When Self Absorption And Communities Collide

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As the economic downturn in the US has affected more and more families over the past few years, many have had to give up the dream of home ownership and turn to more economical places to live.  Often, this means sacrifice and downsizing in order to fit into the new community they find themselves in, yet hold onto the last vestiges of their former lifestyle.  Instead of homes, they find themselves living in rented apartments or condos, which have set regulations and bylaws that they have decided don’t apply to them.

Living in a condominium community, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly as new renters and owners move into my complex. When the economy went sour, property values had plummeted and some owners who’d bought with zero down ended up being overextended and the community ended up having so many foreclosures and short sales that the assessed values of the condos dropped in half. Some owners, faced with the prospect of losing their homes, decided to move and rent their condos out. New residents moved in. While some of these new neighbors embraced the bylaws and their landlords were diligent in ensuring complete understanding of these, others have decided that they want to do whatever they want, which is now creating issues for their neighbors.

One common violation that condo complexes have is related to vehicle parking. Most bylaws will outline how many vehicles a resident can have, as well as where these vehicles can be parked. My complex, for example, has a bylaw that states that an owner can have two vehicles, and must park their vehicles in their garage. They are not allowed to have more than that, and their cars cannot occupy the visitor parking for more than on an ‘occasional’ basis.  Long term owners have for the most part adhered to this, but over the past several years with the influx of renters some of the new residents don’t adhere to the bylaw. In my complex, there’s only four visitor spots for every twenty-eight condos. There’s currently six ‘renter’ residents who have decided that they are exempt from the bylaw and have parked one of their cars in these spots. What is more exasperating is that all of these people have a two-car garage but choose to stake out spots, and the end result is that ‘real’ visitors cannot find anyplace to park. In one case, a renter has decided to maintain three cars on site and now has stored one of their cars in these spots. They’re incurring a $100 fine every ten days, so instead of adhering to the rules have started to play games – every four days or so they move one of the cars around the complex, and swap out the cars they have in the garage. Only one car is parked in the garage at any one point in time.

Another common violation is that some residents do not pick up after their dogs when they walk them. This has resulted in a veritable landmine of piles that other responsible owners have to pick their way through when picking up after their own dogs.  In order to report the violator, the complex requires that whoever reports the violation to be able to identify the violator.  It’s not enough to report the piles and hope that the land management company investigates and finds the violator.  If some of these residents had owned their own home and had a yard, would they leave the piles there?  Probably not…but since they rent, they do not care that the common grounds are littered with feces.  When they’re caught, they’re surprised and angry that they get caught, which creates other issues for their neighbors. 

Why do the violators continue to park in visitor parking? Why do other violators not pick up after their animals? Many times, these are the same type of people who take up more than one parking spot, who toss cigarettes out of the car windows, who park their shopping carts in the middle of aisles, and who talk loudly on their cell phones in restaurants. They are the Self-Absorbed. They are the ones who want to do what they want to do, and get irritated that there are consequences for their actions. They are the ones who act surprised that ‘nobody told me that I couldn’t do this’, and the ones whose parents raised them as ‘special’ people.  

How do communities resolve the issue of the self-absorbed? How do complex residents maintain neighborly relations in the face of this type of behavior? Here’s some advice for all parties:

For communities, promptly respond to violations and ensure that the rules and bylaws are maintained. When self absorbed behavior manifests itself, it’s usually because the newcomers have either not realized that their behavior is not acceptable, or their landlord has not made clear what the consequences of violating the bylaws are. Owners have more of a vested interest in the community and want a community to hold it’s value. Renters by and large don’t really care, so owner interests must come first.

Residents must ensure they read and understand the terms of their lease as well as any bylaws/rules that are in place. Protesting that ‘they didnt’ know they couldn’t do something’ is not an excuse. Also, older residents should (as many neighbors do) reach out and engage newcomers to their community. Doing this increases the sense of community and involvement, and increases awareness of the consequences of their actions. I’ve also seen effective responses when residents leave notes for violators, stating that while they can use complex resources they need to share them.

For those who are continuous violators, and truly are so self-absorbed that despite repeated violations they demonstrate that they don’t care about being in compliance or being good neighbors, eventually they will pay so much in fines that they will stop parking, not picking up after themselves, etc.,  their landlords will be fined/notified by the complex, or the management company may take action to force a change to occur. What should not occur is that owners STOP bringing these actions to the relevant authorities’ attention so action can be taken to resolve them.

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