Difficult and disgruntled owners are truly the worst part of serving on a HOA/condo Board! Here’s how you can spot a difficult owner… Usually they are criticizing, cajoling and pinpointing the errors of the board. S/he demands change, constantly interrupts, attacks personal integrity and alleges conflicts of interest of the board and the association’s management company without any direct evidence.

Here are a few strategies to deal with difficult owners:

  • Establish and announce meeting procedures at the beginning of a board meeting, in a newsletter or in the meeting notice;
  • Enforce established meeting procedures uniformly;
  • Host a homeowner forum at the beginning of the board meeting with a strict time limit;
  • Ask the difficult individual to explain the exact issue (deal with one issue at a time) he/she is upset about, in order to show that you are interested in communicating rather than in arguing. Listen carefully.
  • After the difficult person explains what s/he is upset about, agree with any truth in the complaint (if it is accurate). For example, if the board made a minor mistake, acknowledge that mistake but refute the assertion the “board does not know what it is doing.” Ask them what they want.
  • Respond in a modulated, non-argumentative voice. Do not respond with anger, argue or trade insults. The board does not have to rebut the comments of any member;
  • Utilize parliamentary control — by knowing when and how to: a) table a motion; b) postpone

Sometimes a difficult owner’s behavior crosses into unacceptable harassment. It is important to note that in Arizona, A.R.S. Section 12- 1809 defines “harassment” as a series of acts over any period of time that is directed at a specific person and that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed or harassed and the conduct in fact seriously alarms, annoys or harasses the person and serves no legitimate purpose.

Individual board members or managers can obtain an injunction against harasser for the harassment (pursuant to A.R.S. Section 12- 1809) by going to their local justice court, filing paperwork and appearing before the justice court judge to testify. A board member who is on the receiving end of endless, abusive telephone calls or who is regularly assaulted verbally in public by an angry owner may seek an order prohibiting the “bully” from sending him e-mails and/or ordering him to remain a specified distance away.

Courts do not issue injunctions as a matter of course. In most cases, the harassing actions must be part of a pattern rather than isolated incidents and the targeted individual(s) must feel threatened by the actions. If you are dealing with actual physical threats – if, an owner raises a fist, pulls a gun or threatens bodily harm, call the police immediately. Even if you do not think the threats are real, having the police respond is a reasonable precaution and having a police report on file will also strengthen your case if you eventually seek an injunction against this individual.

For more information on how to deal with difficult people in your association, review our Mulcahy Law Firm, P.C. Community Association Cheat Sheet entitled, Dealing with Difficult People & Harassment.

Mulcahy Law Firm, P.C. is here to help! If your association is having trouble managing a difficult owner, please contact Beth Mulcahy, Esq. at bmulcahy@mulcahylawfirm.com.