Neighbor Conflicts: True Mediation Stories

Neighbor Conflicts: True Mediation Stories

Neighbor Conflicts: True Mediation Stories [Community Associations Journal]

Neighbor Conflicts: True Mediation Stories

Neighbor conflicts can unsettle your whole community. Suing your neighbor only heightens hostilities. Courts do rough justice—it’s like performing surgery with a chainsaw. In contrast, working together with a trained mediator allows disputing neighbors to arrive at solutions personalized to their unique needs. Research shows that solutions reached through mediation are more durable than those imposed by a court.
This article introduces you to some factual neighbor conflicts that can (or cannot) be addressed through WSCAI’s Mediation Program. The cost of mediation is a fraction of the cost to sue a neighbor. Lawyer’s fees pile up and it is not unusual to spend upwards of $50,000 just to get to trial. Add the even higher cost of the trial itself plus the risk of having to pay more if you lose.

The following accounts are true scenarios of neighbor disputes that have been modified to anonymize the identity of original parties as well as the HOA or condo developments they live in.

Neighbor dispute resolutions through mediation are more durable than court orders by lawsuit.

Neighbor Conflict #1 — “Border Dispute”

The disputing parties are neighbors in an HOA. One is residential, the other is commercial. The commercial owners have erected a surveillance camera system for their property on which they store building equipment and supplies. The residential neighbors, in response, have erected a fence that may or may not be on the property line because they feel that the cameras look directly into their home.

The commercial unit wants the residential unit to get a survey and relocate the fence. The residential unit is balking due to the cost of the survey, and because a retaining wall on the property line will require special fasteners that are expensive. Each accuses the other of overactive surveillance and poor communication.

The commercial owner’s interest in security conflicts with the residential owner’s interest in privacy.

Interests: The commercial unit owners have an interest in safety and protecting their property. They also do not want the residential unit owners adversely possessing any portion of their property with their fence. The residential homeowners have an interest in privacy. Both parties have an interest in communication and a desire to be a good neighbor in the HOA. Neither party wants to go to court.

Resolution: The commercial owners committed to pay a specified portion of the survey and fence replacement. The residential unit agreed to move the fence. The commercial owners agreed to re-direct their surveillance cameras away from the residential property. They reserved the right to install them so that they covered the entirety of their property.

Finally, both parties made a commitment to communicate better with one another. The agreement they came up with set out realistic goals such as if one of their properties were affected, they would notify the other within a certain number of days.

neighbor-dispute-privacy-security-camera
Resolve HOA and Condo Neighbor Disputes — Instead of suing your neighbor, try employing a trained mediator to come to an agreement that is beneficial and satisfactory to both parties’ interests.

The other gave the commitment to respond within a certain number of days. They exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. They resolved to return to mediation for any future neighbor conflict.

Neighbor Conflict #2 — “Building Hostilities”

The problem begins simply enough with the parties parking next to each other in the condominium parking lot. Then the male accuses the female of purposefully damaging his vehicle (think key scratches). The female denies it and then, later, accuses the male of damaging her car in the same manner. The neighbor feud spans 3 to 4 years of hostility, exchanging nasty looks and giving each other the middle finger.

The hostility goes on for 3 to 4 years devolving into nasty looks and giving each other the middle finger.

The issue comes to a head when the female is taking a bus home from work and the male gets on, stands behind her, and allegedly pushes her when she moves to get off the bus. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the female uses a common stairway from her unit on the second floor to access the first-floor exit, which is closest to the bus stop she commonly uses.

neighbor-conflict-feud-vandalism-harassment
The neighbor conflict begins simply enough with the parties parking next to each other in the condominium parking lot. Then the male accuses the female of purposefully damaging his vehicle (think key scratches).
The use of this stairway means that she always passes in front of the male’s doorway. He knows this because he has a surveillance camera set up (with the permission of the Board). There is another stairwell she could use that does not pass by his door, but she does not consider it as convenient.
The male boards the same bus, stands behind the female, and allegedly pushes her as she moves to get off the bus.

Interests: Both parties have an interest in the peaceful enjoyment of their unit and the common areas and in having their property respected. The female party has an interest in feeling (and being) safe.
Resolution: The parties first agree, oddly enough, that neither of them can prove the other damaged their vehicles. No witness or surveillance camera footage is available. So, they set this issue aside. The female claims that she uses the stairwell that causes her to pass by the male’s unit because it is the closest to the bus stop. The male argues that the stairwell at the other end of the hall is just as convenient. The female agrees to use that stairwell.

