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4 Steps to Taming Homeowner Rage in your HOA

Jul 28, 2014 | Archive, Blog, Text Only Article | 0 comments

Have you noticed how the “rage” once confined to our roadways has crept into our communities as well?  “Owner Rage” is what we’ve come to call it at our law firm.  But why is it happening?  What forms does it take?  And what can we, as volunteers and professionals, do to contain and defuse it?

Why is it happening?

Rage is pent up anger.  We have a lot to be angry about these days with the stress brought on by financial hard times.  The anger is going to escape if it is not dealt with constructively.  One of the ways it will escape is in our communications with other people.  Because we appreciate the need to preserve a strong relationship with our co-workers and loved ones, we steer clear of directing our anger at them.  We are much more likely to unleash our anger on people with whom we have no relationship.

What forms does it take?

In our practice, there has been a definite increase over the last year in aggressive behavior of members in both on-line groups and in person at meetings.  The aggressive behavior often is in response to Board decisions.  We’ve heard owners expressing vehemently that Boards are trying to change systems that have worked just fine, are wasting time and money to do so, and are taking power away from the owners.  We’ve seen one opposition group go so far as to incorporate.

How Can We Contain and Diffuse It?

Our law firm’s most important observation about Owner Rage is this:  The stronger the bond is between neighbors, the less likely you are to become the target of Owner Rage.  People lash out and are aggressive with people with whom they have no relationship.  So, the following steps are designed to give the Board an approach follow to help diffuse the rage and strengthen relationships:

Step one: A good place to start is with reminding owners that their community association is not “the government,” but is, instead, just your neighbors.

Step two Take steps to elevate the importance of that “neighbor-to-neighbor” relationship in the eyes of every owner.  Remind them that an association comprised of stand-alone single family homes, but a significant portion of a home’s value is a function of how nice the entire neighborhood is and of how well the neighbors all get along.  And this is doubly true in a condominium association, since you literally co-own with your neighbors everything you see, save for those individual cubes of airspace that each owner thinks of as “my home.” It is when an owner begins to view his relationship with his neighbors and neighborhood as the key to preserving and enhancing the value of his own home that the neighbor-to-neighbor relationship – and the member-to-association relationship – begins to take on new significance to an owner.

Step three:  Level the playing field.  An association has important work to do and, to enable it to make decisions and complete that work, the law lets it become (or just act like) a corporation.  While the “top down” chain of command works okay in the business world, it is more a necessary evil within a community.  And it can fuel resentment where this “top down” hierarchy is superimposed on neighbor-to-neighbor relationships where everyone is essentially equal.

Step Four Work together as a community.  Consider deciding, as a community, on certain ground rules about how neighbors will treat one another.  Like “we will follow the Golden Rule” and “we will give each other the benefit of the doubt.”  Consider, as board members, taking steps to replace “us vs. them” with simply “us.”

Communication is Key

Governing documents provide roadmaps for getting decisions made and projects accomplished.  But those pathways to completion are not exclusive.  Associations might need to dig a little deeper and develop methods of communication to make communication effective and to obtain owner participation.  Yes, it’s a hard job, but is should get easier as owners feel more connected with the Board and the decision making process.

One idea is to consider laying a stronger foundation with the members first, by holding informational meetings.  Explain why the Board is considering a certain solution and then ask the owners both for their questions and if they have any better ideas. The Board would then consider what the owners say before “making it official” and moving the community’s decision down that legal pathway.

This “Us” approach may become the vaccine we’ve all been hoping for to insulate us from the toxic wrath of the outraged owner.

By Jennifer A. Valenta, Esq.

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