One constant in condominium and homeowner association law is the issue of vendors and contractors. At the very least, associations are responsible for the upkeep, maintenance, and repair of the common elements. Often times, there may be pools, patios, and clubhouses that associations must manage as well. This means that there will be vendors, contractors, and suppliers. Most of the time, the relationship runs smoothly; but, every once in a while, there’s a hiccup. Sometimes, it’s more an explosion than a hiccup. In any case, how boards and property managers handle disputes with vendors can either spell long-term pain for the association or it can mean a relatively simple affair.
Below are some general guidelines on how to avoid trouble when dealing with a dispute with a vendor, contractor, or supplier:
1. Get everything in writing. And yes, I mean everything. Handshake agreements, verbal agreements, promises during a conversation, or any oral agreements or promises may be invalid in Ohio. Regardless of their validity, it makes solving the problem extremely difficult. Any promises, terms, or agreements with a vendor or contractor should be put in writing. A “writing” can be as simple as a follow-up email after a conversation or even a note signed by both parties.
2. Check the original contract. When a dispute with your vendor breaks out, check the terms of the contract to see if there is any language that can guide you. Some contracts contain clauses that spell out what to do if the customer is dissatisfied. Better yet, you should always feel free to call our office for help. We can check the contract and offer guidance and, if necessary, respond to the contractor directly.
3. Do NOT stop payment. All too often we see clients do damage when they immediately stop payment on a contract without notice or explanation to the vendor or contractor.
It is completely reasonable reaction: the association did not receive the services it was promised, so why pay the contractor? Unfortunately, the law does not exactly see it that way.
It is best to continue to pay the contractor while a dispute gets resolved. If you are convinced that there is no way you can pay a vendor or contractor and you are considering withholding payment, please call our office immediately. We can review the contract and take the steps necessary to protect the association’s rights.
4. Communicate. Like most things in life, problems with a vendor or contractor can be solved with a little communication. It is best to get any and all communication in writing (see #1 on the list) or, at the very least, to follow-up with an email that confirms the contents of a telephone call.
Handling conflicts with a contractor or vendor appropriately can help to alleviate a lot of potential harm to the association in the future. In the unlikely event that your association needs to take a contractor to court or vice versa, taking the steps above can help greatly in reducing the association’s liability. Before even reaching the courtroom, the above steps help resolve the conflict before litigation becomes necessary.
As always, we encourage you to call or email us if you have any questions or concerns.