Being elected to the Board might have seemed like the hard part, but now that you are behind the wheel expect a lot of ungrateful backseat drivers.
Congratulations on your election or appointment to the Board of Directors. Now that you are in charge, everyone will see the wisdom of your policy suggestions, pay their assessments on time, and cooperate in making your community a friendly, happy place to live, right? While a few of you may have said yes, the truth is that generally serving on the Board is kind of like painting a giant bulls-eye on your chest. It is virtually inevitable that you will be the target of residents’ “armchair quarterbacking,” and you will hear lots of grumbling about everything you and the Board decide to do. But what happens when those grumbles get noisier and a member becomes openly aggressive, nasty, rude, or threatening? Want to avoid being called a “Condo Nazi” or “Homeowners Association Commando?” Try these suggestions.
Before doing anything else, try taking a moment to patiently listen to the angry owner. Very often, these people are upset because they feel as though their interests are being affected but they did not get to have any input in the decision. You will likely find that in many instances, simply letting the noisy owner vent will make them feel better. At this point, you can begin engaging them in a meaningful dialog. Remember, when possible, let them do more talking than you do so they can feel like they contributed significantly to the discussion and that you were truly listening to their input. This can be a very effective means of getting the troublesome owner to ultimately come around to understanding your perspective on the issue, and even if they do not agree with the decision, they are much more likely to respect it and comply with it because they will feel that they were allowed to be a part of the process.
In an instance when simply talking about a situation is not sufficient to placate the troublesome owner, you will have to be prepared to take a firm, dominant stance. That does not mean that you should talk over anyone, bully them, or otherwise try to impose your will through volume, vulgarity, or nastiness. Rather, you must demand quiet respect. Remain cool and calm under all circumstances. Remember, you are running a business and if you cannot imagine the Board of a Fortune 500 company acting a certain way, you probably should not allow your board to behave any differently. Doing otherwise may undermine your credibility as you may be seen as unprofessional, tyrannical, or just plain rude.
If you promise someone that you are going to do something you should always follow through. This is true whether you promise to help someone or promise to punish some form of unacceptable behavior. Always doing what you say you will do is one of the best ways to maintain credibility. Your word is your bond, and if you say something is going to happen, people will trust that you mean what you say.
Similarly, plan ahead and do not do things half way. Often, people start on a project but lose interest, run out of money, or otherwise allow the matter to be tabled and never revisited. Unfinished projects are almost as bad as failing to follow through on promises. Before you get started, or even promise to get started on a project, be sure you will be able to see it through to completion.
Often, difficult members of an association are most troublesome during meetings. They will show up, interrupt, shout, carry on, and want to put in their two cents on each and every topic discussed. One very effective way to silence these disruptions is by carefully following rules of decorum. Although in some situations an association may be required to allow members to talk on any topic on the agenda, it is possible to limit the length of time for which one can talk to a reasonable period (often two minutes per topic). If the member keeps talking beyond this period of time, you will need to be firm but professional in asking them to stop. If they refuse, you may ask them to leave the meeting, as they are no longer there to participate in an orderly meeting, but to disrupt it. If necessary, you may be able to procure the services of an off-duty law enforcement officer to enforce this decorum requirement. If the member refuses to behave, the law enforcement officer may remove them from the meeting, and if they continue attempting to interfere the officer may trespass them or cite them for creating a public disturbance.
Dealing with the Truly Troublesome
On very rare occasions, someone can be so difficult as to require special action. It is no exaggeration to say that in our experience representing community associations, we have seen Board Meetings degenerate into fist fights, threats of violence and murder, defacing of others’ property, and other outrageous behavior and all because someone did not agree with what their community’s Board had decided to do. In those instances where an individual’s behavior transforms from merely annoying to actually threatening or clearly illegal, the first thing to do is contact law enforcement. They will be able to take much more immediate action if you, your family, or others feel threatened or have actually been injured by someone’s actions.
The next option may be to seek an injunction. Unfortunately, the process is not instantaneous and may often give one a false sense of security. An injunction will heap on punishment if violated, but if someone is determined enough, or perhaps disturbed enough, to want to truly do you harm, the injunction is not likely going to deter that behavior. Be smart, remain aware of your surroundings, and be ready to immediately contact law enforcement if the terms of the injunction are violated.