Neighbor harassment can happen anytime and anywhere, even in your community. Having an HOA harassment policy can prevent these incidents from occurring. It also gives your board a clear path to follow in case there is harassment in a community. Whether your association is big or small, you need to have a plan. Here’s how the HOA should deal with harassment within the community.
What Constitutes as Neighbor Harassment?
What is harassment? It is a broad term for different types of inappropriate behavior. The term can be used for verbal abuse (making offensive or derogatory remarks), threats of violence (sending threatening emails or letters), sexual harassment (offensive physical touching), physical harm or assault, and other related behaviors. Neighbor harassment is when these behaviors occur between people who live next door, or within the same community.
When it comes to these behaviors, it’s also important to make a distinction between insensitive and thoughtless behavior versus neighbor harassment. With the latter, there should be an intent to harass. For example, playing loud music late at night because there is a party is different from playing loud music every night to annoy a neighbor that you argued with.
Is the HOA Responsible for Neighbor Harassment?
In most cases, involved parties are the ones that handle the issue. Some choose to deal with it personally, while others may decide to file a neighbor harassment lawsuit. What do you do if the harassment takes place in your association?
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) has been expanded to include neighbor harassment laws. Under the new rules, HOAs have direct liability if they fail to “correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party,” especially if they had known about the discriminatory conduct.
The association has a legal responsibility to intervene when residents complain to the HOA about neighbor harassment. The HOA should be able to quickly step in before the harassment escalates and becomes out of control. If a homeowner decided to sue a neighbor for harassment, the board will most likely have to deal with the police, attorneys, and the courts.
How Should HOA Deal With Harassment in a Community?
1. Establish a Clear Neighbor Harassment Policy
Before you can effectively deal with neighbor harassment, the HOA needs to establish anti-harassment rules or policies for the community. Your HOA’s governing documents may already have some provisions describing words or actions that are inappropriate, but these sections may be vague and need amendment.
HOAs need to develop a written document that clearly defines harassment and outlines all behaviors that are considered inappropriate or injurious. You should be clear on your position on harassment and what the sanctions will be for those who engage in harassment of any kind.
It is usually recommended that you enlist the services of your HOA lawyer to ensure the legality and effectiveness of your document.
Once you have a neighbor harassment policy in place, you can start enforcing the rules within your community. Consider following these steps in order to effectively deal with neighbor harassment:
Address Harassment Reports
Your HOA should have a person-in-charge, such as a board member or your HOA manager, who is responsible for dealing with all neighbor harassment cases. Do not dismiss a case based on your personal judgment. Practice due diligence and listen to the residents. Ask for evidence or documentation to verify their complaints.
Issue Warnings to Offenders
Ask your HOA lawyer to write an official letter of warning to the offender. It should document the inappropriate behavior and call for the immediate cessation of their harassing actions or words. The HOA should be clear that sanctions will be imposed if the resident continues to engage in neighbor harassment.
Mediate Between Residents
If residents are not able to resolve their conflicts, this could lead to an escalation of harassing behaviors. Since the HOA will be liable in such cases, the board should mediate between the residents in order to diffuse the situation. Allow both parties to share their side of the story. Offer suggestions or solutions that may help these residents resolve their conflicts.
As a board member, always be professional and impartial. Consult other board members or your HOA management company if needed. You should also be prepared to take further action in case the residents are unable to peacefully resolve their conflicts.
4. Impose Sanctions on Offenders
If homeowners continue to engage in harassing behaviors, the HOA can impose sanctions. You can levy fines or revoke privileges or access to the community’s amenities. Just make sure that these sanctions are clearly outlined in your CC&Rs or bylaws. The same goes when residents harass HOA board members.
5. Call the Police
If there is immediate danger, such as an active threat (“I’m going to hurt you” or “I’m going to kill you”) or the brandishing of any type of weapon (fists included), call the police right away. Even if an injury does not seem likely, you should take all threats seriously. Otherwise, you may be endangering the safety of the entire community.
6. Take Legal Action
The HOA may need to take legal action in extreme cases of neighbor harassment. You or the homeowner can file a restraining order against the offender. The board can even decide to pursue legal action to dismiss the offender from the community.
In these cases, it’s important to have evidence or documentation. The court may ask to see the harassment complaint, warning letters issued by the board, mediation summaries, police reports, and the like. Thus, the HOA should be diligent in collecting supporting documents throughout the entire process.
Prevent Neighbor Harassment Before It Happens
You can’t completely prevent neighbors from fighting with each other, but the HOA can still take measures to prevent it from happening. Host seminars that will educate homeowners about neighbor harassment. Explain your HOA harassment policy and what may be done to those who do not comply.
The HOA should provide training so that homeowners can effectively deal with conflicts or disputes without having to engage in harassing or inappropriate behaviors.
Teach them how to document neighbor harassment and what their options are in these cases. Also, make it clear to residents that if they experience harassment, they should reach out to the board or HOA manager.
Dealing with Harassment Among Residents
Neighbor harassment is increasingly becoming a problem. According to the law, your association will be held liable for failure to intervene in such cases. That’s why it’s important to develop and enforce clear anti-harassment policies. You should also educate homeowners so that they are aware of neighbor harassment and will know how to properly deal with it. These measures may require a lot of time, money, and effort on your part, but this is necessary to ensure the safety of the community and the peaceful way of life that it strives to have.
- Dealing With Difficult Residents: Diffusing Anger In Your Community
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