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Real Estate & Property Law

: California Condo & HOA Law

Bullies on the HOA or Condo Board - How Do You Beat That?

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I recently posted a blog on dealing with bullying owners who defended abusive and idiotic behavior by waiving the "Free Speech" flag in front of boards. (See August 12 blog on this.) What followed were some emails about abusive board members.

Here is one:

"We were wondering if you had any resources to deal with a board member that consistantly abuses his power. We suspect that he is getting a kick back from [left out the vendor description to protect the writer] that he contracted with to [_______] in our community. Any help to deal with this would be greatly appreciated."

First, I will say that often owners think a board member or manager is being abusive or nasty when they are dealing with them over a dispute such as assessment delinquencies or a car tow, or junk being stored in areas where it should not be stored, or .... I could go on and on. Many people think they are being "discriminated" against because a board is telling them they cannot run a business in their garage or raise pigeons on site, or the like. Many people (boards and complainers) do not realize that their communication skills are very poor, and in their communications (written or oral) their true feelings are seeping over and coming through loud and clear. Many people think others are being bullies when a person reacts to nasty with nasty. It's a natural phenomenon, though a very uncomfortable one for both parties. In the above scenario, I would be wanting to ask - "What has happened that caused you to have to deal with the board or vendor in this situation and what leads you to believe the board member is taking kickbacks?" "And what about the other board members - what is going on there?"

That needing to be said, I will say that usually, the "bully" is a man (or in some cases an abusive adult son of a woman board member or owner) so the reference to "he" above does not give anything away. Then I will say that I have helped many a board deal with an abusive board member who makes it difficult to get business done or, in the worst case scenarios, causes resignations and discourages people from serving.

In the most simple of terms, one solution to deal with bullies is to "get smarter" and/or "get stronger".

You can go to the gym and work out or take a martial arts or defense class if the bully uses his or her physicality to intimidate.

If it is more of an emotional or mental bullying to get people to comply, there is plenty of information available in the library, or on the web to help you "get smart".

If you educate yourself, and get to a point where you know more than the bully does which could mean you know more about people, sensitivities, triggers, etc.; or you know more about the subject matter than the bully spouting "the way it should be", you will have an advantage. There are often ways to embarrass them or lead them to a scenario where they will shoot themselves in the foot in front of others. You do not have to literally "pull the trigger" for them, but you can do it figuratively, by planning ahead.

And remember - heat vs. heat does not cool down a situation. Someone in the room has to remain calm and others will tend to support that person's efforts to diffuse a difficult situation.

And there can be safety in numbers. So once you are smarter and can articulate what you believe is needed to others, you can start to mobilize for change.

I have written blogs about how to "neutralize" board members who are harmful to the effort of getting business done, and on the CaliforniaCondoGuru website there is a Primer available on "Dealing with Difficult People" which provides lots of tips, and an Enforcement Primer which deals with Neighbor-toNeighbor issues which often involve abusive neighbors. I am working on a Primer for dealing with bullies and also dealing with the mentally challenged individuals who either do not understand their own actions, or who use mental illnesses as a sword instead of a shield.

Keep the questions coming.

Full post as published by California Condo & HOA Law on August 31, 2009 (boomark / email).

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