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Asked and Answered: Hostile Homeowner Harassment

*Asked & Answered

workplace-bullying-1024x683-1Asked – How should our HOA handle a hostile homeowner who is being abusive to other residents and overwhelms management staff with endless emails and other harassing communication?

Answered – We previously blogged about workplace harassment and hostile work environments for management professionals.  Unfortunately, harassment in Associations is becoming increasingly common these days. The COVID-19 pandemic-related difficulties has only heightened tensions and exacerbated this problem by further triggering those with a propensity for such hostile behavior and visceral outbursts.

While most Community Managers have had some experience dealing with abusive homeowners, hostile homeowners tend to exhibit unrelenting behavior that is challenging and highly disruptive notwithstanding management’s best efforts and great work on behalf of the community. They tend to inundate management staff with incessant and baseless complaints regarding perceived or self-inflicted issues, frivolously question Board actions, and are frequently the primary source of widespread tensions that lead to controversies with other residents.

One helpful guiding principle when encountering such hostile homeowners, is to step back and remember that the management company was hired to serve as the managing agent for the Association. Thus, Management’s primary responsibility is to implement the Board’s directives and to serve as a communications liaison between the Board and the residents. For the most part, substantive decisions are made by the Board at the monthly Board meetings. Recognizing this dynamic can assist management staff and the Board when encountering confrontational homeowners. Thus, when responding to emails or other correspondence from such homeowners, Management can simply  acknowledge receipt of the communication, thank the homeowner, and advise them that the Board values resident communication relating to Association business and that you understand their concerns and will forward their communication to the Board for review at the next Board meeting. Then, timely engage the Association’s legal counsel to deal with the problem and to protect the Association’s interests.

If the compulsive emailing or hostile communications persists, then the homeowner can be informed that his/her emails will be blocked by Management and if they wish to send written communication, they send a letter to Management, and it will be placed in the Board packet to be reviewed by the Directors at the next scheduled Board meeting.

While the hope is that Management can get the hostile homeowner under control while memorializing the Association’s good faith efforts to avoid any escalation, the reality is that an overwhelming majority of homeowners who exhibit hostile tendencies will remain unyielding and continue on their ill-advised path until confronted with more serious financial and/or legal ramifications.

Therefore, it is very important that the Board of Directors and Management get the Association’s legal counsel involved as soon as possible in the process. Particularly, the Board should have the Association’s legal counsel send the offending homeowner a formal Cease and Desist letter that fully articulates the misconduct, outlines the basis for the violation, and puts the homeowner on notice that they will be subject to fines and possible legal action if the troubling conduct and violation are not immediately ceased. The letter should preferably also suggest an alternative means of dealing with the purported underlying problem. While this approach generally reaches a good number of offending homeowners, some will inevitably remain undeterred by the formal letter.

If the hostile behavior persists, the Board should consider holding a hearing and start levying fines. Thereafter, and depending on the severity of the ongoing homeowner misconduct, the Board may consider initiating an Internal Dispute Resolution process, or sending a further demand for compliance coupled with a pre-litigation offer of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). These steps will generally resolve the majority of violations and behavioral issues.

California HOA lawyers However, if the homeowner lacks any appreciation for the preservation of his/her financial and legal interests and the bad behavior persists, the Board should seek judicial relief by way of a restraining order, suing the hostile homeowner, and seeking recovery of its legal fees and costs pursuant to the Association’s Declaration. Our expert attorneys stand ready to answer your questions, help resolve your matter involving hostile homeowners or other difficulties, and ensure that the Association’s interests are always protected. 

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Sam I. Khil, Esq.

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