Whenever people gather into communities, it’s guaranteed that conflict will arise at some point. It may not be for anything severe, but simply a difference of opinion that brings it about. However, the thing to keep in mind is that no matter what caused the conflict to start, it’s necessary to deal with it in a way that’s constructive and maintains harmony within the association.
HOAs and their boards are dependent on building good relationships with one’s neighbors, so when thinking about resolving conflicts when they arise, think about ways to avoid them in the first place. One of the best ways to minimize the chances that a large conflict will arise is to make sure there’s transparency between residents and HOA board members. Being transparent in meetings and explaining all decisions helps to reduce the chances of any resident or board member developing an adversarial relationship, and also helps explain the “why” motivating individual decisions.
Another benefit of transparency is that it helps protect against being accused of having a conflict of interest. This protection can help board members and residents alike, because it becomes difficult to tarnish the reputation of the board member, and the resident’s HOA dues aren’t furthering preferential treatment.
Of course, board member transparency has its limits; there’s no way that being transparent can mitigate complaints about noise, strange odors, shared spaces, and more. So what should you do to deal with resident conflict in your HOA?
Maintain open lines of communication.
Maintaining transparency helps keep boards and residents on good terms, but making a habit of using effective communication strategies can go a long way to maintaining harmony in your HOA. If there’s a delay in a timeline, or a change in the board’s plan, it’s important that HOA leadership uses every means at its disposal of communicating these changes to the residents.
Maintaining open lines of communication can also mean that the board is responsive to the needs of the community. This doesn’t mean that board members must be available at all hours to answer questions, but setting up face-to-face discussions or creating a system to collect complaints are good ways of giving residents the opportunity to voice concerns before they escalate.
A resident rarely complains for no reason, though there are cases when some residents are chronically difficult to manage. If the average resident complains, however, there tends to be a purpose behind it, but in order to resolve the problem effectively, it’s important to find out what exactly the complaint consists of.
Is the resident’s complaint primarily about noise? Is it a violation of the HOA governing documents? Do new rules need to be instituted to regulate noise? In some cases, the problem can be a simple fix, such as if the HOA already has noise regulations in its governing documents, but it’s important to listen to the person lodging the complaint before deciding.
Come up with a plan for resolution.
Once you have a full understanding of the resident conflict, it’s time to work on conflict resolution. If the behavior that caused the complaint is a clear violation of the HOA governing documents, then the path to resolution is clear, but this isn’t always the case.
The first step to coming up with a resolution is to relax: getting immediately defensive is a good way to escalate things beyond what is constructive. Typically, if your HOA has been responsive, then resolution should be easy, but if your HOA needs help, then consider having a third-party dispute resolution firm step in. This could be as simple as a property management company, or, in extreme cases, a law firm.
In the most extreme cases, it could be possible to evict a resident from the HOA, but this decision should always be a last resort. Focus first on developing good lines of communication within the community to reduce the risk of conflict arising, and making it significantly easier to resolve a conflict without resorting to the most extreme measures.