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Condo Living May Mean Having to Say ‘I’m Sorry’ 5.17.2006

By Rick Racela

By KATHY BALIN
Guest Columnist
A natural part of human behavior is to desire, and seek out, “personal space.”
The first thing we do at the beach is “mark our spots” by putting down a towel or a chair.  Likewise, when arriving at a restaurant table we often “mark our spots” with a jacket or purse.
These actions are all a means of creating our own spaces.  It’s human nature.
Staking out “personal space” in a condominium is a bit different.
The only actual personal space is your private condominium unit.   You certainly have exclusive use of that (except, occasionally, for items like the heat level all units are required to maintain in winter months – but that’s a topic for another column).  More importantly for now, you have shared use and control, through the association of owners, of additional defined space known as your “common property”.
All unit owners are responsible to each other for common property. 
This form of ownership lends itself to the possibility of unique relationships, some good and some bad.  For example, you may have to share a patio, pool or tennis court with a neighbor you just can’t stand.   You may share a stairwell with a loud mouth, or garage space with a troublemaker.  You may find yourself in an elevator with that special someone or that not so special someone.
The real issues begin not with mere encounters, but when one of the owners starts acting as though common areas are personal space.
What do you do if the neighbor with whom you share a common deck decides she wants neon pink or cotton candy blue flamingoes to adorn the steps?   Or what if the person with whom you share garage space decides to park his oversized boat there for the summer, cramping your ability to get in and out?    What if the person with whom you share a common staircase decides to leave a bicycle locked to the end of the banister, blocking your route up and down? 
Rules and regulations in your homeowners’ association bylaws will govern most of these situations.  And if you feel that your organizational documents don’t adequately set down rules for your common areas, now is the time to add them – by amending the bylaws – before an actual dispute arises.
Condo boards should encourage discussion and decision-making by all association members as to rules that will apply to the common areas.
When a troublesome situation does arise – the pink flamingo, the oversized boat, or the poorly placed bicycle – as a unit owner you should take a look at your organizational documents, especially your bylaws, to see which rule prohibits the behavior you find offensive.
If an amicable conversation with the offending neighbor doesn’t make any inroads, you would bring the situation to the Board’s attention, and the Board will then issue notice to the offending party that the violation must be corrected.  Typically, if the offending party still refuses to comply, the organizational documents provide for fines that can be assessed by the Board.
While this process of solving a problem with a condo neighbor may seems a bit arduous, it’s less complicated than it might be in a single-family home setting where there’s no association to “mediate” and enforce.
While I can’t guarantee you will get an “I’m sorry” from the offending condo owner, you have a good chance of obtaining a swift and fair resolution. 
Kathy Balin, an attorney with law offices in Marmora, writes a regular column for the Herald on condo-related issues.  Readers are invited to send inquiries to her at REUpdate.CapeMayCountyHerald.com.

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