Dealing with the Difficult Solutions for Problem Residents

Dealing with the Difficult

As an attorney and an apartment dweller, Michelle Freudenberger has seen it all when it comes to living with difficult residents.

    “I lived next door to twin toddlers whose parents were both attorneys,” says Freudenberger, principal attorney for the Law Offices of Michelle Freudenberger in Manhattan and a member of the Association of Real Estate Women (AREW). “They took turns sleeping late and brought the kids to the kitchen early. Every morning, one child screeched at the crack of dawn.”

Wanting to keep peace, and understanding parenting challenges, she didn’t complain to the neighbors until one morning when she had been suffering with a bout of the flu and finally fell asleep around 4 a.m., only to be awoken once again by a screaming child.

“I was banging on the walls out of desperation, but the father screamed back ‘get used to living in an apartment!’ ” says Freudenberger.

Can’t we all just get along?

The reality is that while most cooperative and condominiums will, at one time or another, have difficult residents—a noisy neighbor, a complaining shareholder, or perhaps a more difficult tenant who habitually breaks the house rules—Freudenberger and others do not have to ‘get used to it.’  There are several steps that should be outlined in the board’s or association’s bylaws, that a resident, management and the board can take to effectively solve the problems of objectionable tenants and ultimately create a positive neighborhood atmosphere throughout the building community.

More than Just Noise

Neighbors can complain about a host of things, but some of the most common complaints from shareholder to shareholder include: excessive noise; smoking; leaving belongings out; stealing laundry; and not locking doors after exiting or entering. However, being a problem tenant is not limited to just troubles with Mr. and Mrs. Jones next door—resident shareholders or unit owners can also cause disruptions among board members.

“A board member shouldn’t ever feel threatened by a shareholder,” says Freudenberger. “They also shouldn’t make calls late at night to discuss personal business and not more than once a week to give them time.”

    According to Judge William Huss, co-author of Homeowners Associations and You: The Ultimate Guide to Harmonious Community Living, (Sphinx Publishing; 2006), a vocal tenant morphs into an ‘objectionable’ tenant “[When] the person who is complaining interferes with the normal atmosphere of the association’s activities.”

Probably one of the most infamous examples of this is the recent case of 40 West 67th Street v. Pullman.

In a nutshell, Pullman’s troubles began when he began to accuse his upstairs neighbors of a litany of house infractions, including excessive television noise and the creation of what he called ‘toxic’ odors from a bookbinding business he claimed his neighbors were running out of their apartment. Pullman proceeded to complain to the board multiple times and, as a result, the board conducted its own internal investigation. The situation began to turn weird when the board found that the accused neighbors didn’t even own a television set—and had no equipment capable of producing any of the odors that Pullman complained of. Not satisfied with the results of the board’s investigation, Pullman initiated four lawsuits against the co-op, and began distributing flyers and circulating spurious rumors regarding the private behavior of certain board members. The excessive and unnecessary demand the lawsuits placed on the board’s time, energy and resources, combined with the personal attacks led the board to convene a special meeting and make the decision to terminate Pullman’s lease.

The case went to court, and not only was Pullman’s lease terminated, but the case was a precedent setter. Thanks to that decision, co-op boards are now no longer required to prove that an objectionable tenant’s behavior is objectionable solely as defined by law. If their governing documents give them the power to evict a shareholder or to call for an eviction vote from the rest of the building residents, the courts will not second-guess them. The court found that the determination of the board and shareholders constituted enough of proof that Pullman acted objectionably and he was consequently evicted.

According to Deborah Gordon, director of operations at Kaled Management Corporation in Westbury, although the Pullman case is considered an extreme one and Pullman himself did have the right to complain about conditions in the building he found unacceptable, “The case shows that the shareholder was harassing the entire building, not necessarily just the board.”

Solving the Problem

There are many approaches to problem solving, depending on the nature of the problem. Solving neighbor-to-neighbor problems should simply start between the neighbors themselves.

“First, you should try to straighten out everything in a friendly manner,” says Freudenberger, who suggests—in a situation such as hers—knocking on the neighbor’s door and try to discuss the problem in a calm, civil manner. “But if that doesn’t work, the shareholder should start documenting the problem and then send a certified letter to the board and management.”

Freudenberger’s situation ended when her neighbors abruptly moved after being cited for not complying with the 80 percent carpeting rule, which might have softened the noise.

