As a Conflict Practitioner, I am always on the lookout for situations where people or groups find themselves in positions where their respective interests come into conflict. Those that particularly interest me are ones where norms of behavior or changing social institutions, rather than the people involved, create conflicts. Recently, while researching the viability of quantifying the outcomes of community mediations I stumbled onto such a situation.
Recently, due to increased incentivization to save money and conserve energy, many homeowners want to install (or have already installed) solar panels on their homes. Unfortunately, some homeowners who are members in HOA’s sometimes find themselves in violation of the HOA’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Regulations (CCR’s, or declarations). Under some HOA declarations, unauthorized alterations to homes is not allowed and if panels have been installed in neighborhoods governed by those rules, homeowners are in conflict with HOA mandates to maintain aesthetic and functional quality and to protect property values. Subsequently, offending homeowners can be met with censure, from verbal castigation to threats of litigation.
On the surface, it would seem that installation of solar panels is a relatively harmless and proactive effort on the part of the homeowner to conserve energy and save money. However, here we see an interesting example of what can happen when both affected parties have clear motives and incentives to support their actions. This brings up an interesting situation, not only with regard to putting solar panels on homes but also about how to deal with changing social norms which require changes in regulations to reflect present social realities.
In this homeowner/HOA example, both the homeowner and the HOA have every right to expect compliance or acceptance from the other. In fact it is not inconceivable to consider that each of the involved parties may truly understand and respect the position of the other. This can further complicate the issue, if the HOA feels the need to litigate to uphold their mandate, and the homeowner has to defend themselves against litigation, the rules could potentially and needlessly create an animosity and resentment between them that would otherwise never have occurred. Often, when we think of conflict we imagine people being in contention with each other. However here we see a situation where the people involved may be neighbors, community collaborators or even friends, yet the situation they find themselves in may actually jeopardize their relationship.
The point is that this situation presents an excellent opportunity for Conflict Practitioners such as Oval Options to be particularly effective in policy formation. This particular dispute between HOA’s and homeowners is born out of changing social expectations, as opposed to personal disagreements and presents an opportunity for mediators, facilitators or other conflict resolvers to step in and help shape new regulations that realize social change, and possibly prevent damage to existing relationships because of that change.OvalOptions is a conflict consulting organization dedicated to helping individuals, families and businesses find the most efficient and cost-effective means for dealing with disputes throughout the Denver Colorado Area