4) We All Have to Follow Rules — Including Us
Rules and regulations also rank high among the sources of condominium conflicts. Co-op shareholders and condo unit-owners often simply don't like the idea of bylaws or house rules, or don't think the rules should apply to them. How else to explain the number of owners who profess to be shocked to discover they can't operate a home-based automobile repair shop from the building's parking lot, or stunned to learn that their pet boa constrictor falls under the category of pets that are not allowed?
The failure to review the rules and regulations before buying, or the refusal to believe or accept them, also explains why so many new owners arrive with three cars in tow, even though the documents state clearly that each owner is allowed only one parking space. Do they assume no one will notice the extra vehicles, or object when they occupy spots belonging to someone else?
Although the tenant mentality surfaces when it comes to repairs (someone else should make them) and common-area fees (they shouldn't have to pay them), when it comes to rules that govern what they can and can't do to your unit, the ownership mentality takes over and the "home is my castle" debate begins. Shareholders and unit-owners can do pretty much anything they want inside their apartment, but if they want to change the exterior, even a little, they probably will have to get prior permission from the board.
You needn't be authoritarian or bullying when you're in the right, so gently ensuring that residents understand and accept this reality can help to eliminate a dispute.
5) The Noise Next Door
Noise is another problem that bedevils co-op and condo boards that often find themselves in the middle of noise complaints. Even the best soundproofing won't block every sound. But a strange phenomenon afflicts many co-op/condo owners: They become acutely and sometimes irrationally sensitive to noise.
Noise complaints often reflect, in fairly equal measure, a lack of tolerance on one side and a lack of consideration on the other. But sometimes noise levels really are excessive. In those cases, it helps if the affected owner can get some independent verification of the problem — ideally, another owner who will confirm that the sounds coming from above or below are not just noticeable but unbearable. Although boards usually try to stay out of these neighbor-vs.-neighbor disputes, sometimes they can mediate effectively and, where necessary, intervene officially.
In one recent situation, a condo unit-owner insisted on using her trampoline every night, starting around 10 p.m., much to the dismay of her downstairs neighbor, who did not appreciate the sound effects. When polite requests, mediation and fines all failed, the condo association got a court order requiring the owner to stop using her trampoline inside.
That is an extreme example. In most noise complaints, the problem is not too much noise but too little tolerance. You can reasonably insist that a neighbor not play rock music at full blast at midnight or that an insomniac refrain from vacuuming or sawing wood at 2 a.m. But it is not reasonable to complain if someone who works the night shift showers regularly before dawn. There is a difference between excessive noise and the sounds of daily living — an important distinction that too many residents fail to make.
The issues I've described are universal and seemingly intractable in the co-op/condo world. Progress is certainly possible, but requires good communication and a willingness to appreciate the overall "community association" concept. That means understanding and accepting the requirements outlined in the association documents or proprietary lease, the applicable law and the role and responsibilities of the board.
They say seeing is believing, so maybe the best solution is to require every unit owner to serve at least one term as a member of the board!
Janet Oulousian Aronson is a partner in the Massachusetts firm Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks , and has lectured on community-association law to groups including the Boston chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management , the New England chapter of the Community Associations Institute , and the CAI's National Law Seminar. This checklist is adapted from her article "What Condominium Owners Don't Know Can Hurt Them and Drive Everyone Else Crazy" at her law firm's website.
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