The pros and cons of community-building efforts

What condo boards need to know about fostering neighbourly relations
Thursday, February 22, 2018
By Marc Bhalla

In some condominium communities, everyone is a stranger. In others, everybody knows one another by name. While there are factors which impact this that are beyond the control of the board, such as the total number of residents within the community, directors can take steps to further encourage — or discourage — fostering community.  In determining if it is worthwhile to make the effort, it may be helpful to consider the pros and cons of trying to transform a condominium corporation into a true condominium community.

Pro: The comforts of knowing one’s neighbours

Certain comforts can be taken from knowing fellow residents within the condominium community. For example, it may be easier for residents to work together to prevent strangers from inappropriately accessing the property; particularly as some residents may be hesitant to speak up alone when a stranger tries to “tailgate” (enter the premises behind them).

A neighbourhood watch-like camaraderie amongst community residents can only truly be developed if they know one another. Further, it may be more enjoyable for a condominium dweller to feel that they are part of a community in which they can borrow a cup of sugar from a neighbour.

Con: Gossip — knowing too much about one’s neighbours

It may be human nature to observe, yet when one considers this tendency within the context of a condominium — where people come together to live or work — many find that they end up learning more about their neighbours than their neighbours may care to share. It’s common for fellow condominium residents to be exposed to aspects of their neighbours’ lifestyle, love lives or recreational activities that some may have preferred to keep to themselves.

When one considers that different people come together to form a community, getting to know one another too well may give rise to conflict. If for no other reason than a sense of resentment over lost privacy or feeling judged.

Pro: Feeling heard

While it is ultimately the board of directors who is empowered to make decisions that impact the community as a whole, there can be a significant difference when those who are affected by decisions feel that they were considered in the course of deliberations versus being ignored. Directors attempting to foster community often invite communication — actively taking an interest in learning the views, concerns and feedback of those who form the community. This can help everyone feel as though they have a voice, and that their voice is important.

Con: Toxic apathy

It can be discouraging for a condominium director to get the sense that no one appreciates the efforts that he or she makes. Putting in time to encourage community-gathering ice breakers only to have few turn up can lead boards to resent those who do not seize the opportunity to get to know their neighbours.

In some circumstances, those who do participate may feel that in doing so they have more influence over the decisions before the board than others. This can lead to rifts between active and non-active community members, or put property management in an awkward position whereby an active resident or owner feels that they should be treated specially rather than equally.

Pro: Feeling accounted to

The board of directors of York Region Condominium Corporation No. 798 — the Toronto & Area Chapter of the Canadian Condominium Institute’s “Condo of the Year” — prides itself on being open with information and communications. Stephen Pollishuke, who serves on the board, believes that this approach prevents surprises at owners’ meetings or fallout from decisions made by the board.

While he appreciates that conflict will inevitably arise from time to time, as everyone will not always see things the same way, he finds that being transparent and open prevents conflict from escalating unnecessarily due to speculation, assumption or misunderstanding. This approach sends the message to everyone in the community that the board feels accountable to them.

Con: Crossing boundaries

The writer knows of a condominium community where directors only identify themselves at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) if they are seeking re-election that particular year. That is, every director who is not up for re-election at any given AGM does not sit at the head table at the yearly owners’ meeting or otherwise draw attention to themselves; they either hide as just another face in the crowd or skip out on the meeting altogether.

Why? Because while the directors serving this community enjoy their role, they do not enjoy what they view as the “baggage” that comes with it.

This community happens to have a history of residents crossing what their directors’ view as the line when it comes to interactions with the board — perhaps a failure to appreciate that the directors are fellow residents, too. As a result, the board tries to exist in the community without being easily identified to avoid receiving unsolicited knocks on their door or being interrupted as they walk the dog or return home with their groceries.

Is it worth it?

The positives that come with fostering community within a condominium community would seem useful to virtually every condominium. However, it may be important to recognize that no two condominium communities are the same.

The success rate of attempts to foster community can vary, as can the degree of impact of the potential positive and negative consequences of doing so. Committed condominium directors should certainly consider the benefits of fostering community at their own condominiums and how best to structure the effort to accomplish the desired result.

At the very least, opportunities may exist to minimize or re-direct some of the potential negative consequences, such as by setting boundaries with residents. This is particularly the case in view of some of the opportunities this presents in better managing the conflict that will inevitably arise from time to time in the condominium context.

Marc Bhalla holds the Chartered Mediator (C.Med) designation of the ADR Institute of Canada, the nation’s most senior designation available to practising mediators. Marc leads the team, manages and serves as the 2nd Vice President of the Toronto & Area Chapter of the Canadian Condominium Institute.

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