One of the primary goals of an HOA is to build community. Hopefully, your homeowners association is a place where residents feel free to talk openly with one another, and to cooperate in building a beautiful and peaceful neighborhood. One of the best forums for this cooperation is in association meetings, where board members and community members alike can come together to discuss pressing issues.
If your HOA has a lot of community members, along with the board of directors, who show up at these meetings, that’s ultimately a good thing. It means people care about the association, and want to see their community be the best it can be.
What happens, though, when this participation boils over into something a little more heated… and potentially, a little more toxic? What happens when board members feel like they are on the receiving end of harassment from their own residents?
If your meetings have devolved into raised voices and heightened tensions, and if you perceive a real problem with HOA board members harassment, read on. We have a few tips we’d love to provide to your homeowners association, including tips any board member can use to defuse these toxic situations.
Defining HOA Board Members Harassment
One of the first steps toward sparing your board members from harassment is defining what HOA board members harassment actually looks like.
Again, we want to affirm that one of the most important goals of any community association is for people to come together in a spirit of cooperation. Hopefully, that’s exactly the spirit that characterizes your board meetings. But certain topics can stir up intense, even angry feelings; for instance, if you’re discussing a special assessment, a new set of homeowner restrictions, or an increase in dues, some members may become upset. And they can take that out on members of the HOA board.
But how can you tell when homeowners have crossed a line from anger into harassment? Hopefully, you have the concept defined somewhere in your HOA bylaws. Having a set definition of harassment will ensure that everyone in your community knows where that line is, and what the consequences are when the line is crossed.
If your bylaws do not already define harassment, you can check for local HOA laws and regulations as a starting point. Then, adopt some community-specific terms and covenants. Hopefully, board members can arrive at a consensus for what constitutes harassment, and what should be done when members engage in this behavior. You might also reach out to other local associations to see how their board members define the term.
Once you have the term defined, then you will be on solid ground for penalizing community members who engage in harassment or other types of abusive behavior.
Steps for Dealing with the Harassment of a Board Member
If you do experience harassment at your board meetings, there are a few important steps you can take to protect board members and to restore some peace and decency to your community association.
Write a Letter to the Offending Homeowner
The first course of action should be for the board of directors to write a letter to the homeowner who has committed the offense.
This letter should be drafted by the full group, not just the board member who was targeted. Ideally, it will contain plenty of specifics about the incident of harassment: What was done, what was said, when and where it happened, the context or circumstances that led to harassment, etc.
From there, you can cite the specific language used in your association bylaws, making it clear to the homeowner exactly how they have violated the rules. Also, let them know that they will be subject to disciplinary action, whatever that may look like… legal action, fees, etc.
You’ll want this letter to sound highly objective and authoritative, which can be a tricky tone to pull off. Feel free to seek the expertise of your HOA attorney or your property management company. (Certainly, Kuester Management Group is happy to consult on matters such as these.)
One more important point: Your letter should let the homeowner know how they can resolve their issue. While you do not want to enable harassment, you can and you should invite the homeowner to air their concerns or their frustrations in a more healthy, constructive context. Let them know the best way to proceed, taking their concerns seriously even as you rebuke them for harassing board members.
The letter-writing approach works more often than you might think. Much of the time, harassment happens simply because homeowners become emotional, and briefly lose their heads. By alerting them to the issue in objective, measured terms, you will usually get through to them that their behavior was unacceptable. Hopefully, you can all move forward from there.
Get a Restraining Order
If the letter-writing doesn’t work, you will have to resort to more extreme measures. Sometimes, you will even need to go so far as to take out a restraining order against the offending party.
Indeed, you should consider a restraining order if you send a letter and impose the appropriate sanctions, and still find that the homeowner is engaging in any of the following behaviors:
- Refusing to apologize or admit that they handled the situation badly
- Continuing to harass or bully a particular board member
- Continuing to show up at HOA board meetings and cause disruption
The point of the restraining order is ultimately to protect your HOA board members. The nature of your restraining order should reflect the nature of the offense. For example, if the harassment has taken place primarily over email, you might take out a restraining order that legally prohibits the homeowner from sending any more emails to the HOA board. In the event of a physical altercation, you might have to impose distance requirements, forcing the offending homeowner to stay clear of the board member they have harassed.
Now, actually getting a restraining order can be easier said than done. Sometimes, the court will not allow a restraining order until you can prove a pattern of abusive behavior, as opposed to a one-time incident of harassment against board members. You may also need to furnish some kind of proof that the board member has been harassed… ideally video, though written notes and testimonies may sometimes be sufficient. Certainly, you should save any abusive emails or voicemails you receive from the homeowner, as this can be invaluable evidence if and when you do decide legal action is necessary.
Remember that going through the court system can be cumbersome, so this is definitely an area where you will want to seek the advice of your HOA board attorney or property manager.
Get the Police Involved
If you have a board member who is being targeted for harassment, and all other avenues fail you, then your last resort may be to call the police.
This is never a pleasant thing to do, but sometimes it may be necessary. This is especially true in instances where board members are being threatened with physical violence, or homeowners are causing destruction with their actions. Such behaviors should never be tolerated, as they pose a very real threat to the safety of your association members. Note that even an empty threat can cause a lot of fear, trauma, and emotional damage, and should always be taken seriously.
Additionally, you should always involve the police if the offending homeowner is violating the terms of their restraining order… a clear legal breach that should be dealt with in the strictest terms. If someone in your community association is violating their restraining order, call 911 right away.
Note that, in instances where a member of the HOA board is being harassed, the board should always pay the necessary legal fees. This duty should never fall to the board member who has been targeted for harassment. In this situation, you should certainly expect some legal expenses, but it is a small price to pay for defending your board members.
Additional Strategies for Resolving Discord
If all of this seems extreme, well, it can be. There may be some other options you can use to mediate disagreements, and take the temperature down a few notches, before you result to these more severe legal measures.
One thing you can try is bringing in a representative from your association management company. At Kuester Management Group, we offer our expertise in resolving disputes with homeowners. We can help you mediate these issues before they spiral out of hand, and certainly before they devolve into instances of threats, violence, or harassment.
Of course, this is just one way in which having an HOA management company can be helpful. A company like Kuester Management Group will also provide assistance and support with financial matters, document upkeep, and day-to-day operations. The ultimate goal is to make life as easy as possible for each and every board member, while also ensuring the community has what it needs to flourish.
The bottom line: From resolving disputes to running productive meetings, an HOA management company can be invaluable in helping you achieve your association’s goals. Reach out to Kuester Management Group to learn more about the value we can bring to your North Carolina or South Carolina association.
Take Decisive Action Against Harassment
Hopefully, your HOA will never have to deal with harassment against a board member. This is something that can happen, though, and it’s best to be prepared for it. In order to defend the wellbeing of the board member, plus the peace of the HOA, you’ll need to resolve disputes and tensions as quickly and as wisely as possible.
Knowing how to proceed may require the expertise that only a trained property manager can offer. Again, we invite you to consider the ways in which Kuester Management Group can bring value to your community. We are a family-owned company with decades of service in association management, and we are here to help with conflict resolution and more.
To speak with a representative of Kuester Management Group, reach out to us at any time.