All homeowners association (HOA) board meetings should be simple, calm, and organized. That’s not usually how it works when you manage a community. Each homeowner has their own views, but there are those who treat their opinions as facts. Sometimes, this can lead to raised voices, heightened tension, and attempts at HOA board members harassment. So what do you do in situations where homeowners are harassing the board? Here’s the right thing to do:
Define HOA Board Members Harassment in Your Community
Harassment in associations is becoming more common these days. Ideally, homeowners and their board should work together to maintain peace within the community. But when it comes to issues like special assessments or loan payments, homeowners can be hypersensitive. Heightened emotions and flared tempers may lead to harassing behaviors such as verbal assaults, physical aggression, threats of abuse, etc.
In order to effectively deal with harassment in HOAs, there needs to be a clear definition of the term — as stated in your bylaws. The board can use the HOA harassment law as a starting point and incorporate its own covenants and conditions. There should be a consensus on what is considered harassment, and what will be done to those who engage in this behavior.
Once HOA board members harassment is clearly defined, anyone who breaks the rules will face disciplinary action and/or fines. Some cases might even necessitate legal action from the association.
How to Deal With HOA Board Members Harassment
If you have experienced HOA board harassment, here are necessary steps you need to take:
1. Write a Letter
The first step should be to write a letter to the offending homeowner. Gather the board members when drafting the letter.
Describe the homeowner’s behavior and include details, such as when and where it happened and other circumstances related to the violation. The letter should inform the homeowner that they violated the HOA’s covenants or rules and will be subject to disciplinary action, fines, or legal action.
You can consult your association’s attorney or HOA property manager when writing the letter. Their expertise on the matter can make the letter more authoritative and objective.
The letter should also provide the offending homeowner with a way to resolve whatever issue that led to HOA board harassment. Reiterate that the homeowner’s opinions matter, but point out that there are more effective means of communication. Instead of continuing with harassing behaviors, they can submit a formal complaint or letter for the HOA board to review.
In most cases, HOA board members harassment is an unfortunate consequence of an emotional homeowner. Sending this letter will make them aware of their offending behavior and the threat of punishment will encourage them to resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work, you can move on to the next step.
2. Call in a Restraining Order
Some homeowners will not be stopped by a formal letter and imposed sanctions. They will not apologize for HOA board harassment and may even escalate their behavior. If the individual is still harassing board members or other HOA members during meetings, you can raise the issue to court and file for a restraining order against the homeowner.
The restraining order will depend on the offending homeowner’s behavior. If they are sending harassing emails, the restraining order will ban them from doing so. If the homeowner is making verbal or physical attacks, the restraining order will require them to maintain a specific distance from you.
Filing for a restraining order is a complicated process. The court may be more likely to issue one after observing a pattern of behavior from the offending homeowner. You may also need to provide evidence of the HOA board harassment like copies of emails, voicemails, and videos.
Despite being a tedious process, it must be done. If this still doesn’t resolve the issue, you can move on to the next step.
3. Call the Police
The last step to take when homeowners are harassing board members is to call the police. If physical violence is being threatened against a member of the HOA board, you will need to involve the police right away as this is not acceptable behavior in any way.
Even if the offending homeowner is making empty threats, their harassment can still inflict a lot of emotional damage. You should also call 911 if the offending homeowner is violating the terms of the restraining order.
Since the harassment involves the HOA, the association will pay for the expenses on behalf of the harassed board member. Court costs and legal fees are to be expected if the situation has already escalated to step 2 and 3.
Can You Prevent HOA Board Members Harassment?
Before cases of HOA board members harassment reaches the courts, the association might want to bring in an HOA management company to mediate between the board and the offending homeowner.
The HOA manager will have an impartial take on the matter. They will also have the skills needed to properly resolve the harassment case. Apart from that, they can also help the community when it comes to daily operations, financial matters, and the like.
You also shouldn’t hesitate to get other community members involved. They may provide additional input that will be crucial in dealing with the offending homeowner. Their involvement may also help de-escalate the situation.
Always Deal With Harassment in Associations the Right Way
Emotions can unquestionably get high in an HOA, so it’s important for board members to understand the best way to handle these situations. Having clearly defined terms and sanctions will help you deal with HOA board members harassment in a more systematic or objective way. Hopefully, the HOA never has to revert to more extreme measures. It’s still helpful to understand the options if you need to, though.
Each harassment case is different and every community will have its own way of dealing with these cases. As such, the right way of dealing with harassment in associations is still up to the HOA. Just make sure that you’re always prepared to protect yourself when things get heated.