By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Anyone who follows reports of conflict and dysfunction in association-governed, corporate-managed, common interest communities begins to see recurring behavior patterns.
It goes something like this:
Most owners and residents in multifamily housing try to get along, but, inevitably, a few people living in such close quarters start to get on each others’ nerves. Petty and not-so-petty neighbor disputes are common.
When money becomes a scarce resource for the association, the board or council, feels the pressure, and starts looking for ways to increase revenue. If assessments and maintenance fees are increased, there is an inevitable backlash from unit owners.
Accusations of financial mismanagement are the norm, justified or not.
Ditto for complaints that the board or council fails to consider the needs and desires of members of the association. Those complaints may be valid if the board has an inflated opinion of its own importance. The complaints could also be exaggerated by owners who have failed to pay attention to past communication efforts by the association – until it was too late.
Finding enough qualified, level-headed people to serve on the board is a big challenge for most associations. Consequently, one or more unqualified, unreasonable owners ends up elected to lead the community.
Sometimes one or more board members have a personal agenda or even a vendetta against one or more of their neighbors.
Just about every one of these so-called communities also has at least one renegade or “trouble maker” that challenges the authority and policy decisions of the board or council.
Occasionally, that owner can be just as unreasonable as his or her board member rivals.
Personalities clash. Power struggles ensue.
Board members have the legal power of the corporation, and the collective funding of assessment revenue to their advantage. That is why it is common for conflict between boards and owners to result in scores of nasty violation notices, imposition of fines, voting restrictions, punishments such as banishment from recreational facilities, and even threats of foreclosure.
Such action upsets most residents. One or several decide to dig in their heels and fight back. Typical responses include: public protests covered by local media, creation of websites and social media platforms opposing the board and council, and, of course, lawsuits.
It can get ugly. Very ugly.
The problems exist not only in the U.S., but also for our Canadian neighbors to the north.
Two examples of out-of-control conflict and abuse of power:
Condo living on the Gold Coast: Lawsuits, fines, insults
Inside an austere Gold Coast tower overlooking North Michigan Avenue, the former condo board president allegedly charged at a gadfly board member during a meeting and drew his fist back in rage.
No punch was ever thrown in that 10th-story conference room, but Chicago police investigated, witness statements and affidavits were taken and misdemeanor assault charges were filed and later dropped.
Like many of the tales of dysfunction inside the building where the city’s only female mayor once lived, the exact nature of what happened is disputed, but it allegedly started with numerous angry emails — including one with a photo of an extended middle finger — and a shouted expletive at the meeting.
The 2011 incident seemed to open the legal floodgates. Residents and board members have filed numerous lawsuits since then, and some have dragged through the courts for years.
While plenty of Chicagoans can share war stories about their condo associations, this battleground in the 100 block of East Chestnut Street may be in a class by itself. The condos are high-priced — some marketed at upward of $800,000 — but the issues have often been petty, from blog posts to remarks made on the elevator.
Thanks to M.N. for an UPDATE to this story:
Nasty battle erupting between Surrey condo building residents and their strata council president
Residents of a Surrey condo building are in a major dispute with the strata council president. They say their home has become a living hell. Paul Johnson reports.
Read more (Video)
Surrey condo residents rise up against strata after over $40,000 in fines in 1 month, they say