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Dealing with Difficult Residents

Almost every cooperative and condominium has at least one person who is extremely uncooperative, is angry at the board and neighbors, verbally abuses the building’s staff and managing agent, drags out the annual meeting with a number of speeches criticizing the board, calls in complaints to city and state agencies, ignores the rules and regulations – and probably does not even read Habitat! We’re talking about the bane of communal living: the difficult resident. The first step is to determine if there is a basis for the anger of this resident.

Ask:

• Are some owners treated differently from others?
• Has the board been ignoring a legitimate issue?
• Have the building staff, managing agent, or board members been unresponsive to requests or complaints?
• Are there unresolved physical problems with the owner’s apartment?
• Have the financial statements not been issued? Are they incomplete, or unaudited, or do they arrive late?
• Does the board favor residents who have been in the building a long time?
• Does the board favor newer residents who have paid more for their apartments?
• Does the difficult resident live next to or above or below someone who makes a great deal of noise or smokes or has a dog that barks all the time?

Building problems frequently start small and then explode into situations that can fully absorb the board’s attention for an extended period of time. Accordingly, any time there is an incident that creates uncertainty, it makes sense for the board to examine itself. If you find that the problem is not of your making, there are a number of steps you can take. First, you should have the managing agent write a letter to the difficult resident, explaining that he or she is:

• violating the cooperative’s proprietary lease or the condominium’s bylaws,
• creating a hostile work environment for the building’s staff,
• creating a situation that could result in an expense to the cooperative or the condominium, or to the shareholder or unit-owner who is causing the problem.

This letter should be friendly and non-threatening, or else the managing agent will become the target of the difficult resident’s ire. If the managing agent is unable to resolve the problem, this would be an appropriate time for a lawyer’s letter citing the particular provisions of the cooperative or condominium documents that the shareholder or unit-owner is violating.

If the initial lawyer’s letter does not ameliorate the problem, the third step is for the board to establish or employ already existing fines for misbehavior or implement restrictions on the use of the building’s amenities. (The resolution establishing limits on the use of the building’s amenities cannot be contrary to the specific provisions of the proprietary lease or bylaws.)

If nothing else works, then the board of a cooperative has a very strong weapon at its disposal – the objectionable conduct provision of the proprietary lease. One of the advantages of cooperatives is that the board can terminate the proprietary lease of shareholders who misbehave, cancel their shares, sell the apartment, and rid themselves of the difficult shareholder.

Unfortunately, there is no such silver bullet for condominiums. The different nature of the relationship and the fact that the unit-owner actually owns his or her unit prevent the establishment of a provision similar to a cooperative’s objectionable conduct provision. One way to deal with condominium unit-owners who fail to abide by the rules or pay their common charges and assessments is to start a lawsuit. Unfortunately, litigation is expensive and time-consuming.

The presence of one angry resident can create a nightmare for the board and all the other residents. If the board doesn’t deal with the situation properly, it can lose good board members, anger the other residents, and have an adverse impact on the value of the apartments. So don’t ignore it. Deal with it.

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