In cases where moving isn’t really an option for either party, yet one resident’s behavior is upsetting his or her neighbors’ ability to enjoy their apartments peacefully, it’s the primary responsibility of the board and management to look into and resolve the problem once a shareholder has initiated a complaint. How exactly the board acts will depend largely on what’s laid out in the community’s bylaws.

“When the board gets involved, it’s their duty to shareholders to act on their behalf and investigate the problem,” says Gordon, who recommends that boards and management conduct their own internal investigations to determine the depth and legitimacy of the problem. The last resort should be litigation.

“The board and management have to be peacemakers,” says Gordon. “If lawyer’s letters are involved, it’s going to cost the building money. If the board wins the case, the shareholder has to pay the legal fees. If the case is not won, the building gets stuck with legal fees—and the building doesn’t want to do that.”

Iris Shorin, a real estate attorney and an associate with DJK Residential in Manhattan lives what she calls a “traditional, non-litigious” building and says this type of building can exist. “Neighbors may sue neighbors, but we’re not a litigious board,” she explains. “We know how much litigation costs, and we will try to settle with the resident no matter how long it takes.”

In some associations, mediation is another problem-solving possibility. To minimize potential problems neighbor-to-neighbor or shareholder-to-board, Huss makes several recommendations, including:

• Give everyone who wants to speak a chance: “Every meeting should have a certain time when members can speak out about certain problems,” he says. “The people have to feel they are having that opportunity.”

• Avoid special treatment for certain members—“Some board members are tempted to ask for all kinds of special privileges, and when anyone is given special treatment it creates animosity and creates litigation.”

The Last Straw

If your board has tried negotiating, mediating, and friendly-but-firm directives to get a problem resident to change their disruptive ways to no avail, voting them out of the building may be the next, and final, step in solving the problem. “Ejecting a tenant is the most serious thing a board can do,” says Gil Feder, a partner with the Manhattan-based law firm of Reed Smith. “In the court system, the courts will defer to what the board did—as long as the board followed the rules.”

Those rules, explains Feder, include sending a tenant a notice of the board’s intention to evict them and, like Huss explained, giving them that critical opportunity to be heard.

“The notice must be detailed, telling the shareholder what they’ve done,” says Feder. “The letter should outline how long they have to fix the problem; sometimes, if it’s one incident, they’ll say don’t do it again.”

A tenant can overturn the eviction decision if, according to Feder, the board acted outside the scope of authority, if it didn’t follow the provisions in the proprietary lease, or if it acted in bad faith. “But it’s rare to find a court that won’t go with a board’s final decision,” says Feder.

In the end, dealing with a disruptive, unpleasant, problem resident is hard on everybody—both the disruptive resident’s neighbors, as well as the board and building management. That said, neighbors, boards and management who work together to resolve problems efficiently and effectively will find that the residents do not really want to cause problems—they just want to have their complaints heard and fixed.

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer living in Poughkeepsie, New York and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.

