March 24, 2009

Dealing With Difficult Owners

Many people who have served on the board of directors of a condominium or homeowners association have a story about an owner who made their life miserable. An owner may have regularly questioned the board's decisions and authority to govern the association. An owner may have submitted a steady stream of complaints about other owners to the board. An owner may have engaged in vicious personal attacks against board members. In some cases, explanations, warnings, fines, mediation, and even police visits do little to resolve these problems. What should board members do when confronted with these types of situations?

One way to handle difficult owners is to redefine how owners may communicate with the board. The board can explain to the owners that communications regarding association matters must be submitted in writing to a designated board member or presented in person at the next board meeting. This can have the effect of limiting the stress from an owner's behavior to one day a month rather than throughout the month. The Board can also limit the amount of time that owners can speak at meetings to avoid long confrontations. The owners can be instructed to make a short presentation and await a written decision from the board after the meeting. However, it is important to make any rules regarding communication with the board applicable to all owners.

Another way to handle difficult owners is to develop pre-determined responses to certain situations and stick to them. The board is obligated to consider the issues that owners raise at any point in time, but it should briefly refer to its previous decision and move on if a similar problem has been addressed before. Decisively resisting the temptation to debate or reconsider the same issue multiple times can convince an owner that a battle is no longer worth fighting.

Board members should also try to keep the big picture in mind. If the board and its members are acting in accordance with the association's governing documents, applying the governing documents in the same manner with respect to all owners, and exercising reasonable business judgment (which basically means taking all relevant facts into account and consulting with professionals when necessary), the rare owner that actually begins a lawsuit is unlikely to succeed. Furthermore, the association may have insurance that insulates the board and its members from liability in most circumstances and provides for the appointment of an attorney to defend the board and its members if they are sued. These realities can help to preserve a board member's peace of mind when dealing with a difficult owner.