A homeowner became disruptive at our annual meeting after repeatedly being told that he was out of order, and he was asked to leave. How should the board follow up so that he does not repeat this type of behavior?
This issue, unfortunately, is coming up more and more frequently. Homeowner meetings are crucial to operations and to foster the good health of the association. Anyone who persistently stands in the way of that must be shown the door, so to speak, and told that if his or her bad behavior occurs again at any future meetings, there will be meaningful consequences.
The troubling aspect of this issue is the tension between respecting every owner’s right of input versus the obligation to respect other owners’ rights to be free of abusive and disruptive behavior.
The nuclear option would be to file and serve a court imposed order upon this person restraining or preventing him from attending subsequent meetings. However, unless the owner was so disruptive so as to present a clear danger to those in attendance, the chances of obtaining this type of relief would be tenuous at best. Further, it would be costly.
Another option would be to engage a public peace officer to maintain order at future meetings. This can be costly as well and can often dampen the civil and cooperative mood of owners, and it might even persuade some to stay away from subsequent meetings.
The better option would be to send the offending owner a cease and desist letter detailing the offensive behavior so that there will be no misunderstandings about what is acceptable, and warning him that should the behavior occur again, the board would convene a covenant enforcement hearing pursuant to Rhode Island laws. The letter would detail how a determination will be made on whether there has been a violation of the governing documents, including a rule stating that no owner shall make or permit offensive activity that will disturb or annoy other owners.
The letter also should make it clear that if violations are found after the hearing, the offender may be fined up to $500 per violation and may be required to reimburse the association’s attorneys’ fees and costs. The owner should understand that those amounts would be a valid lien on the home.
I find it always helps to at least partially validate not the expression of bad feelings but the feelings themselves with words to the effect of, “We hope that your emotions simply got the best of you in this instance. Your concerns may be valid, but the manner and presentation were simply out of line, and this unfortunate behavior will not and must not occur in the future.”
In addition to a cease and desist letter, it would be a good idea to publish a set of standards of behavior expected from homeowners and board members at all association meetings or functions.
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Frank Lombardi is principal with the law firm of Goodman, Shapiro & Lombardi in Lincoln, R.I., and a fellow in CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL).