Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dealing with Unruly Homeowners at Board Meetings

What a touchy topic!!  I have been on both sides of this issue -- as the homeowner and as the attorney representing the association.  Maybe I have too much leftover pixie dust, but I believe these situations can be resolved amicably.  A question posted on prompted me to write on this issue.

A board member posted a question on how to deal with a member who was using objectionable language and voicing what the board thinks is incorrect information about a female board member they believe is being targeted by this member.

Here's my advice:

There are several ways to approach this -- both legal and non-legal.

One of the problems board members face is dealing with homeowners who may have been terribly wronged in the past and watch everything their board does under a microscope.  They also have a tendency to tell everyone their story.  This has evolved into a legitimate mental health diagnosis called HOA Syndrome, which is a form of post traumatic stress disorder.   Understanding the other person's position is part of solving the problem, from a non-legal standpoint. which may be key in keeping the association from becoming involve in costly legal proceedings.

The association needs to adopt Robert's Rules of Order and establish when members may speak at board meetings.  You can limit speech to 3 minutes at the end of the meeting, but you need to enforce any policies in a uniform manner.  You cannot adopt a policy designed to silence anyone, just to maintain order.

I would suggest having a sit-down meeting with this homeowner and outline you concerns about the nature of his speech and allow him to voice his complaints formally.  Keep and open mind and see if you can come up with a creative, out of the box solution.

While you feel it is incorrect information, the homeowner feels he has the correct information, so be prepared to present proof of why he is incorrect or ask for proof of why he feels he is correct and work through the issues.  Just dismissing his claims as incorrect often leads to lots of trouble for associations and not just legal trouble.  All out civil wars erupt because this is a dispute between neighbors, not just the association versus the owner.

If the owner cannot talk to the board without using rough, offensive language, then ask him to put his concerns in writing and you will reply in writing.

While I have seen associations trespass owners to keep them out of meetings, if you do this and the homeowner has the financial means to sue, the association is in big trouble. State law requires all meetings to be open to all members. The Fair Housing Act has weighed in on this issue as well. A HUD complaint could be difficult to deal with.

The association does not have the authority to lien and foreclose on anyone's property just because they feel the person is someone they don't want in their community and to even go that route in against the manifest best interest of justice.  Everyone has a First Amendment Constitutional right to free speech -- even in an association and there have been associations that have taken a big hit on this in litigation trying to silence the homeowners.

If you can resolve this amicably, I recommend you ask the owner to participate in mediation.  While pre-suit mediation is required by statute, I don't recommend calling it pre-suit mediation unless you intend to sue.  Submitting a statutory offer of pre-suit mediation will definitely set a bad tone.

I know being a board member is a thankless, unpaid job and can be frustrating, but the owners entrusted the board to look out for everyone's best interest.  Dispute resolution is part of that job and it can be handled diplomatically and effectively.  Often associations realize they have an unfair advantage and more power, so they bully the owners instead.  Shame on them.

Good luck and I hope you get this worked out.

1 comment:

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