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What to do if you have a disagreement with a Norwegian housing association

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
What to do if you have a disagreement with a Norwegian housing association
Living in a housing cooperative in Norway has several benefits - if you're new to the country, you might appreciate the support and guidance of locals in your cooperative. Photo by Maarten Zuidhoorn on Unsplash

Many homeowners in Norway live in a housing association ('borettslag'), which is usually run by a board. But what happens when you have a disagreement with the cooperative's board?

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When it comes to owning a home in Norway, there are primarily two paths to choose from – self-owned homes and co-owner homes.

The former involves private ownership of the property, while the latter is an arrangement where a housing cooperative (Norwegian: borettslag) - with several co-owners or unit holders - collectively owns the property.

This shared ownership, however, doesn't negatively affect the exclusive rights of each co-owner to their individual homes.

There's no need to worry if you're unfamiliar with the housing cooperative model - it is both common and widely embraced in Norway, with property buyers looking for a new home often showing no preference between these different ownership types.

However, when it comes to the management of the cooperative and its operations, you'll need to familiarize yourself with its essential governing body - the board (Norwegian: styret).

The cooperative board and its responsibilities

The board has a number of responsibilities in the housing cooperative, ranging from the day-to-day administration to handling financial matters (including things like budgeting and accounting).

Furthermore, the board is also tasked with making important decisions related to the cooperative's affairs, such as taking on maintenance projects, making changes to common areas, and similar issues.

You can expect the board to uphold the cooperative's rules, periodically hold regular meetings for co-owners, and handle contract negotiations with providers of services that the cooperative needs (for example, when the cooperative needs a new fence installed).

READ MORE: Your essential guide to housing cooperative general meetings in Norway

Usually, the board also mediates communication between the residents (if necessary) and local authorities or service providers (if you're unhappy with the new doors installed by a service provider, the board should be your first point of contact).

Finally, the board ensures that the cooperative acts and operates in accordance with Norwegian regulations governing housing cooperatives.

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Common disputes

Living in a housing cooperative in Norway has several benefits - if you're new to the country, you might appreciate the support and guidance of locals in your cooperative. Furthermore, it can also offer a sense of community and shared responsibility. However, it can also give rise to disputes among residents.

One common area of contention revolves around the distribution of shared costs (Norwegian: felleskostnader) within the cooperative. Major works on the property, such as renovations or repairs, often spark disagreements among residents.

Some may feel that they should not have to contribute as much as others if they believe the work doesn't directly benefit them. Additionally, disputes may arise when the cost distribution deviates from what is specified in the cooperative's statutes or when the cooperative needs to increase the costs due to new market conditions.

READ MORE: How to analyse a Norwegian housing association's finances before you buy an apartment

Unequal levels of maintenance carried out by individual residents can also lead to conflicts. Aside from financial and maintenance disputes, keeping pets is another potentially contentious issue. While keeping animals is generally permitted, cooperatives can impose restrictions via their bylaws.

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What to do if a dispute arises?

First things first – prevention is always the best course of action. Clear communication, adherence to the cooperative's rules and relevant legal provisions, as well as fostering a spirit of cooperation among residents and the cooperative's board can all help reduce the risk of conflicts.

However, even when the residents and the board have the best intentions, disputes still can - and do - arise.

Generally speaking, three types of disputes can arise: internal ones (between residents), between residents and the board, and disputes with external actors.

1. Individual disputes – those which arise between residents within the cooperative - are most common and can occur due to various reasons, such as disagreements over maintenance responsibilities, noise complaints, or issues related to shared facilities.

In such cases, the cooperative usually resorts to internal procedures to facilitate communication and resolve conflicts (such as mediation via a neutral third party). If these fail, a more formal decision-making process can be employed, such as a discussion followed by a vote during the annual general meeting.

2. Disputes between residents and the board: Conflicts between residents and the cooperative board may occur for numerous reasons. For example, if residents feel the board is not fulfilling its duties (being sloppy with maintenance) or poorly managing cooperative funds (taking on unnecessary debt).

Cooperatives usually have clear guidelines for how residents can voice such concerns – from raising the matter during general meetings to requesting an extraordinary meeting or contacting the board directly. If the dispute remains unresolved, residents can escalate the issue and seek legal advice or mediation.

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3. Disputes with external actors: Housing cooperatives deal with many external actors, ranging from local authorities to contractors. Here, disputes can often arise regarding contractual obligations or service quality, and cooperative representatives might need to engage in dialogue or seek legal advice to find a solution.

Eventually, a contractor is bound to mess up their job - the new door won't close right, the window will let air leak, the painting job will look shoddy... The list goes on and on. In such cases, having the board on your side is what you'll definitely want.

Many disputes are resolved informally. However, if such efforts fail, legal action becomes necessary.

The steps for this route usually involve residents or the cooperative board seeking out legal advice and representation – which tends to be time-consuming, costly, and can negatively affect the price of your home, should you decide to sell it during the dispute (as you'll be legally obligated to disclose any such proceeding).

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