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24 Comments

  • I would like to find out how many homeowners have been victimized by the litigious attorney-neighbor next door.
  • What happens when the noise is from the upstairs neighbor who is President of the Coop board? She has refused to meet and refused mediation. Isn't this a conflict of interest? The board says that there's nothing they can do.
  • I'm in a similar situation only I'm a 12-year renter complaining about the noisy nuisance that is my 6-month owner in the apt. above mine who happens to be the newly-minted VP of the board. I've tried everything and am now going into litigation.
  • I live with corrupt board members who have stolen money and more. When a newsletter is issued to state facts about their misdeads, they issue more propoganda that does not make sense. People are starting to see their lies but they really need to be ousted from the board. They have showed several breaches of fiduciary duties. Perhaps a trip to the attorney general is in order.
  • Buscando Bacalaitos on Thursday, May 13, 2010 2:11 PM
    I live in an older building with hard wood floors. People complain about noise all the time, quite oddly its mostly the 20 somethings that you'd think would be throwing all night parties that are complaining about the older residents! Most of the complaints are of normal everyday apartment noise, not fights, parties, or loud constructions, just creaky floors, kitchen smells, flushing toilets, and the ocassional crying infant.. I've lived in rental high rise apartments my whole life and never seen so much complaining about noise and smells and so forth...is this just the dark side of co-op living? Do co-ops just attract complainers?
  • We are subdividing our menace resident out of our association - really, amend the master deed, get a subdivision - the unit, common elements and the resident member are gone! Going through it right now - lawyers drafted the agreement- all legal - we think!
  • Does anyone know how to deal with a Board that renders a decision to evict a renter based soley on a personal dislike for the renter? The complainant is also a board member.
  • My aunt is on a board of a Co-Op. Another board member is constantly harrassing her and making false accusations of loud noise and threatning her. She recently went to throw out the garbage at the dumpster, while by the dumpster her dog urinated by the dumpster. The Board member screamed at her from the balcony about the dog urinitaging by the outside dumpster. When she went back into the building he met her by the elevator spit in her face and threatened to punch her if her dog did that again. She filed a police complaint. What can she do to request the tenant also board member be removed from the board, and possibly evicted from the building. She is afraid for her life. She is a single woman living alone constantly harrased by this man.
  • Does anyone know what to do when a mamagement company of a co-op building adds charges onto your monthly common charges in regards to noise and illegal dogs when none of these issues exist?
  • amalendu.chatterjee@eximsoftint.com on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 1:50 PM
    I was looking for HOA guidelines beyond covenants to handle neighbors complaints of different kinds. a simple friendly call can go a long way - is not it? I am looking for difusing most difficult situation to a simpler resolution without going to the court. Please gude me where to find that.
  • I have not found the way to solve the problem of our next door neighbor. He keeps bringing garbage to is unit due to that. Mousses and roaches are coming to our unit. I tried with HOA no solution. I also report this problem every six months to Hillsborough County commissioner's office. He cleans some, and then 6 months late come back again. Can I evict him and make him move or clean inside his house and all over it. Thanks for your great advice.
  • when a co-op is split between owners and renter's; what can i do with a noisy neighbor upstairs? I sent letters to the coop board and now I've received a notice of default thirty days notice to cure & notice of intentions to terminate proprietary lease. what should I do. as an owner for over 30 years; i resent a tenent getting away with this; and now the board has turned on me? how do I proceed?
  • MG...ITS CALLED DISCRIMINATION
  • I live in a coop in Vancouver. I've been there for over 10 years and have only recently been in the cross-hairs of a new shareholder. She is making my life hell. I'm even too paranoid to give details, but warn people that coop living, especially in a small coop, can mean your home can become a battleground. It's staggering to me how one person can poison the lives of so many. I have decided that my health and general well-being are not worth risking - I'm selling and just pity her next target.
  • The problems and their predictable offerings of possible resolutions litter the Internet, yet the problem never gets resolved. What does it take to get a bright set of problem solvers on this subject intead of the pseudo-solving solutions that Do Not Work? First, it does Not help to talk to the offensive neighbor. There is no way to approach them peacefully AND get compliance too. If they get upset at you for complaining, they will get worse when you move on to solution attempt # 2, and 3, etc. Take a little time to drill this into your heads. Offensive people KNOW they are a nuisance and they do not care! It is not the Noise that is bothersome most of the time, it is the resonance, rattling and vibrations that pierce your core and slowly eat away at your sanity. You will Not catch it on a decibel meter or a sound recording. You need a seismometer. You need better building structures, Las Vegas manages to protect it's guests from 24 hour party noise! With the relief of stress you will be a me to pay higher rent to live in a complex with smart multiple-unit construction standards.
