Living in a condo is fundamentally different than living in a free-standing house because your property decisions are intermingled with the desires and needs of other people. This is very important to understand, and many current or potential condo-owners don’t get this.
If you live in a professionally-managed condo (usually the larger condo complexes are), then you might be insulated from many of these problems through the management company. (You could have a slightly different set of problems, though).
But, if you live in a smaller self-managed condo, I would say that the quality of the other owners of your condo (which I will refer to as the “HOA”, or “Home Owners Association”) is one of the most important factors you should consider when purchasing a condo. It is more important than the condition of the roof, the age of the plumbing, the landscaping, and so on. Perhaps only location and square footage is more important.
I’ve seen HOA conflict create a living hell for people to the point where they had to sell their property solely due to HOA personality conflicts. Imagine coming home from a stressful day at work, only to face more stress at home (i.e., lawsuits, name-calling, vandalism!) due to conflicts with unreasonable neighbors living one wall-thickness away from you. It’s not pleasant.
Fortunately for me, my current HOA is pretty reasonable and chill. This is worth its weight in gold. But, it wasn’t always that way. Here are some HOA villains I’ve encountered personally, or heard about from friends and family. Look out for these species in the HOA menagerie:
- The Freeloader
Thinks that the HOA is a hotel where everything is done for him. The Freeloader doesn’t vote on HOA business, doesn’t answer email, and most of all, doesn’t lift a finger to better the condo community. The Freeloader, while not the worst animal, is very common in the HOA kingdom, so watch out for this species.
- The Litigator
Believes that solution to every problem is to sue the HOA. I know of one owner who slipped and fell on his own doorstep (which was modified against HOA rules), then threatened to sue the HOA over it. One of my previous neighbors had water damage in his unit due to his own neglect, and threatened to sue the HOA. The list goes on an on. If these went to court, they would be thrown out as frivolous, but in the mean time they cause stress and waste time and money. There always seems to be at least one Litigator in a given HOA. This person is the worst type of selfish asshole.
- The Cheapskate
Opposes spending any money to make necessary repairs or preventative maintenance like painting, servicing equipment, and so on. This causes even more expensive damage down the line. The Cheapskate thinks buildings magically last forever without human intervention.
- The Deadbeat
Purchased a condo they couldn’t afford. Their HOA dues are always late due to their own financial mismangement.
- The Legalist
Enforces all rules to the letter of the law. If they hear the faintest music playing past the 11PM quiet time, the cops are called. Other minor infractions result in a mass insulting email or fine. Park in the wrong place for five minutes, and your car is towed. This is a supremely unpleasant neighbor to have. My condolences if you live with one of these hideous creatures.
- The Anarchist
Is the opposite of the Legalist. The Anarchist doesn’t follow any HOA rules and doesn’t think about the impact of his actions on his neighbors. One resident I know of would gate off part of the common walkway, completely blocking it to access, so his dogs could play in the area. The Anarchist leaves his junk in common areas, blares loud music at all hours, or makes exterior modifications to his unit without consulting the HOA.
- The Nit-Picker
Will scrutinize all repairs or improvements done on the building to a ludicrous degree, guaranteeing that no contractor will ever want to work there again.
- The Hater
Has a personal vendetta against certain other members of the HOA. They will block and oppose anything that their victims are in favor of, no matter how reasonable they may be.
- The Downer
Has nothing better to do than to write long mass emails complaining about something or another to the HOA. The downer has a lot of time on his hands and probably didn’t get enough attention as a child.
I am sure I have only scratched the surface of the disfunctional type of people you might encounter in an HOA. While the majority of my condo neighbors have been fantastic (and occasionally selfless) people, even just one bad apple can ruin a condo community.
So, before purchasing a condo, please do whatever you can to evaluate the people that you will have to live with, and who will be partially responsible for maintaining your biggest financial investment: your home.
If you’re already in a dicey condo situation, here are my tips:
- Don’t lose your cool!
As soon as strong emotions enter a discussion or dispute, it becomes personal and much harder to resolve. Believe me, there have been times when I’ve been tempted to tell someone to F-off in an email, but I didn’t. Take the higher ground. Be cool and logical in your arguments. This is also good because if your emails ever get subpoena’d (hey, it’s possible), you’ll look like the good guy. Don’t stoop to their level. It makes them look even more irrational.
- Always refer to the HOA CCR’s (Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions) to resolve disputes.
Keep opinions and arguments out of the conversation by always deferring to what is in the CCR’s, which is a legally-binding document. I’ve found that this defuses many situations. Don’t take sides or play politics. Always refer to the CCR’s.
- Remember, these are your neighbors; cut them some slack.
Simple as that. You have to live next these folks and see them perhaps every day or week.
- Participate in condo social events
Throw a condo social gathering once a year in your courtyard or common area. Or, host a gathering with food in your unit. Usually when you know someone socially and face-to-face, they’re less likely to be antagonistic later.
- Volunteer some of your own time for the community; this is not a hotel
Yes, pick up the garbage that is sitting next to the trash cans. Throw away the junk mail that’s been sitting next to the mailbox forever. If you owned the whole place, you’d do it, right? Just because you’re sharing the place, don’t stop doing work that needs to be done. And, don’t expect payment or recognition (although you will sometimes get it). Just do it to make your own life better. Don’t be a freeloader off of the contributions of others. In some cases, my own volunteering has prompted others to act as well. Volunteering can be contagious!
- Help your neighbors
Pick up that mail that has been sitting on your neighbor’s doorstep while they are on vacation. Water their plants while you water yours. Your kindness will go a long way.
- Ask nicely if you need a favor
If you are going to throw a party, invite everyone and clearly tell them when it will start and be over. Don’t go crazy with loud music (unless everyone is on board). If you need to shut off the building water, give sufficient warning and be apologetic about it.
- Become an officer on your HOA board
If you don’t like how things are being done, organize some votes and get elected!
- Weigh the costs of a lawsuit
HOA’s these days are very vulnerable to lawsuits if exact procedures aren’t followed or the CCRs are out of date (as is often the case). Sometimes it’s cheaper for you to give in to an owner’s demands if it could prevent a future lawsuit.
- Remember that you might need their vote
If your neighbor plays loud music once a year for his Fourth of July party, is it really wise to call the cops? What if you need their vote to approve a modification to your unit in the future? It’s really bad to make enemies in your HOA.
What kinds of HOA villains have you encountered? Please let us know below! – Brian