Why you should never ignore a letter from the condo board
Jeanette Bicknell Ph.D., Q. Med.
Mediator, Consultant, Philosopher, Author
When I read about condominium disputes, I am often struck by how the conflict could have been resolved a lot sooner (and for much less money) if only the unit owner had responded to the Board’s letters.

A typical scenario goes something like this The owner gets a letter notifying her that her dog Fluffy has been barking and annoying neighbours, or that her trumpet playing is too loud, or that the holiday decorations she has put up do not comply with the condominium’s rules. The owner thinks –“There must be some mistake. Fluffy never barks.” Or, “I never play the trumpet after 10 p.m.” Or, “I put up the same decorations last year and no one said anything.” So she ignores the letter. Or maybe she has a chat with the condominium manager, or with a board member, and feels reassured by what she hears.

Another letter comes regarding Fluffy (or the trumpet playing, or the decorations) this time from the board’s lawyer. She ignores that as well, assuming that whatever problem there may have been has been resolved. Before she knows it, she is summoned to a mediation with the board and is asked to reimburse the legal expenses that the board incurred in getting her to comply with the regulations.

 It is never a good idea to ignore a communication from your condominium manager or from the board, even if you feel that the complaint against you is ill-founded, or the matter is trivial, or that the rule you are accused of violating is unfair. Condominium managers and boards have a duty to enforce condominium rules, to respond to complaints, and to persist until the matter is resolved. It is always in an owner’s best interest to acknowledge and answer a communication from the property manager or from the board.  If you do not respond then the board has no way of knowing your perspective on the matter.

 Instead of ignoring a letter do the following:
Respond in writing. Acknowledge receipt of the letter. If the complaint is based on a misunderstanding or on false information, explain. (“Fluffy was with me at the cottage during the week in question. Hence the barking must have come from another unit.”)

If the complaint is legitimate, explain how you will address it. (“In the future, I will limit my trumpet playing to between the hours of 4 and 5 p.m.”)
Respond promptly, but if the letter has upset you (“How dare anyone object to my holiday decorations!”) wait until you have relaxed enough to write a calm letter. If you have a friend whom you feel has good judgment, ask him or her to read over the letter before you send it.
If you have a conversation with the manager or a board member about the contents of the letter, document this as well. Soon after the conversation, summarize the main points in writing and send it to the person you spoke with. Ask if he or she has anything to add or notices any errors or misunderstandings.
Maintain a paper trail. Keep copies of letters and emails about the issue. If the matter goes further – say to arbitration – it is important to have some record of communication. Memories fade and managers can be moved to other properties. Above all, you will want to be able to show an arbitrator or judge that you acted responsibly and took reasonable steps to resolve the conflict.
Get legal advice, especially if the matter does not seem resolved with your written reply to the initial letter. It is important to seek advice from a lawyer who has experience with condominium matters. Don’t ask your cousin the criminal lawyer or one of the in-house lawyers at your workplace. Paying for good advice early in the process might save you a lot of money later on, should the conflict not resolve easily.

For the most part, disputes between condominium residents, or between unit owners and boards, do not simply fade away. The early stages of a conflict are a precious time and the first moves made toward resolving a conflict can greatly influence the later stages.  Don’t give up your chance to shape the outcome of a dispute by ignoring it in the early stages.

An edited version of this post was published on the “Condo Business” website.
See the original posting.

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