Some Disputes Need Board Intervention, Others to be Settled By Owners

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What happens when your neighbor blasts his music too loud? Complains about your trees covering his yard and cuts down branches? Fills his garage with fireworks for Fourth of July? Or gets mad at you and dumps garbage on your lawn?

When neighbor-to-neighbor conflicts occur in shared communities, who is responsible for settling them — the owners, the association or both?

Case in point: At the Crescent Lakes of Boca Raton homeowners community, two neighbors, Paul Sivo and Gail Porczyk, have engaged in a war of words and alleged angry actions for up to a decade.

Sivo claims Porczyk has “tormented” his wife, Doris, dumped debris in his yard and once, while he and his wife were on vacation, turned on an outside water faucet and left it running, wasting water and ringing up an extra $12 on his water bill before a neighbor came across it, according to Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office reports. Porczyk, on the other hand, has also complained of being mistreated repeatedly by Sivo over the years, according to attorneys representing the homeowners association.

Such alleged actions may appear petty. But they can be very troublesome for those involved, their neighbors and even board directors. Police reports reveal at least one of Sivo and Porczyk’s neighbors has become a potential witness.

And just like the conflicts themselves, the question of how to resolve them — and who’s responsible — is often complex.

In general, when it comes to living in condominium and homeowner communities, the answer to resolving neighbor-to-neighbor disputes sometimes lies in the details of the governing documents. But unless specific powers are provided by the rules and restrictions for the association board to intervene, conflicts are typically up to neighbors to resolve, by working things out between themselves or battling it out in the courts, experts say.

Both Sivo and Porczyk declined to comment about the dispute, but said they were consulting their private attorneys in their pursuit of a resolution. Through her attorney, Porczyk denied all of the allegations against her.

Irwin York, president of the Crescent Lakes of Boca Raton Homeowners Association referred calls to the association’s law firm. MaryAnn Chandler, a partner at Katzman, Garfinkel and Berger, which represents the community, said at this point it is not certain whether the association has the authority to step in.

“It might come down to a case of he said, she said,” Chandler said. “The bottom line is the association may only intervene when the issue impacts the community as a whole, or the dispute involves a violation of the governing documents.”

Sometimes a community’s governing documents offer a solution, said Ellen Hirsch de Haan, a partner with Becker & Poliakoff, which represents shared communities across Florida.

For instance, if a condo owner complains that an upstairs neighbor has installed a new tile floor without sound-proofing, as required by condo documents, the association may step in, de Haan said. If the association has the power to fine, they could do so.

Florida law stipulates that associations do have a legal duty to address nuisance issues that affect “the quiet enjoyment” of more than one neighbor, de Haan said. That could include an owner playing loud music late at night or the incessant barking of a dog that disturbs a number of neighbors.

But complaints from a single owner about an ongoing matter “may not rise to the level of a nuisance that must be addressed by the association,” de Haan explained.

De Haan recommends the following tips, if you are engaged in a neighborhood dispute and believe your board should get involved:

Verify complaints: Owners in a dispute should provide evidence to support their case, including obtaining witness statements, photographic or video evidence. Sivo reportedly installed cameras around his home to capture evidence. Board members should also document complaints as much as possible.

Send a warning letter: Ask the board to send a letter to your offending neighbor, detailing times and dates of the complaints and the governing documents violations at issue. If appropriate, that letter should warn about possible fines, suspension of privileges and legal action.

Seek legal advice: When all else fails, consider hiring an attorney, and ask your board to consult the association attorney about other possible action and potential liabilities on the behalf of the community.

This article was first published by the Sun-Sentinel on Oct. 26, 2010.

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