  • I have lived in my beautiful condo 19 years. My neighbor of 17 years below me moved out and a smoker moved in. Since we share the same ventilation system, I am getting smoke in my unit. I have a heart condition and although it was asymptomatic for years due to my healthy lifestyle, I am beginning to have problems again because of the smoke. I explained my situation to her and asked if she would smoke out on her patio but she said she would do whatever she wanted to. MY HOA is useless. I am so sad, angry, and frustated by this. I feel I am being forced out of my home because of some else's addiction and no one will help me. I wanted to stay here until I can retire. What "right" does she have to do this to me? Her right to smoke in her home ends when it comes into mine. As a final twist of the knife--I took a poll where I work and asked 25 people if they found a condo they liked but the person in the unit below smoked and the smoke comes into the unit you are interested in buying, would you buy it anyway? Out of the 25 only 2 (smokers) said yes. Not only is my health deteriorating, so is the value of my home.
  • The VP of our board, a lonely man living with his sister has falsely charged me with a second infraction of a rule which carries a $75.00 fine- I admit to the first of fence - hanging wSh on my deck, but have never repeated the offence - what do I do?
  • So having read all the above comments, the bottom line is, nothing works for noisey upstairs neighbor. Either move or live with it. An other option is paying $15,000.00 or more for another ceiling which might or might not work. Have I missed something?
  • I live in California. I have a neighbor having sex off and on, all night, EVERYNIGHT. It cause just enough vibration in my bed that it won't let me go to sleep and wakes me when I do. I know that is what they are doing, but can't get it on a typical recorder and can't afford a $1000+ company to prove it. My Board will not do anything, as he denied it. I am a senior and loosing sleep, causing me some help problems. I am so exhausted trying to find a solution. He has an addiction and no one will believe m.
  • the suffering neighbor on Thursday, December 31, 2015 10:02 AM
    my neighbor keyed my vehicle, poured wax on it, and put something all over the door to my apt, and took all the light bulbs out in the hallway after I politely asked him not to turn on his fan on in his bathroom because the smell is getting me sick and I have health problems. Mind you the smell wasn't just cigarette smoke (illegal drugs) !! I eventually put it in writing to the management office and they told him it was me and he vandalized my vehicle again, turned the fan on more, called me filthy names and watched me every time I come home or leave my apt. I contacted the police and was told go to court and file Harassment order. The man doing this isn't even on the lease, which is a HUD building ! I got NO WHERE !!! I had proof of him saying he isn't done with me and by the time he's done with me I will have no vehicle, and sure enough, I no longer have a vehicle (mechanically tempered with). There is much more I didn't explain but just to show. Moving isn't an option because i'm on disability and can't afford the move. This man has overdosed several times so there is proof he is doing the drugs !! So he continues to cause me to live an unhealthy and not peaceful life !! I've lived like this for more than 15 years
  • This can be a difficult thing to handle, especially as a property owner leasing your investment property out to tenants who then complain about neighbors. As a property owner, it is your responsibility to manage your property and satisfy the tenant's right to peace and quiet enjoyment. Add a tough HOA in the mix, and things get even more dicey. I like to suggest to property owners to enlist the help of a property management company to help with issues like this. Their non-biased expertise can diffuse many situations, saving you a lot of headaches in the end. Thanks again for sharing!
  • Please help me. I live in co op. Next door neighbor is hoarder. Filthy pig who constantly leaves door open. Complained to office of bldg many times The smell is awful she has mice, roaches,waterbugs Please help. Thanks
  • We have the condo board president who is trying to get the proxy and trying to gain power and remain almost 17 years in the condo board with 2 board members he is abused his power on condo owners and having many projects done even not discussed and having proved all cap improvements without owners agreements: for example change 11 years elevators ( which wasn't nessasary to change . And a lot of many contracts had been approved only to have his personal conflicts of interest. Every 5 year local 11 project was detoreareating our buildings facade and construction was brought a lot of leaks after their unfinished work done... a lot of residents very upset and he gain power from buildings Attorney and new management to have control all of the homeowners terrible aggressive aggravation and ignoring legal rights as the condo owners. Super and all the board members created conspiracy group and managers agent all together taken monupulative action against innocent people!
  • So many different cases. We have one of our own. Our neighbor claims we make noises and keeps sending HOA security to our door. Security comes, rings the bell to tell us that he or she doesn't hear us, but she is here to tell us that "there is a noise complaint against our unit" It's the same sentence every time as if the are following it by the book. This ringing our doorbell ad telling us about a noise complaint has been going on and on for years: we get calls and knocks when sleeping and even when not at home or away on vacation. Nobody seem to be able to stop this nonsense of waking us up (and no, we are not the only people who get calls when not even at home). The rules allow such claims and security does not have to check for the noise, confirm the noise or hear the noise. Security also doesn't have to meet the caller or know who called the complaint in. It's like a circus. In fact, the caller doesn't even have to be in the building to call in a complaint. Just name a unit number and call the security. All this is allowed per our HOA rules. We did get a neighbor to stop calling after she left us a letter a complaint letter when we were not even at home. The reason she stopped is because she probably understood that I was about to take her to court. The security still goes from door to door every time a complaint comes in. Because HOA security goes behind a lot of door waking people up, at least they are fair. Why only come to tell us about a noise nobody ever heard but the caller. Why not ring a bell and tell me you brought a cold 6-pack?! Would be nice specially now with Corona.