There are unique aspects about condominium disputes that make consideration of early intervention mediation a good idea. Unlike most types of litigation, condominium disputes often put neighbors who share common property interests and see each other daily in an adversarial position. Assessments for legal expenses cause resentment among association members and often exacerbate an already emotionally charged situation. Prolonged litigation can divide the community and adversely impact the value of all owners’ units.
Because these disputes often involve a relatively modest amount of fines, property damage or unpaid dues, at least initially, the attorney’s fees andexpenses of litigation can often be out of proportion to the amount in controversy. Once the onset of litigation and the passage of time cause attorney’s fees and fines for violations to increase, disputes become increasingly difficult to resolve. Despite the ability to collect fines and attorney’s fees if associations prevail in litigation, Courts frequently reduce the amount of those claims, leaving associations with attorney’s fees significantly in excess of what is awarded by the Court, not to mention the collection difficulties from unit owners that subsequently follow.
Mediation early on in condominium disputes gives the parties an opportunity to explore resolution before legal expenses become "the tail that wags the dog" and before the heightened emotions and polarization that occur when a lawsuit is filed. Engaging in mediation procedures that create an environment where conversations are about resolution instead of litigation promotes community harmony, which is in the best interests of all unit owners. Provided the concept is properly presented and fairly administered, mediation at an early stage of the condominium dispute can be used with or without attorney involvement. Chances for resolving disputes are often improved just by affording the unit owner the opportunity to have his or her side heard by a neutral person. The cost and scheduling of mediation can usually be tailored to the nature of the dispute and the needs of the parties.
Peter Schroeter, Esq. is a Mediator with the firm of Shaheen & Gordon. He is a member of the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals, rated AV by Martindale-Hubbell and recognized by Best Lawyers in America in mediation.