Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why's Everybody Always Pickin' On Me?

As property managers, we deal daily with homeowner reaction to compliance letters.  Sometimes the owner cycles through all the stages of grief in a single phone call:  Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  We share in his/her frustration.  No matter how nicely worded the letter, it’s often interpreted as a personal assault on the receiver.  It can say, “If this situation has already been addressed, please disregard this letter.”  It can say, “Let us know how we may work together for resolution.”  It can provide specific easy steps to resolve the matter, or to formally dispute the citation.  Rather than re-read the message and take a deep breath, some people immediately pick up the phone and leave us a message that would embarrass their children.

Dealing with covenant violations is one of the main reasons self-managed communities finally choose to hire a management company. The fact remains, few of us like confrontation or arguing with our neighbors each and every day.  

The question is - How to diffuse the situation, when an angry owner calls?

…listen, and let the homeowner get everything out of his/her system - unless he/she insists on remaining abusive.  PiƱatas are for children.  Sometimes it’s best to terminate the conversation and let the person get a good night’s sleep before re-approaching the matter.

…assure him/her that this is stressful for us, too.  Why would we deliberately pick on a person, knowing the wasted time we face afterward?  We are managing more than just one community, and don’t have the luxury of being bullies.

…confirm that we are issuing hundreds of letters a month.  Other owners are also receiving requests to address various situations. We are not displaying our personal preferences, but the decision set by a majority of the neighborhood on any particular item.

…remind him/her about a reason why he/she chose this community as home:  Curb appeal.  Sure, one violation may be minor, but combined with all the other violations over time, property values ultimately drop.  It is destruction by a thousand small cuts.

…provide him /her with one or more solutions.  No one likes to have their back against the wall.  The homeowner may not get everything he/she wants, but just reminding the owner of the ability to request a hearing to discuss concerns with the Board, or providing the name of a potential vendor to conduct the work, goes a long way.

…ask him/her to get involved on a neighborhood committee, perhaps one related to the cited violation.  By close contact with others, this homeowner becomes more aware of the impact of his/her future actions.
…seek his/her input on how the situation could have been handled better.  If the neighbor’s dog was constantly tearing up the yard, how much time would this person allow for the neighbor to address the situation?

Will the above resolve every situation?  No, never.  There are those who require professional help for issues not related to the compliance letter, or even remotely related to the homeowners association.  In this instance, prepare to pave the path with documentation, travelling months or perhaps years before resolution.  To avoid heartburn, focus on the process and not the personal.

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