Sunday, February 10, 2013

Do association members have a duty to work towards a resolution of some of their own problems?

Community association boards are often contacted about matters that might be more easily resolved on a neighbor to neighbor basis. I've often wondered why this is until I had an issue myself and debated bringing it up to my HOA board rather than confronting the issue head-on myself.

I live in a typical suburban homeowners' association with lovely homes and nice yards. My next door neighbor is an elderly widow who owns several dogs. While the dogs are friendly and cute, they do have one trait that makes them not very neighborly; they bark incessantly from morning to night. Normally this is not an issue as I am out of the house at work, social events, etc. However, during the times I do find myself home and wanting to either lounge at my pool or out in my yard, the racket becomes an issue.

Our HOA governing documents contain the typical language regarding nuisance. I was quite confident that my neighbors' barking dogs were a nuisance; the question then became what to do about it?

I toyed with the idea of mentioning it at our next board meeting but then remembered some of the complaints that came my way when I served on the board and my first question on most of them was: "did you speak to your neighbor about this problem yet?". Why do people shy away from this kind of interaction? Fear of conflict or violence or is it just the fact that it is often seen as being easier to task the board with solving these issues?

What were the typical complaints? Parking on a neighbor's swale or blocking access to their driveway, excessive partying by a neighbors' teenage children, dog poop and more. While the board could have addressed all of these issues, whatever happened to a neighbor discussing these issues in a non-confrontational way in an effort to resolve the matter?  I do not naively believe that every such conversation will yield a successful result but certainly the starting point for a resolution is to find out if the behavior is deliberate and repetitive or unintentional and an anomaly.

I mustered up the courage to discuss the matter with my neighbor. I wish I could say it was an easy or even comfortable conversation as it was neither. She told me matter-of-factly that dogs bark but had no real solution to the non-stop barking. I made several suggestions and was not sure any of them would be adopted. However, the problem did resolve itself over the following weeks. Perhaps my neighbor took the dogs inside, got them trained or I just got lucky. In any event, I saved some time that the board could spend on more worthwhile pursuits by resolving the issue on my own.


  1. I think most problems with neighbors are best handled by reporting the problem to the Property Manager's Office and letting them handle it. This way there is less of a chance of hard feelings and the possibility of an ugly confrontation is avoided. And in fact we provide the ability to report problems anonymously on our web site.

  2. Peter, I disagree. My experience is that the "offender" or "violator" will develop hurt feelings. Some people develop hurt feelings no matter what, but in hearings where the violator and the complainant are both present, the violator often states that they wish the complainant had just come to them and that they would have just taken care of it. When I ask them, they state that they want to be treated like a neighbor and an adult. I have asked many, and they (rightly or not) feel that this is a method to bully and intimidate them, not work with them. I tell them that is not the case, but I can also tell you from my experience that when a complainant reports they have attempted to work with their neighbor first, there is often less argument, particularly by the offender. I think they realize that they have less of a standing if their neighbor has tried to work with them and to be neighborly.
    I ask if they attempted to speak to their neighbors, and I am starting to consider asking them why they haven't or why they don't want to. Those I have asked are always afraid of not getting compliance or of retaliation from their neighbor. My opinion is that if we follow the Golden Rule, that would cut down many of these issues. If you were the violator (and most are unintentional) what would you want? Would you want your neighbor to come to you or to call the authorities, whether that be the association, the municipality or the police?

  3. Simple comment: Treat your Neighbor as you would want to be treated. Treat your Neighbor as you believe they want to be treated. Treat your Neighbor as your Neighbor. Not as you would treat a Criminal. Reporting to a Higher Authority by the very act of doing so makes them not a Neighbor, but rather a Criminal. Not just in your mind, but also in theirs. Resolution is then a matter of Litigation and Punishment. Confrontation is never better than Neighborly Care and Concern, shared and for the good of the entire Community. Be a Neighbor. Not a Tattletale. Leave that to children.