S.G. from Massachusetts writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Hello, I am on the board of our HOA in Massachusetts. We are a community of 20 single-family homes and we have a resident who is particularly difficult. She has called one board member at work several times, peeked in the window of another and scared her children, and she recently sent me a nasty email demanding that I recycle a pizza box, for which I spoke to police (who agreed with me that you are not supposed to recycle them) and they contacted her and informed her she was not, under any circumstances, allowed to contact me directly by any means and we fined her for violating the rule that states no condo owner is allowed to confront another about a rules violation. Not only that, but she questions every single decision the board makes, challenges our competency, and distributes letters on neighbors doors with false information, and she recently tried to sabotage our annual meeting by informing the library that we are a for-profit and can’t have our meetings there. Most in the community can’t stand her and, while she shoved a realtor a couple years ago, she has not physically assaulted anyone, but I think she has gotten out of control. I feel like our association attorney isn’t much help in this matter and our property manager (who is the point of contact) is also fed up with her. Is there anything the board or community can do? Several people are considering moving to get away from her. I have no issue with a unit owner questioning certain decisions, but she questions our agenda for meetings and is convinced the board is a secret society who only watches out for those who do not pick up after their dogs (all because we fined a resident who got 10 warnings beforehand). I am at my wits end! Any help/advice would be much appreciated.
Mister Condo replies:
S.G., I think your description of this unit owner as “particularly difficult” is quite kind and I appreciate your civil tone in this discourse. Unfortunately, there are no rules about people behaving politely in your or any other community association. My Inbox is full of questions about how to deal with similar neighbors and my answer is usually the same. Get the police involved where necessary. Physical and verbal harassment are crimes and local authorities can charge any one breaking the law. I am glad to see your association has rules about unit owners not approaching each other about rules violations. However, as evidenced by her actions so far, this unit owner cares little for rules and may have mental health issues that will continue to plague you and fellow unit owners for as long as she resides within your association.
I am no stranger to this challenge and I can offer some first hand advice. The first piece of advice I have to offer is that empathy can go along way in helping to ease the situation. From the viewpoint of you and your neighbors, this person is a problem. From the viewpoint of this person, you, the Board, and the other association members are the problem. Even though common sense and reason may be on your side, from this person’s point of view, all is not well and they will likely continue to act out until all is well in their mind. If she truly has mental health issues, which was the case in my situation, there is little to do other than accept that this person is sick and will always be a “problem”. You can enact Roberts Rules at your meetings to keep her interaction as limited as possible. If she speaks out of order or causes a problem at your meetings, you may be able to have her removed (check with your attorney before you do).
You can’t really blame your property manager for being upset with this person. You can’t blame fellow unit owners who would rather move than deal with this person. If you are not happy with the opinions of your attorney on how to legally get this person to behave better, it may be time for a second opinion. Shop around for community association attorneys. They come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of demeanors. Your attorney may be perfectly fine for the normal day-to-day legal wrangling that most associations face but may not be experienced in this facet of governance where aggressive legal action may be part of the solution. It might make sense to offer this person a mediation of some sort where all of her grievances can be brought into the open and a legal response prepared. This may sound extreme and be expensive to the association but if her actions are truly making unit owners lives unbearable at the condo, it may be money well spent.
I am reminded of the words of a now retired community association attorney who once told me one of the reasons his practice was so successful: “A lot of jerks live in condos”! While he said it with a smile his point was well taken. Some become jerks after they move into the condo; most are jerks long before they arrive in your community. How you deal with them can make all the difference in the world to your community’s vibrancy and harmonious living conditions. Good luck!