Living in close quarters in multi unit housing can be both a challenging and wonderful thing. Condo living has been my way of life for the last four and a half years, a challenge of sorts my first two years due to a nasty downstairs neighbor with a penchant for aggressive complaints. But even in those years, getting to know the neighbors in my building and community has been wonderful, a uniquely sublime experience with a variety of neighbors. I’m an active sort, mostly extroverted, so I have had no problem getting to know the people who live around me. With my nasty neighbor gone, existence is very quiet and the opportunity to get to know the people who occupy the four units in my side of the eight unit building I live in have been numerous. Next door is Cathy, whose 21 year old daughter lives with her. She is a proud Subaru Crosstrek owner, so we like to share stories of our Subarus, as well as life. Directly below me is the new resident who bought the nasty woman’s unit. Todd is a laid back stoner, recently divorced and retired. His son, an equally laid back stoner, moved in with him recently. They both are a pleasure to talk to, often inviting me downstairs to share a toke (no thanks) or to sing with them while Todd plays the guitar. Then there is Bill, a bachelor, a thoughtful thinker who I sit with out in front of his garage sharing our thoughts of the world. We have spiritual conversations now and then, which I enjoy, especially since Bill isn’t a Christian, yet respects what I believe and isn’t afraid to talk with me about what he believes about God. If my son doesn’t want to stand up with me at my wedding this coming March, I may ask Bill.
Oh, and another thing — my fiance lives in the building next door. This truly is a friendly community.
Emerald Green, the condo association I live in, is a quiet little community of two story condos nestled next to the Dupage river in the west suburban Chicago area, within spitting distance of the east gate to Fermilab, one of the older accelerator labs in the world and where one of the smallest atomic particles was discovered. Scientists at Fermi are splitting atoms in a good way and it’s a cool place to live next to. I know of at least one resident who works there, Karl, a young Britain who is truly brilliant. He’s also a talented, enthusiastic tennis player who plays in the tennis leagues our condo recreation association sponsors here. Our community has a street named after a Fermilab scientist, John Bardeen, and another street named after Enrico Fermi. The river is a source of beauty for our community, especially those fortunate enough to have a view of the river. There also is a pond, fed by the Dupage, as well as a spacious clubhouse with pool and tennis court. The condos and villas here were built in the late seventies, with beautiful mature oaks and maples throughout. Our community is well maintained, managed by a competent property management company and a volunteer board who make sure the community is cared for. This past summer saw many improvements and maintenance projects – wood siding replacements, paint for the buildings and balconies, balcony replacements, courtyard concrete replaced, new LED lighting in front of garages and in the courtyards. Not only is Emerald Green a great place to live, the value of each condo unit has increased significantly, not only because of rising real estate prices but also because the community truly is a well cared for gem.
Emerald Green also has another governing board, the recreation association, responsible for the clubhouse, pool, tennis court and pond. The recreation association oversees resident rentals of the clubhouse, issues pass cards for use of the clubhouse and pool, organizes community events/parties, maintains the pool and grounds around the clubhouse, pays for a pool/clubhouse manager. I am a member of the board, have been secretary the last two years, a little frightening for me in some ways because my name is the manager for the bank accounts the recreation association holds. I also monitor the board’s email address and website, answer resident emails and make sure rental requests get to the person who schedules rentals. I set the agenda for our monthly meetings and preside when the president doesn’t want to (sounds funny, but, well, he doesn’t).
One of the challenges to living in a condo community is the residents who complain. There are people who are going to complain no matter what, just because they can. As soon as the first snowflakes flutters down from the heavens, someone is going to grouse about how long it took to get their drive or sidewalk cleared, or how bad the removal job was. They complain about garbage service, the brightness of the new LED lights, the new balconies, how a tree was pruned or not pruned, mice in their units. I had to answer a complaint about mice this summer — because apparently property management and the condo board weren’t answering to satisfaction. She didn’t seem to understand that the recreation association has nothing to do with maintenance to condo buildings. Many residents don’t like that there is a monthly association fee, don’t understand or care that fee is what pays for snow and garbage removal as well as all the maintenance to the buildings. Some feel entitled, and that entitlement also includes the right to complain, quite often in a rude way. They don’t care that all board members are neighbors who have volunteered their time for free.
There is one resident who became upset when his request to grow a garden, for his own use and not for the community, in the open space behind his building, was rejected by the board. Then he was asked during a yearly inspection to clear his garage so that he could park his car in his garage, an association rule. Instead of going to the board to talk about it, he arranged a mutiny of sorts, recruited many of the community chronic complainers to go to a board meeting. It was a rude, disrespectful attack. Mean in many ways and accomplished nothing except create a very unfair portrayal of the condo board. Nothing positive came from the attack. There was no real reason for it except to give the originator satisfaction, a cowardly way to get back at what the wrongs he thought he had experienced. In reality, he doesn’t understand that living in a condominium means that there are rules and those rules are necessary for the community to function in a healthy way. Can there be exceptions? Yes. But those exceptions are not always granted. At the last condo board election, many board members resigned or didn’t seek reelection. For a volunteer position, it just wasn’t worth the headache.
That same resident is threatening to go after the recreation assocation board now, at our meeting this coming Tuesday. He’s threatening to bring an angry throng with him. Why? He wanted to rent the clubhouse a few months ago, a request that was granted but required the standard contract that is issued to all residents that want to rent the clubhouse. That contract requires a check for the rental, as well as a check for damage deposit. He refused to sign the contract, refused to issue the required checks. The guy had the party at the clubhouse any way, complained that the bathrooms had some used paper towels in the garbage cans, said that he wouldn’t pay when confronted about it. On top of that, several of his party guests decided to go for a dip in the pool after midnight, were abusive when asked to leave. So, the recreation board asked him for the signed contract, requested that he pay for the rental. He refused by simply not responding. As a result, the board sent him a certified letter, requesting immediate payment or else his clubhouse pass would be cancelled (it’s an electronic key) and pool privileges for next summer would be revoked. No response. His pass has been cancelled. An offer for a hearing to discuss had been extended to him, which he didn’t respond to.
Guess who was asked to deal with him?
I sent him an email and asked him to refrain from bringing his matter out in the public meeting. I asked him to instead appear for a private hearing with our board. He refused. It’s clear he wants the drama, not a real resolution. So, this Tuesday, probably in front of a crowd, I have to be the board member who speaks for the board at the meeting. The president? Nope. He doesn’t want to do it. Ironically, everyone on the board seems to think I am the one who will deal with him the most reasonably.