Can you provide our Association with some guidance as to what happens when two owners have a dispute — one makes a complaint and the other owner denies the action that caused the complaint?
Board members of all associations are well served to follow the old adage, “Proof is in the Pudding” when faced with deciding unit-to-unit disputes and decisions about filing suit. Most board members are familiar with the dilemma: Silent Sue from Unit 1A files nineteen complaints that Loud Larry from Unit 2A above her creates unreasonably loud levels of noise at all hours of the day and night. Silent Sue demands that the Board take action against Loud Larry or face severe repercussions, including a suit against the Board for Breach of Fiduciary Duty. What should the Board do, if anything?
Getting involved in such a dispute can divide a community and create larger problems if not properly handled. A board is not obligated to umpire this type of dispute, but most boards feel duty-bound to take action. If the Board decides to proceed, it must do so with caution.
Its investigation must begin by gathering as much evidence as possible. Most Association’s rules and regulations contain violation complaint forms that should be completed each time an alleged incident occurs. In Silent Sue’s case, she would include the date, time, length and her best possible description of the noise. Silent Sue may also consider keeping a detailed log of the disruptions and recording the noise, if feasible.
The Board should compile and review any formal complaints in conjunction with any other evidence Silent Sue may present. Following its review of such evidence, the Board should hold a hearing to allow both parties an opportunity to present their version of the facts.
Following the hearing the board should consider the parties testimony in combination with the evidence presented and make its decision. If the stories differ greatly, which is likely the case, the Board should carefully evaluate the evidence. While the testimony of Loud Larry and Silent Sue may differ, the evidence typically contains the truth.
Utilizing the motto, “Proof is in the Pudding”, can also assist Boards faced with deciding whether to file suit against habitual rule violators.
Before filing suit, take a long hard look at the evidence to support the alleged rule violation. Photographs, formal violation complaints, receipts, meeting minutes, video recordings, logs, account ledgers, and other written documents should clearly demonstrate the violation of a rule to justify proceeding with legal action.
Boards that closely follow the saying “Proof is in the Pudding” remain impartial and perform due diligence before proceeding with legal action. Board impartiality and due diligence help minimize legal exposure and maximize Board effectiveness.
Contributed by Michael Shifrin of Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit