P.A. from outside of Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Our condo board and homeowners are at war with each other. How do we promote harmony in the building?
Mister Condo replies:
P.A., it is always upsetting to me to learn of condominium communities that experience strained relationships between Board Members and the community members. Condominium dwellers, especially those that share a single building, are going to come in close contact with each other on a regular basis. There should never be an “us versus them” relationship between the volunteer Board members who are usually community members themselves, and the folks who elected them to be their volunteer leaders. The issues usually arise from poor communication between the Board and the unit owners. It can be corrected but it is not a quick or easy process.
You need to start at the core of the problem. It is usually money concerns in an underfunded community where the Board has to make hard decisions about what items to fix and what items to defer maintenance. When the Board needs to raise money, it can only come from one place – the unit owners. When unit owners get hit with increased common fees, special assessments, or the need to raise fees to cover a community association loan, they tend to get angry. This is because from their point of view, they thought they were paying their fair share by paying their common fees on time. The reality is that all is fine until the underlying problem is discovered and dealt with, resulting in financial hardship for many owners. The typical reaction to this distress is anger and that anger is often aimed at the Board as they are the authority figures who appear to be imposing the stress.
Education is always your best defense to diffuse these situations. Newsletters, notices, letters, websites – whatever the Board has at it’s disposal to tell the story is the best way to dispel the darkness and shed light on the concerns. It can’t be seen as a Board problem but, rather, a community problem. The community needs to be aware of the problem and given an opportunity to react to the problem and even offer suggestions for solutions. Otherwise, community members feel alienated from the decision-making process and are subject to anger. Even offering every opportunity to share information with the community can still be met with hostility by some community members. That is simply human nature. However, the vast majority of unit owners are perfectly able to process information and come to rational conclusions. These are the folks that will support the Board in their actions to correct the problem for the community. You can’t completely eliminate the battles but you can certainly stop the situation from escalating to a war. All the best!