Alan Walker...considers communication

Communicating with residents isn’t always easy, especially when don’t speak the same language

‘Quiet enjoyment’. ‘Easement’. ‘Disbursements hereinbefore described’. The language of leasehold is not always easy to understand for native English speakers – so imagine how much more complex it must be to manage properties where some of the residents don’t have English as a first language.

A previous Prime Minister once listed his policy priorities as ‘Education, education, education’. In seeking to run a harmonious community of flat owners and tenants, the watch words should be ‘Communication, communication, communication’.

The priority here is to stay up to date with who is living in your block – how long have they been with you and what is their principal spoken language. At a time of unprecedented movement of population across Europe and around the world you may be surprised at the range of languages around – fortunately technology provides some very helpful tools through which information contained on a website or sent by e-mail can be translated (broadly) at the click of a button by the recipient, whatever language they prefer to read in.

The second key point is to be mindful of the variety of ‘normal’ behaviour which might be encountered from new arrivals – and which might be disapproved of by existing residents, either as contrary to established custom and practice or because it is expressly forbidden by the terms of the lease. I still vividly remember a strongly worded note from a neighbour via the caretaker when a clothes rack of un-ironed shirts had stood in front of the window in my block for several days, in contravention of a ‘no visible laundry’ clause in the lease. Supersize national flags hung from windows during sporting events certainly add to the colour and excitement – but may also fall foul of Lease covenants. And what about fellow residents who prefer to hang a washing line between trees so they can dry their clothes outside or turn over an unused patch of earth to plant vegetables? Ignorance is no excuse – but a clear statement of the do’s and don’t’s in the first instance is preferable to launching a verbal broadside.

The third key to neighbourhood harmony is to think carefully about what information needs to be communicated to residents, and reflect on how to say this in the clearest and simplest terms – even if there is no mix of languages across the households in your block.

Indeed, when it comes to notices about noise after hours, the unsuitability of ball games, parking restrictions, no barbeques on the grass and so on, it is sometimes the fluent English speakers who seem to have the most difficulty following the guidance…

If you’re thinking about how to communicate effectively with residents whose first language is not English, why not take the opportunity to think about your whole communications strategy with all residents? Communication in clear and effective terms is an art. Where possible, seek out the comments of an uninvolved third party who can often, when reading through a notice or newsletter for the first time, help chase out jargon, acronyms and overly complex expressions of simple requests. To ensure the success of your own policy on ‘communication, communication, communication’, work on the basis of ‘simple, short and clear’.

The legal language in a lease may be unavoidable – but it’s well worth taking the time to check that your more general communications are speaking a language that everyone can understand.

Why not take the opportunity to think about your whole communications strategy with all residents?