Like that guy said to “my friend” on Friday morning, early Friday morning, “you have the right to remain silent.” The same is true for board and committee members in a community association when requested to individually take action outside of the board room.
From time-to-time, board members are summoned by homeowners to come immediately to the “scene of the crime” to intervene in a rules violation or some other dispute between homeowners. The request is the equivalent of asking the board member to become a peace officer. The problem is most governing documents do not allow for such intervention and immediate resolution of the violation. Not to mention, this is not always such a good idea.
A board member’s ability to resolve a situation in the heat of the moment is usually limited. In the best case scenario, the board member will tell the “offending homeowner” in a neighborly way that he is violating a rule or covenant and the homeowner will immediately comply. The worst case scenario is the homeowner will refuse to recognize that a violation is occurring at all or will disagree with the board member’s interpretation of the rules. At that point, communications between the board member and homeowner have the potential of spiraling out of control, becoming personal and sometimes downright confrontational. When emotions become involved, individuals tend to lose their ability to think rationally and to approach a sticky situation constructively. In the heat of the moment, both parties run the risk of doing or saying things they will regret later.
Unfortunately, it is these comments that will be remembered or will be taken out of context by either party to keep the dispute alive and well. It is these unfortunate words that will be placed in a letter to the board or worse yet – be made part of a lawsuit. Even if the comments are untrue, they may be used to portray the association, and the volunteer leaders, as the evil empire.
In any adversarial setting, whether in a court or administrative action, words spoken by representatives of the association out of anger or frustration can place the association in a compromised position. Even if the alleged statements did not occur, the specter of doubt is raised and as other pieces of evidence mount these alleged comments could ultimately hurt the association.
As a rule of thumb, volunteer leaders should take steps to encourage all homeowners, volunteer leaders and management staff to follow the procedures outlined in the governing documents relative to reporting, investigating and addressing alleged covenants and rules violations. In homeowner-to-homeowner disputes, associations should encourage the homeowners to discuss their differences in a calm setting with a neutral facilitator if necessary. Following these procedures does not mean that a board member doesn’t care about homeowners and does not want to be involved in the community. Instead, these procedures ensure that everyone is treated in a consistent, constructive, respectful and appropriate manner. This also frees volunteer leaders up to interact with the residents of the community to determine what they want from their community and if the association is meeting their needs.