Condo, co-op and HOA communities are made up of people – and people aren’t perfect. Within a community association, squabbles are inevitably going to break out between unit owners. Oftentimes these problems will be resolved relatively easily, and the owners will reach some sort of reasonable consensus with no lasting animosity or tension between them. Other times, however, the fights will escalate, roping in other owners – and potentially the board.
There are clearly liability issues at play when a board is forced to make a decision in favor of one unit owner or another, and it goes without saying that any conflict that gets physical is a matter for the local authorities. But some conflicts fall into a gray area, and can present a challenge for a board that wishes to do the right thing, yet fears escalating the tension or doing something that infringes on an owner’s rights. It can be a tough needle to thread, but there’s help available.
See Something, Say Something
Starting with the most serious type of conflict first: if residents get into a physical altercation at an association property, the police should be called.
“Breach of the peace is first and foremost a criminal matter to be handled by police,” advises Mark R. Rosenbaum, a principal at the law firm of Fischel Kahn in Chicago. “One of the parties, or an onlooker should make that call. Even if the participants don’t strike each other, but are screaming at one another, that can also warrant calling the police. If the police are called, there could be a number of outcomes: they may just talk to the participants – or only one of the participants. Someone may or may not get arrested. There should still be a police report made by the officers. But anyone other than the parties involved may have trouble getting a copy of that report.”
Philip Brigmond, District Manager at Resource Property Management in Seminole, Florida, adds that “the goal of the board should be to make sure that all residents know they are not the law, nor is it on them to enforce the law, or the rights inherently provided thereby. Anytime we receive a call from an owner with a complaint, we advise them to call the authorities – i.e., the police. It’s very simple. Civil matters are enforced by civil servants. Board matters are enforced by board servants – volunteers. Obviously, someone threatening to cause bodily harm or personal property damage to another is not board business. Someone blocking another’s parking space, on the other hand, would be enforceable at board level, unless it escalates to property damage.”