Avoiding Lawsuits Dealing with Friends, Foes and Finances

I Love Lucy is one of the most beloved sitcoms in all of television history. In one episode, after Little Ricky is born, the baby is screaming and screaming, keeping awake the next door tenant, Mrs. Trumbull. Mrs. Trumbull complains to landlord Fred Mertz, demanding that he do something about it. According to Mrs. Trumbull, the building rules state that babies aren't allowed. Okay, it's a rental building...and it's a sitcom, so of course everything turns out all right by the end of the 30 minutes. Mrs. Trumbull even ends up loving Little Ricky and becoming his babysitter.

Wouldn't it be great if all problems in a building were handled so smoothly and succinctly? If at the settling of a disagreement, everyone became friends and lived happily ever after? Sure it would— but it would also involve some wishful thinking. The reality is that in co-op and condo living, problems are bound to arise between residents—as well as between the residents and the board—and unless these issues are handled deftly, they can easily balloon into something even more divisive and unpleasant.

Well, That Escalated Quickly

“The common points of conflict between residents and the board include such things as pets, vehicles, leasing, and what the residents do to the building’s exterior,” says Jay Steven Levine, the founder and sole shareholder at the Jay Steven Levine Law Group, which has offices in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton.

In addition to these types of events that may lead to litigation, Matt Zifrony, an attorney and director at the Tripp Scott law firm in Fort Lauderdale, says that he thinks many conflicts between boards and residents are a result of poor communication. “That leads residents to lose trust in their board, and to start questioning how the board reached a decision, rather than the decision itself,” he says. “I don't know how many times that I've heard a resident complain about why the board shouldn't have decided to spend money on some improvements, even though the resident was in favor of the improvements. Their real problem was that the decision was made by a board member on his/her own, rather than at an open board meeting.”

If Mrs. Trumbull had been a real-life resident of a South Florida condo and had complained to her real-life board president that the Ricardos were breaking the rules, she could reasonably expect that something would be done. If Board President Mertz failed to enforce the rules, Mrs. Trumbull would probably threaten litigation.


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