The head of my homeowners association is a pig!

How can I sell my unit when my neighbors won't clean up?


Cary Tennis
June 15, 2005 11:41PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I live in a condo -- one with rules and a board but very little money due to the fact that others have systematically left their dues unpaid and their units unkempt. When asked about their delinquent status they seem to feel entitled to slack due to their status as very busy "business owners."

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If you were to visit my house on any given day when I had not been working around the common areas, you might think that you were visiting rural Appalachia. The theme song from "Deliverance" would waft out and a smell of socks, dogs, halitosis, garbage and the Great Unwashed would drift out of a certain condo unit. It makes you want to stop, drop and roll to olfactory safety.

If it were early morning -- before 11 a.m. -- you might be treated to the sight of the neighbor's ample body, naked in her bed, flanked by her pit-bull mix dogs, chest rising and falling in her deep, sonorous sleep. If it were evening, the dogs might launch themselves against the window, looking vicious and mean.

Welcome to my world, one where common courtesy becomes "why I can leave my garbage outside on the common area porch for you to take out" and where mystery abounds with things like "how did three pairs of XXL black thong underwear get left out in the yard?" Nicely worded e-mails and attempts to bring about change through the normal means have absolutely no effect on this person.

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Cary, my place is for sale, but I have had little to no bites, and I am getting frustrated being Hazel to this crew of babies. I tried not cleaning up. They don't care. If I don't keep up with it, it doesn't happen. We can't afford a management company. I get that I am a tad anal, but honestly, how hard is it to take out your garbage 15 steps from the door?

What do I do? I'm afraid to even send this in for fear she'll read it and attack me. She's the president of our homeowners association, and I am at my wits' end. Please help.

Sanford and Sun Porch

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Dear Sanford,

What a fun place to live. I'm sure you'll miss it terribly once it's sold. Perhaps once you're gone you can arrange to visit now and then, just to pick up the garbage and gaze at your neighbor's physique.

While I don't know the particulars, one thing is clear: You have to sell and get out of there! So the one thing I suggest is: Just concentrate on selling. Visualize selling. Do everything you can that makes that happen. If affirmations help, use them. Write "Sell!" on your mirror. Write "Sell!" on your walls (just to remind you what you're trying to do, you know, in case you might forget). Make a list of all the little things you can do to improve your chances of selling. Take one concrete action every day, whether that's a phone call or a visit or cleaning up the place.

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There are lots of things that you could do that might make you feel better but would not help you sell your place. In the middle of the night, for instance, you could paint your neighbor's window black so you don't have to see her. But that wouldn't help you sell. So if you have to vent, vent -- but outside of earshot. If you have to scream, scream -- but not at your neighbor. You are going to need what minimal cooperation you can get from her. The last thing you want to do is antagonize her. Just define the shortest route to a sale and start taking every step you need to take toward that goal.

If talking to more real estate professionals helps, talk to them. You might also get some useful help on Salon's Table Talk forum for readers of this column. You can share specifics about your locale, and perhaps discuss it with people from the same region, or people who've been through the same thing. It can also be a good place to vent -- although you are venting to live humans who may vent back, so be careful!

The experience of a recent letter writer who was thinking about buying a cottage on a lake is a case in point. My experience with real estate is in one extraordinary and some would say rather insane locale -- the San Francisco market -- so my advice to "Buy! Buy! Buy!" may not have been all that useful. (In fact, after writing that column, I really began to rethink the whole thing -- I didn't have enough facts to say "Buy! Buy! Buy!" although I continue to think that buying the place you live in, in general, is usually a good idea. If nothing else, it ensures that you don't get thrown out if the owners sell to someone else.) Luckily, by going into the Table Talk forum, she was able to talk more specifically about her own situation and a whole range of potential problems with waterfront property. She got a wealth of good help there that I could not have offered her.

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So good luck to you, and good luck on the comedy circuit -- you are doing stand-up, aren't you? No? Why not?

One other related thought: Your letter was amusing and it got the point across. But I would caution you that there is a time for demonstrating how screwed-up other people are, and there is a time for just doing what we have to do. If you find yourself concentrating on how unfair it is that you have to clean up the garbage, you may find that task much more difficult to perform. Instead, I suggest that you look at cleaning up the garbage as an investment of labor. And if you have to hire a person to clean up, think of that as a real-estate investment!

Your goal is to sell. When you feel crazy, just do the next thing on your list.

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