Sunday, November 23, 2014

When tragedy strikes in a community association

Very recently, a manager I know and worked with was viciously attacked while on duty in his community. A former employee walked into the management office and shot this unsuspecting young man in the head.

People I know asked me what could have been done to prevent this tragedy from occurring. It is always easy to be a Monday-morning Quarterback, but the fact remains that if someone is intent on doing you harm, he or she can usually find a way.

That being said, this attack does necessitate an important discussion about how to protect an association's employees, directors and residents. Whenever you are dealing with volatile personality types, it is important to plan thoughtfully. We have previously seen violence in community associations where a resident attacked a director and vice versa. We have also seen resident vs. resident crime. director vs. director crime and resident vs. manager and director vs. manager attacks. Sadly, no group is immune from being attacked or being the attacker.

What if you don't know someone has such a personality? Well, hiring decisions should not be taken lightly. In this case, a thorough personality screening of this employee may or may not have revealed a history of mental illness or highlighted other troubling personality issues. Given how some people react to bad news, terminating an employee might also require speaking with a professional ahead of time to frame the news in the best possible light and to take all necessary precautions should the employee present a problem immediately upon learning of the termination.

If you have any inkling that a resident, employee or director may have violent tendencies, you must take immediate steps to defuse the situation, reach out to all appropriate professionals and service agencies and do not go it alone. Can the management office be equipped with a metal detector? Of course, but how many communities want to go to this extreme?

Fortunately, Jeremy Holland, the manager who inspired this blog, is recovering with the help and overwhelming support of his family, friends and the community he served.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Multiculturalism and your Community Association


Many communities around the country have foreign members who are not proficient English speakers. Others have members who are fluent in English but would prefer to converse in their native tongue. I have attended Board and Membership meetings  in Florida where residents (and some directors) spoke Spanish, French, Creole, Portuguese, Chinese, Greek, Italian and Russian.
Some association directors feel strongly that only English should be spoken at board and membership meetings and only English should be used for an association's written communications.
 However, if your board's goal is to communicate effectively with your members and you do have members who would benefit from translating that message into their native tongue, aren't you thwarting your own goals by not doing so?
 Communities in certain areas like South Florida, Texas, California, Arizona, New York and other areas with high concentrations of foreign residents, may want to give some thought to how multiculturalism can benefit and strengthen their neighborhoods.
 When was the last time you reviewed your applications for purchase and rentals with an eye towards foreign purchasers and renters? Do you request background information from their countries and do you have any of your information published in other languages? What does your association website look like and is there a translation button on there for residents who wish to view the information in a different language?
Does your community have social events which expose foreign members to traditional American holidays while also hosting events which expose your American members to foreign holiday celebrations or customs?
As our world continues to shrink, private residential communities need to think about how multiculturalism can and should play a role in their policies and protocols. What are you willing to do to create a feeling of inclusion and what do you consider unnecessary and/or inadvisable?
My firm, Becker & Polikaoff, has created a unique resource for communities with Hispanic directors and members known as Condomundousa. You can find Condomundousa on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as well as read their blog at www.condomundousa.com.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Videotaping community association meetings-where do the owners' rights start and the directors' rights end?

Have you ever sat in a board or membership meeting only to notice at some point that someone in the audience is videotaping the meeting? Did the fact that you were being filmed concern you at all?

The Florida Legislature granted condominium and HOA members the right to videotape board and membership meetings. Florida cooperative owners can only videotape board meetings. However, that right is tempered by the fact that such taping is subject to reasonable board rules and regulations. The reasons for wanting to videotape a meeting can vary from member to member. Some people feel that it is the only possible method to accurately capture what transpires at a meeting; this is particularly true when a board does not provide timely and accurate meeting minutes after the fact. For other people, the ability to videotape may provide a handy tool to harass or annoy someone they don't like in the community. Many boards do create reasonable rules and restrictions regarding the videotaping of meetings and those rules typically require that someone planning to use such equipment advise the board in advance and tape from a certain distance during the meeting. In addition to thinking about how the person videotaping should conduct himself or herself, it is important to give some thought as to how those tapes will be used after they are made.

If you learn that tapes of your community meetings are being posted on Youtube or other public forums, you may have legitimate privacy and security concerns. Those tapes can reveal directors' faces and names (given at roll call) as well as such sensitive information as a director advising that he or she won't be at the next meeting because they will be out of town. At that point, it would not be difficult for someone to look up that person's property address in the Public Records and use that information for ill intentions.

The Florida shared ownership statutes unfortunately do not currently limit the use or distribution of videotapes by owners but the board can pass a rule limiting such use. However, it would be preferable if this loophole were closed statutorily by clarifying that videotapes made of association meetings cannot be posted in public forums. In the interim, there is certainly an argument to be made that prohibiting the posting of such videotapes in a public forum would constitute a reasonable board rule.