The parties then agree that if they see each other they will refrain from nasty faces and the finger. Further, if the male sees the female at the bus stop when he wants to catch a bus, he will go to the next bus stop to wait and refrain from getting on the same bus that she boards.

The agreement between the parties details which stairwells the female will use and the bus and bus stop that the male will use. The female agrees to explore moving her parking space with the Board.

The male agrees to wait at another bus stop and take a different bus.

Neighbor Dispute #3 — “Indebted”

Unit owner Anne has fallen behind on her assessments. She thinks she can catch up, but only if there is a payment plan in place. She has invited the community association board members to mediation in the hopes of obtaining a workable payment plan. Her goal is to pay off her assessments in six months.

neighbor-conflicts-hoa-debt-payments
Neighbor Conflicts With The HOA — Homeowner board members are fellow neighbors who want to get along in their communities. In this instance, board members used a mediator to work toward resolving a neighbor’s assessment debt.

She will be asking for the board members to waive late charges and interest fees so long as payment is made by a certain date each month. The board appoints one of its members to mediate on its behalf. They decide on what parameters would be acceptable to settle for. All board members agree to be available via email or cell on the day of mediation. They can be consulted if further authorization become necessary.

The homeowner hopes to catch up on her assessments with a workable payment plan.

Interests: The association board and Anne have a shared interest in getting her caught up on assessments. The board also has an interest in holding Anne accountable for her responsibilities under the Declaration. Anne has an interest in the enjoyment of her unit (that is, not getting foreclosed on).
Resolution: Board members are not averse to a payment plan. While willing to waive late fees, they are not willing to waive interest. The board believes that for the payment plan to work, Anne needs an incentive to pay off the debt as quickly as possible. They believe that charging interest will provide this incentive. Anne agrees but wants to negotiate the interest rate. The parties successfully agree on an interest rate. The matter is then sent to the board for their full approval.

Neighbor Conflict #4 — “Ulterior Motives”

The parties are an ex-boyfriend and girlfriend who live in the same condominium complex, though in different buildings. They even park in separate lots. The ex-boyfriend wants the return of the diamond engagement ring he gave her.

After opening statements from the parties, it became clear that the ex-girlfriend is scared of the ex-boyfriend. It is also apparent that the ex-boyfriend is using mediation to force contact with the ex-girlfriend.

neighbor-lawsuit-stalker-conflict-dispute

There are some neighbor conflicts that are not suited to mediation. — In this case, an ex-lover is pursuing mediation to force contact with his ex. Mediation actually enabled one party to stalk the other party, so mediation was halted.

It becomes clear that the woman is scared of her ex-boyfriend, and that he is simply pursuing mediation to force contact with her.

Interests: The ex-boyfriend would like the return of an expensive piece of jewelry. Additionally, the mediators suspect that suing his ex-girlfriend was simply a way to be in her presence. The ex-girlfriend has an interest in her personal safety and being left alone by the ex-boyfriend.

Resolution: The mediators made the decision to halt the mediation in this neighbor conflict. Forcing the parties to go forward would simply enable the stalking behavior of the ex-boyfriend. The mediators felt that the distance provided by a judge was the best course. It would enable the ex-girlfriend to negotiate without the added pressure to quickly eliminate the stalking behavior of the ex-boyfriend.

Feedback on Resolving Neighbor Disputes

Each of these examples are real scenarios that have been modified to anonymize the identity of the parties and the developments in which they live. Because there are many ways to resolve a neighbor dispute, I invite you to provide feedback in the comments. What other ways do you think these disputes could be resolved short of going to court?

The beauty of mediation is that there is always more than one way to solve a neighbor conflict. Mediation gives the disputing neighbors the control to make that happen. article endmark
Go to WSCAI’s Mediation Program

Mary Reiten, Esq. Senior Attorney at Peryea Silver Taylor, P.S.,
has significant experience representing both condominium associations and their members, counseling them through disputes and, when needed, instituting litigation. Mary has been practicing law for over 20 years and is licensed in Washington, California, and Alaska (inactive). She tailors her services to the needs of her clients. Together, you and Mary will design a response oriented towards litigation or mediation as the specifics of your case demand.

Mary Reiten, Esq.

Senior Attorney, Peryea Silver Taylor, P.S.

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