But industry advocates don’t seem to care about stopping abusive behavior of boards and their hired professional agents
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
As a follow up to yesterday’s post about proposed legislation in Florida, with the intent to curb bullying and harassment in association-governed communities, I am featuring several articles from other states and from Canada. All of these articles illustrate the challenge of making reasonable rules for the community association setting, and highlight difficulties of enforcing rules without being selective, excessively punitive, or chilling legitimate discussion of controversial issues.
The first featured article is written by an attorney from New Jersey for board members of association-governed communities. Read his suggested policy resolutions. Do you agree with all of them?
In principle, these may seem like reasonable rules. Certainly, the association would like to prevent physical assault or discrimination that creates liability for a fair housing lawsuit.
But, following these recommended guidelines, could an owner or tenant be sanctioned or fined for sending an email about a legitimate maintenance issue to management at 2 AM? What, exactly, is defined as coarse language? It seems that just about any complaint could be deemed “likely to cause an annoyance.”
And slapping an owner or resident with a violation notice or penalty for “failing to come to order” at a meeting can easily be abused if the board would simply rather not hear about an ongoing, unresolved issue.
Addressing Harassment Issues in Community Associations
Blog New Jersey Law Blog
Stark & Stark
Boards should consider adopting or amending a Policy Resolution to address harassment. Such Resolution should address untoward, disruptive, and inappropriate communications between residents, unit owners and board members. Harassment can be defined so as to substantially mirror N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 as follows:
A person commits a petty disorderly person’s offense if, with the purpose to harass another, he does any of the following:
Makes or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively course language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm. Such communications may be deemed to have been made either at the place where it originated or at the place where it was received.
Subjects another to striking, kicking shoving or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so.
Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
Acts with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation or ethnicity.
Additionally, a unit owner or resident commits harassment by failing to come to order when requested at a Board or member meeting.
Hint: if you do a Google search on HOA or condo harassment, you will find at least a dozen articles written by attorneys for board members, with the primary emphasis on how to deal with difficult owners and residents. Most of these fail to mention that sometimes it’s the HOA board member(s), manager, or even the HOA attorney engaging in harassment of owners and residents.
Here’s an example from California. In this case, according to the condo owner, the board passed a vague and over-broad rule creating a $200 fine for harassment of authority figures (board and committee members) and vendors contracted by the association. But notice that nothing in the rule prohibits a board member, manager, or vendor from harassing an owner or resident.
Vanitzian explains why the new rule is bound to do more harm than good.
This HOA speech-chilling anti-harassment rule is fraught with problems
Donie Vanitzian, LA Times (California)
Question: Our 121-unit condo complex successfully removed the past board of directors. Before their removal, they adopted a draconian and subjective anti-harassment rule. The rule states: “Homeowners and residents are prohibited from screaming at, following, emailing and stalking directors, committee members, vendors, etc. Any violation of this regulation will result in a $200 fine per infraction.”
No board meeting minutes document adoption of the rule. A manager posted, then instantly removed from a clubhouse window, an announcement of the board’s majority vote for the new rule but did not define “harassment.” Immediately fines were issued to people the board or manager disliked. It feels like a prison, residents are afraid to say hello to anyone. Are the fines and the rule legal?
Toronto is a city chock full of condominium towers. And, like many U.S. cities, a fairly high percentage of condo owners are investors that lease their units, many of whom do not even reside in the community.
What happens when investor owners gain control of a condo board, and then start creating new rules against harassment?
Some residents complain of “gag orders” seemingly intended to prevent any and all complaints. In the meantime, management is slow to respond to maintenance requests.
When the dream of condo living turns into a dictatorial nightmare
“Gag orders” on banning complaints and annoying behaviour are just the tip of the condo craziness iceberg
Maclean’s (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
May 26, 2017
Earlier this month, a Toronto condo board introduced a new workplace harassment rule to its residents. One of the examples of harassment cited: “Unreasonable and/or repetitive expression of concerns with respect to the administration of the affairs of the condominium corporation.”
The unusually-worded rule has raised the ire of tenants renting in the building. While the board clearly has a duty to protect its employees from legitimately harmful treatment—for instance the rule bars any statements or behaviour that is threatening or violent—the rule also restricts actions it deems “annoying,” and occupants have interpreted the board’s wide-ranging ban on complaints as sending a message to them: don’t bother us, we’re not interested.
It’s just the latest in a string of disputes in recent months involving condo residents, owners, boards and property managers that have highlighted some of the downsides of condo life, even as scores of cranes erect new glass towers in Canada’s largest city. Amid a perfect storm of investor-owned units, powerful condo boards and tenants who have limited powers to fight back, a democratic living ideal is rapidly turning into a dictatorial nightmare for condo-dwellers.
And check out this discussion forum on Bigger Pockets. A condo owner is having serious second thoughts about his investment, explaining how he and his tenant are being harassed and repeatedly fined by the board President.
The IAC archives contains several posts documenting real life examples of board members and community managers engaging in harassing and bully behavior.
Adult Bully: Condo association President arrested for harassment of former resident
NYPD ARRESTS NEAL MILANO, CONDO PRESIDENT AND MANAGER OF SUNNYSIDE CONDOMINIUMS, A 47-UNIT BUILDING IN QUEENS