During these turbulent social times, there has been a noticeable uptick in derogatory and divisive actions taken by people, in general. When you live in a condominium or homeowners association, such one-time road rage scenes or random arguments can turn into larger rifts between individuals or neighborhood factions over time.
Courts are reticent to enjoin interaction between neighbors in multifamily housing communities due to the logistical headaches that such injunctions cause. As such, association boards and individuals living in association-governed communities should be proactive in both fostering open dialogue among neighbors, and in also laying down limits to such interactions in common area space.
“Unlawful harassment consists of (1) a knowing and willful (2) course of conduct (3) directed at a specific person, (4) which seriously alarms, annoys, harasses, or is detrimental to that person, and (5) serves no legitimate or lawful purpose.” RCW 10.14.020(1); Burchell v. Thibault, 74 Wn. App. 517, 521, 874 P.2d 196 (1994). Unlawful harassment is an actionable civil tort (wrongful act). If actions rise to this level of discord, what does a Board do to keep the peace?
We can start by being civil. Civility is defined as formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech. Use neutral words and a tone of speech that does not seek to incite the listener. A dialogue, rather than an argument, is the preferred exchange of ideas in a communal space.
Other ideas for maintaining a friendly and healthy community are:
• Focus on facts rather than beliefs and opinions
• Focus on the common good rather than individual agendas
• Be respectful when disagreeing with others
• Don’t allow demeaning, insulting, or discriminatory comments to go unchallenged
• Do not interrupt or talk over people when they have the floor
• Acknowledge the good points of others
• Think before you speak
• Be willing to compromise
If these behavioral acts and attitudes fail to rectify the situation, Association Boards should foster the use of their due process hearing systems. A fair hearing staffed by uninterested third parties will often allow parties to express their positions, which can then be dealt with more appropriately.
If a due process hearing does not resolve the matter, a more formalized mediation is in order. There are a number of community organizations that facilitate such mediation sessions. There are also retired judges and attorneys that operate mediation and arbitration services, such as Judicial Dispute Resolution (“JDR”), Judicial Arbitration and Mediations Services (“JAMS”) and Washington Arbitration and Mediations Services (“WAMS”).
If none of the above solve the underlying problems, then the choices are to hire an attorney to litigate the dispute, live with the discomfort and ardor, or sell your unit and move into a home that is more tranquil. Our homes should be our bastions of tranquility. Keeping that idea central in our interactions with our neighbors is important to maintaining a civil and pleasant community.