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Neighbor vs. Neighbor Disputes - How Should Your Association Get Involved?

This is a great blog post from the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida. It is relevant to many associations, though particularly relevant to condominium associations. We often get calls and letters from owners about some of these same issues. Occasionally, it is appropriate for the association to step in, but much of the time, as outlined here with the reasoning behind the decision, the association should not and cannot get involved with disputes between neighbors.

Original post can be accessed by clicking HERE.

by: Lindsay Raphael, Esq.November 14th, 2013 | 7:00 AM

As anyone who lives in a condominium community can attest, things aren’t always so neighborly between residents that live within earshot of one another. Disputes occur for any number of reasons—from noise issues to malodorous complaints. When neighbors square off, owners often expect their association to settle the score. But is that an appropriate use of the association’s jurisdiction?

In most cases, the answer is no. An association derives power from its governing documents and Florida Statutes. Given those guidelines, the association should NOT intervene to resolve neighbor battles if any of the following conditions are met:

  • If the situation between owners does not affect the association’s common elements.
  • If the dispute in question does not violate the association’s governing documents.
  • If the association isn’t given powers to deal with the situation.
  • Or if the issue only impacts one or a few owners and does not impact the community as a whole.

Here’s something else to consider.  If an association does become involved in a neighbor vs. neighbor dispute that, according to its bylaws, it shouldn’t—and association funds are used to deal with the situation—then board members, potentially, can be held personally responsible for improper allocation of association funds.

Of course, there are scenarios where the association can step in.  Let’s say an owner complains that his upstairs neighbor has installed new hard flooring without proper soundproofing, as required by the condominium’s governing documents. The resulting noise is driving the downstairs owner crazy. If the condominium’s governing documents are clear about the issue, the association will have the authority to require the upstairs owner to remove the flooring and install the proper soundproofing.

Florida law and, typically, the condominium’s governing documents state that owners are entitled to quiet enjoyment of their unit. The association must address nuisance or noise disturbances if they affect that enjoyment—or if the governing documents give the association power to handle such nuisance or noise disturbances. If, however, the association’s governing documents do not give the association that power—and the disturbance affects only one owner—the association may not be able to intervene. 

Bottom line: If the association, legally, can’t play referee, then it’s up to the owners to somehow resolve their disputes—hopefully, by calmly and thoughtfully working things out. Remember, those who decide to live in a community association, especially a condominium, give up a certain degree of freedom. Decisions often are made based on what benefits a majority of the owners.

There always will be a certain degree of noise that you are going to hear living in a condominium. Some noises are unreasonable; some are not. Prior to engaging your neighbor, I suggest evaluating whether the disturbance is a one-time problem or a constant unreasonable occurrence.