As a condo owner, you’ve got a gripe. Whether it’s about Mrs. Smith’s poodle who barks all day or the neighbor’s teenaged son who blasts his Guns N’ Roses music when his parents aren’t home, you just want someone to listen and, of course, do something about your complaint.
To have your complaint heard effectively, it’s best to follow the rules or bylaws that your association has set in place. For some associations, the rules may require that you contact the property manager first with any complaints, while other associations require that you go to the board first. Robert Linney, principal at Advanced Condominium Management Corp., inFoxboro, Massachusetts, says that his unit owners contact the management company first, either in writing or by voice mail, with the issue they want to discuss. “We’ll try to take care of it without getting to the point that you need to go to the board,” he says.
In other community associations, how you complain really depends on what your complaint is really all about. “If your complaint is that another unit owner is making too much noise, then the association might have a protocol as to how you have to register a noise complaint,” says Michael Merrill, an attorney at the law firm of Merrill & McGeary in Boston. “Other complaints may just be recorded and looked into when the schedule allows and other complaints may require that youemail the manager so that a paper trail has been started.”
Give the Property Manager a Chance
Once you’ve made your complaint, be patient and give the managers a chance to do their job. Depending on the complaint, property managers may need to hire an outside contractor in order to fix what you’re complaining about and they may be at the mercy of that vendor’s schedule. For example, you live in a small association and a water leak has sprung. The manager has taken care of the situation so it’s no longer an emergency, but needs a plumber to completely fix the pipe, remove the temporary taping job and fix the pipe and then call in a contractor to fix the damage to the lobby – your complaint – and that takes time.
“The bottom line is that you have to look at it from both sides,” says Merrill. “What I tell unit owners is that unless it’s an emergency, wait a reasonable time. If you haven’t gotten a satisfactory response then, whoever your contact person is, call them again. It’s a squeaky wheel and you have to write and call again and unfortunatelyyou have to make yourself a bit of a pest.”
Address the Board
If being a pest doesn’t work, consider asking to be heard at the next board meeting – but again, whether or not unit owners are allowed at the meeting depends on the condo’s bylaws. Kenneth Sheppard, vice president of residential services at Foxfire Property Management, based in Concord, New Hampshire, says that going to the board should also be your last resort but suggests that boards should let residents speak and that it’s the “the prudent thing to do, but it depends on the bylaws of the association and each set of bylaws is written differentlyand it will depend on the language whether or not a resident has the authority to speak.”
In Sheppard’s associations, the unit owner or tenant calls him or one of the board members and requests to be put on the agenda for the next meeting. Heposts meeting times in the newsletter and on the website so all members of the community are welcome to attend the meetings and participate.
“What we do for the board meetingsis the first 15 to 20 minutes it’s open for comments from any owner or resident,” he says. “We’ll answer questions, but if it’s a question we can’t answer, we’ll get back to them.”
In some associations, unit owners are not allowed to participate in board meetings. “The board meetings are there for the purpose of conducting association business,” he says. “Unit owners are allowed to sit and observe. However, some associations have a Q&A session in the last 15 minutes andif you notify the board in advance, time can be allotted.”
Once you’ve finished stating your complaint, Sheppard says that it’s important to be patient again. “Be calm and the board will listen and take it under advisement and will get back to you in writing. Documentationis key. If it’s a complaint where someone saw someone speeding on the property, but we don’t know who it is, we may encourage you to keep an eye out and if you see the vehicle again get the plate number, call it in. If it’s a complaint about a dog barking all day long, we may want you to document the time of day that it’s happening. We do the same on our end when we receive complaints. We contact the unit owner in writing, notifying them of the situation, give them a warning and if it continues, there will be more documentation to back it up, and that’s when fines start kicking in.”
A caution to all condo boards: makesure residents are aware of your meetings, and their times and locations. “Many of these meetings are held in the homes of the board members, so they need to know ahead of time if people are coming so they can meet somewhere else if necessary,” says Sheppard.
If you have had your moment in front of the board and they still haven’t addressed your complaint or you don’t like the result, Sheppard says that you may have to live with it. “In some instances where a board makes a correct decision but the tenant doesn’t like it, they have to live with it. The board is following the bylaws and they have to uphold them.”
Lawyers Can Always Get a Response
If the association doesn’t respond to your complaint at all, Merrill explains that bylaws do not require it “and there’s also nothing in the [Massachusetts] 183A state Condominium Statute that requires an association to respond either,” he says. “The most expensive way to have them hear your complaintis to hire a lawyer and make a legal threat if they don’t respond. A lawyer can get a response.” Merrill says that by the time he sees unit owners, they are pretty angry.
If a unit owner expresses their complaint, a property manager should address it. “My response is, always respond even if you don’t have a response,” says Merrill. “Let them know you will get back to them. You need to have good communication andrespond in some way.” The bottom line is that like any good relationship, communication is key between all parties involved.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England Condominium magazine.