Civility Must Start Somewhere

By Kelly Richardson
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From presidential debate stages to courtrooms to families to HOAs, civility is becoming so rare, it should be considered endangered. Differences of opinion are no longer allowed – either you agree with me or you are a demon and I will reject any dialogue with you. So, we need some serious rethinking of disagreement and relationship in HOAs. Since we clearly cannot count on our political leaders to model civility, we must start it from the grassroots level. Here are some thoughts to consider regarding disagreement and what it means (or doesn’t).

You don’t know or see it all. In the old parable of the blind monks and the elephant, each monk was stationed at a different part of the animal, and each had a distinctly different impression than the others. None were lying, yet each had a different truth. It is entirely possible that others in the HOA know something you don’t and see something you haven’t seen. Allow others to share that divergent view.

These people are your neighbors. While it may be satisfying to lash out and say or write awful things about someone you are angry with, you have to see these folks around the HOA. While you can disconnect on social media, you can’t disconnect your neighbors- they are still there. Remember you have to live with these folks and extend courtesy and respect. You’ll make your life (and theirs) less stressful and uncomfortable.

Your opinions are not you, and rejection of your argument is not rejection of you. If I think that a remodeled clubhouse is important and you don’t, does that mean one of us is bad? Your opinions about HOA business have no relation to your worth as an individual, so don’t take offense when someone votes against your point of view.

Civility is not the same as agreement, and unanimous votes are unnecessary. Many boards seem to feel that votes must be unanimous. That is legally incorrect and destructive. Disagreement is healthy, and there is nothing disloyal about voting against the majority. Allow for different opinions and dissenting votes – next time it might be you.

Reject abhorrent abusive comments, whether written or oral. Raise the bar in your community.

Avoid assumptions or projections about others’ intentions. Every four years, our country is split in half, with each side unreasonably thinking the other side’s presidential candidate hates America and wants to destroy it. The fact that someone in your HOA disagrees with you does not mean they want to harm the HOA, but only that they have a different view about the HOA’s needs. Don’t assume someone acts out of spite or bruised ego. Give them a chance to prove good intent.

Consider adopting a civility pledge. Ask your HOA leaders to sign it annually and adopt it as HOA policy. The Community Associations Institute created a civility pledge which can be found at Adopt it or use it as a template to build your association’s civility policy.

HOA living requires healthy interaction among people who don’t always see eye to eye except on the one non-negotiable item – neighborly treatment of neighbors. Insist that civility be paramount at all times and in all places. Isn’t peace in your HOA worth it? explores questions and comments from community association members living in condominiums, homeowners associations, and housing cooperatives. We then assemble trusted experts to provide practical solutions to your most commonly asked, timely questions. We never use real names, but we always tackle real issues. Have a question or comment about your community association? Submit here for consideration:

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Kelly Richardson

Kelly G. Richardson is a senior partner with Richardson | Ober law firm, serving California common-interest communities. He is a CAI past president and a fellow in CAI's College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL).