Keeping a Lid on the Cauldron: Handling Hostility at Association Meetings

This week, we dig into the rise in incivility at community association meetings. Examples abound of inappropriate behavior these days, making it difficult for managers and boards to perform their duties. Rather than ignoring such conduct, though, they need to take a proactive stance, and we’ll explain how.

From profane name-calling to fistfights, the behavior at community association meetings has been on the decline. Owners’ anger and anxiety are spilling over, and they’re directing their vitriol at board members, fellow owners, and managers.

“The ability to contain oneself and act appropriately in a public forum seems to be lost,” says Paul Grucza, director of education and client engagement for CWD Group, Inc., an association management company in the Pacific Northwest.

“I used to love going to meetings, but my stress level goes up now, and I’m constantly scanning the room. We never used to think about this stuff before, and now we have to.”

With emotions likely to run even hotter during the long election season, managers must recognize the risks related to the breakdown in civility, including the precipitating factors, and take steps to mitigate them.

Grucza has good reason to scan the room at meetings — he’s witnessed the full gamut of bad behavior at and after meetings.

“I see physical altercations where owners accost board members when they don’t like what they hear,” he says. “I’ve had a knife pulled on me when talking about a special assessment. I’ve seen fruit, books, pens thrown at people. I’ve seen board members cars’ keyed and packages of dog poop left at members’ homes.” In one case, some board members were beaten to the point of needing stitches.

You might think that more mature communities would be better behaved, but JoAnn Burnett, an attorney in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., office of Becker & Poliakoff, P.A., hasn’t found that to be true. “In the 55-and-older communities, people are out there with their canes and umbrellas, jousting and name calling. We’ve had people waving guns around.

“It’s usually over crazy things,” she says, “like ‘his tree is encroaching, and I want it off!’”

Managers take their fair share of abuse, too. “We see an incredible void of civility in dealing with managers,” says Sandra Gottlieb, a founding partner of California homeowner association law firm SwedelsonGottlieb, “as if they’re invisible and not sitting right there. Owners wave their fingers and literally will tell managers to shut up and ‘you work for me!”

To learn what’s behind the surge in hostility and how you can help your boards deal with it, read our new article Bickering and Brawls: How to Deal with Rising Tempers and Incivility.

Best regards,
Matt Humphrey
President