Does the squeaky wheel always get the grease? When should a Board refrain from pursuing a unit owner complaint?
By: Andrea Dunn
Pete Problem lives next door to Suzie Sensitive in the Life is Beautiful Condominium community. Pete and Suzie do not get along and each sends emails to the property manager daily with complaints about the other. Some concern rule violations such as Suzie not leashing her dog and Pete parking in the visitor spots. Others concern alleged harassment of both parties, alleged defamatory statements made to other unit owners and package theft.
Pete and Suzie insist that the board get involved and address all the issues between the parties. They have even gone as far as to state that it is the board’s duty to get involved. The board is unsure how to proceed as the situation has become increasingly volatile.
First of all, it’s important to know what the board’s powers and duties are with regard to the community. Connecticut General Statutes §47-244, outlines the powers and duties of the board. It also outlines the instances where a board does not have a duty to act: the legal position does not justify taking any further action, the violation is not so material as to objectionable to a reasonable person, it is not in the association’s best interest to take enforcement action and the rule being enforced is inconsistent with the law. For the situation of Pete and Suzie, the following are important to note:
The board may adopt and amend rules, the board may regulate the use, maintenance, repair and replacement of the common areas and levy fines after notice and hearing for the violation of the declaration, bylaws and rules.
The first question the board must ask is do any of the complaints concern violations of the rules and regulations, declaration or bylaws of the community? Suzie has allegedly violated the leash rule and Pete has allegedly violated the parking rules. These alleged rule violations may be dealt with by the board. The board can choose to have the property manager send a warning letter or schedule a hearing with each unit owner to hear evidence and decide if a fine is necessary.
But what about the other complaints? Harassment, claims of defamation and package theft. Does the board have any duty or authority to address these claims? A review of the governing documents provides nothing about these kinds of issues. There is nothing in the rules about harassing another unit owner, defaming another unit owner or stealing packages (theft). Generally, the board does not have to get involved in unit owner disputes that have nothing to do with the rules or common elements. Any claims of theft or criminal activity should be addressed by the police. Claims of harassment, defamation and the like should be dealt with by the parties involved through a civil action or mediation. Any claims of discrimination, however, should be dealt with by the board and brought to the attention of the association’s counsel as allowing discrimination to continue may be a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
As always, when in doubt, please contact your legal counsel for assistance.