Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Does the State Care When Unit Owners Harass the Board?

We hear so much about "Condo Commandos" and dictatorial boards of directors who abuse and intimidate unit owners. Those types of directors and officers are out there and should certainly not be tolerated. However, how often do we hear the stories about unit owners intent on creating a miserable living environment for their neighbors, members of the board and association employees?

Some communities have suffered for years with this type of owner. Often the person is confrontational not only with the board but with neighbors and the association employees. The property manager or the landscaper could be subject to a scathing verbal attack at any moment. If the owner becomes worked up enough or feels that his or her concerns are not being adequately addressed, a physical threat might be issued. Sadly, sometimes that threat becomes a reality.

An owner intent on creating mischief or mayhem has some powerful tools at his or her disposal. Repeated document inspection requests for the same or nonexistent items each week can certainly cause a headache for someone. When those nuisance requests are not fulfilled by the board, the owner can then pick up the phone and contact the Ombudsman or the Division to complain about the unresponsive and evil board.

Of course, meeting time can also be a lot of fun for these types of owners. Speaking loudly and often, interrupting others, using bad language, insisting on talking about topics not on the agenda and sticking cameras or tape recorders in people's faces doesn't make for a pleasant experience for the rest of the members attending the meeting. In fact, in communities with these kinds of owners, attendance at meetings often suffers.

Sending certified written inquiries on a daily basis can become a hobby to this type of owner. I call them the "recreational complainers". Mash emails to the board and blasts to the community with unfounded and, at times, defamatory language can also be a source of entertainment. At times, it seems as if no one is immune from this type of owner's attack.

Associations struggling with this type of owner often want to know what they can do. The Division does not investigate owners so that's not an option. The Office of the Ombudsman was created as a neutral resource for associations but there is not much the Ombudsman can do to require an owner to "play nice". Legal intervention can become costly and protracted. Pursuing an injunction to stop one behavior often results in another more disturbing behavior popping up. It becomes an endless battle of wills.

Sometimes it's obvious that the owner creating the problems has problems of their own that no amount of discussion or board transparency can cure. If the board suspects that the problems stem from dementia or other mental illness, the association can contact the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. They have an Elder Hotline set up at 1-800-96-ELDER (1-800-963-5337).

If the board suspects that perhaps the owner is not taking the proper medication and could be a danger to himself or others, reaching out to family members is another option. Obtaining family contact information for owners is very valuable. Calling the police is an option but often they do not want to get involved in these kinds of "social situations".

Again, this discussion does not pertain to owners with legitimate gripes about their board or their association. This discussion pertains to the less discussed situation of owners who become a source of nuisance to the entire community and make everyone start thinking about hanging out the 'For Sale' sign.

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