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What COAs should know about arbitration and mediation

Disputes are bound to erupt in any condominium community. Conflict comes with the territory. Whenever individual property rights intersect with those of the condo community as a whole, disagreements about those rights and responsibilities are inevitable.

Sometimes, conflicts lead to legal troubles that can be costly and time-consuming for all involved. For condominium owners associations (COAs), the important question is not whether disputes will arise, but rather how to deal with them in an effective (and cost-conscious) manner.

Understanding arbitration

Florida law requires certain types of condominium disputes to go through arbitration. In this out-of-court process, a neutral third party essentially acts as a private judge. The parties submit written filings describing the nature of the dispute. The arbitrator might hold a hearing where both sides can present their evidence and arguments. Ultimately, the arbitrator issues a decision.

Advantages of arbitration

Arbitration offers many benefits compared to traditional courtroom battles. For example, it is:

  • Faster
  • More efficient
  • Easier to navigate
  • Less costly
  • Less formal

Mandatory arbitration is generally nonbinding, meaning either party can still take their claim to court if they disagree with the decision. Nonetheless, arbitration can still play a valuable role in giving the parties a sense of how the case would likely come out in court. It also illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of both sides.

What about mediation?

Mediation, a separate out-of-court process, may also be mandatory in certain disputes. Unlike arbitration, mediation doesn't involve a third-party decision-maker. Instead, a neutral facilitator (the mediator) works to help the parties reach a settlement. Certified mediators are highly trained in problem-solving and conflict resolution, so they understand how to help parties find common ground. However, settlement isn't guaranteed. The outcome is ultimately up to the parties themselves.

Being proactive about conflicts

Every COA should have a trusted attorney to assist with the disputes that are bound to come up. Additionally, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Knowledgeable legal guidance can go a long way toward shielding COAs and owners from needless friction.

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