
In these types of situations, the right move can be to treat neighbor-to-neighbor disputes as an issue that must be worked out between the two neighbors, without association intervention. With rare exception, the provisions of the governing documents are enforceable by the Association, or by any aggrieved owner against another owner. Thus, an owner who believes their neighbor is disturbing their quiet enjoyment or otherwise damaging them, can pursue their own legal remedy. Plus, the association is not a police force and has no police powers. If a board receives information of threatening behavior, the complaining owner should be encouraged to call local law enforcement and not than the association's manager.
It is important to note that a decision not to become involved in a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute still requires a board to consider the facts and the Association's best interests. If the behavior impacts or could impact more than one complaining owner, that might be enough for the board to act. Or, if one owner's complaints about another owner are corroborated by other residents or annoy other residents, then perhaps you have a straightforward enforcement situation. But, if an ongoing feud between two owners seems to involve only those owners, or when the objectionable conduct only bothers one person, one consideration is to treat it as a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute and properly notify the parties of the board's position on the matter.
Each situation is unique. Sometimes, there are creative solutions to be found. If your association needs help dealing with a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute, give us a call.