Almost every day, some sort of dispute between an association board and its community makes the news somewhere in the United States.
Just recently, at a 55+ community in South Florida, news reports said hundreds of residents protested at a board meeting because the association board needed to raise its dues to pay for increased insurance costs.
The increase was $100-$200, but it was enough to activate the community.
That story made international news as police were brought out to control the crowd. And, while that case is extreme, much smaller disputes are common in most neighborhoods.
It is how the cases are handled that makes the difference between a discussion at a board meeting to come to a solution versus a prolonged, nasty public fight that brings home values down.
The key to solving community disputes is to be proactive before they ever start.
Communication is key in association conflicts.
In the South Florida case where condo owners protested an increase in dues, the changes to the dues were probably necessary.
It is fairly widely known that homeowners’ insurance rates in Florida are increasing substantially. More than a dozen insurance companies have pulled out of the state, limiting the market. Plus, an increase in strong hurricanes hitting the state has created billions in claims.
Add in the issues with condominiums in Florida after the Surfside collapse it should be expected that insurance rates for every condo building in the state would need an increase.
Of course, news reports do not talk about the steps taken before this happened, but the results of the announcement make it seem like they missed a critical step in any difficult decision: Communication.
Perhaps the single most important step in community disputes is to communicate effectively with the community. This should be done often, through a wide variety of tactics and comprehensively.
How to communicate
The first step in communicating is understanding there is no one place to communicate with everyone. Even social media is segmented into niches, so you cannot reach your entire community through Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat.
One thing that can help is to survey your community on how they would like to receive communications from the association board. Do they want text messages? Do they use NextDoor or do not pay attention to social media at all? Is an email newsletter sufficient or do you need to print one and deliver it?
Getting the answers to these questions and utilizing the results will bring you closer to the resolution of difficult decisions faster and smoother.
Address the issues before they become issues.
No one likes to be surprised. Most people can accept change if given time to understand why the change is being made and prepare for the eventual change.
Too often, changes in a community are sprung on the residents with little warning – or the warning was given to a limited audience, like discussed at a board meeting but not with the community.
Every community has issues that happen. For instance, too many people are parking on the street and the board agrees to start towing cars. Imagine if your teenager parks on the street and you wake up to find his or her car has been towed with “no warning.”
Now, the resident is mad, riling up other street parkers on social media and showing up at the board meeting threatening all sorts of lawsuits, bad publicity and voting the board out.
Instead of just discussing it at a board meeting, the association should have sent out a news article to the community about how residents’ lives are in danger if emergency vehicles cannot pass the cars on the street to show the problem.
The association could film garbage trucks unable to collect trash and share the videos on NextDoor and other social media platforms.
Then, the association could notify a public meeting on parking on the street to discuss solutions and put a form on the website allowing for public comment.
The board will need to listen and hear what the community wants, but when a change is made, the association can then take steps before enforcement. If there are issues, send out a letter to all residents about the change. And drop a postcard on a car windshield that is parked in the street.
There will still be some people who just did not listen, but it allows you to emphasize how much the association tried, which often limits other neighbors’ negativity.
Trust your professional team
There are many situations like this. When gates are hit by cars or malfunctioning, there are often issues that spark conflict. When aesthetic changes are made, like new signage or fences, you can work with people who are rarely satisfied by seeking their opinion in advance and giving them ownership of the idea.
Of course, any increase in dues paid to the association must be done carefully and with a widespread of understanding of the “why.”
To help identify potential issues, it is critical to lean into a board’s management company, its legal team and other vendors. In almost all cases, these companies work with a lot of communities and have seen communities address issues proactively or fight reactively.
They will be able to let you know if an issue might be difficult and what has worked in other communities to make the changes seamless or address issues proactively.
The attorneys at The Orlando Law Group represent clients in association management and more in Orlando, Waterford Lakes, Altamonte Springs, Winter Garden, Lake Nona, St. Cloud, Kissimmee, and throughout Central Florida.
If you have questions about anything discussed in this article or other legal matters, give our office a call at 407-512-4394 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation to discuss your case. We have an office conveniently located at 12301 Lake Underhill Rd, Suite 213, Orlando, FL 32828, as well as offices in Seminole, Osceola and West Orange counties to assist you.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.
Last Updated on September 10, 2023 by The Orlando Law Group