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Posted 10/24/08

Regulating Human Behavior - Can It Be Done?

The following items are excerpted from my writings, musings, and published material. When I write for the general public, I write from many perspectives. I try to help homeowners understand their rights and obligations in some of my writings, which is different than when I write just for HOA boards and managers and other professionals who serve only these entities. This is helpful to me in working with my own clients. It is very important to recognize that there are many possible ways to approach a problem, and two sides to every issue, and also that homeowners need to be educated too (believe me, it helps)! And owners, as well as Boards, need creative help in figuring out remedies to difficult situations! The burden to solve difficult people disputes should not always rest on the Board alone, and owners need to understand that to resolve an issue with a difficult neighbor, they need to take some responsibility in the situation too. That is the only way to really resolve difficult people disputes. I thought the following published material would be helpful to Boards as well, and maybe it is soothing to some degree that someone is trying to educate owners on a widespread basis that there are things they, and the Board, can do, and that it is important to work together when there is human "blight" in the neighborhood.

So here goes.

From Beth's Blog (aka California Condo & HOA blog)

A nasty person is a nasty person. A crazy person is curable disease. Selfish behavior is common in self-centered people. Ego drives all sorts of idiotic behavior. But stupidity, which can be cured through education, takes a willing idiot.

MeetingHOA Boards are somehow expected to be able to fix everything. They are expected to act on everything that an owner wants them to act upon. They are asked to solve problems that derive from uncontrollable and irreversible human behavior, something no one really has much control over. Of course, discipline (like fines) can be meted out, rules can be adopted, policies enforced, and those kind of deterrents work on reasonable people, but what about the rest.

What can a board do? Get help from someone who knows more than they do.  It's all about pushing the right "buttons", and while the viable "button" may seem elusive, there almost always is one. And if not, at least a Board may get points for trying. Don't try to fix a person; try to give them the right incentive to want to change their behavior. In other words, find the right "button" to push, without pushing so hard that they push back.

A few examples:

How To Help Yourself:

  • If a person is acting stupid and knowing more would help them appear less so, educate them, in the clearest way possible. If they do not believe you for any reason, find something that comes from another source, a trusted or respected source. Find the right book (perhaps Finding the Key to Your Castle or The Condo Answer Book), movie or DVD, newspaper or magazine article, a website (such as www.californiacondoguru.com) or blog (such as California Condo & HOA Law), copy the pertinent section, and hand it over to whomever needs to see it!.
  • See if you can enlist the help of a friend, neighbor, relative, parent (if the problem is a child), or adult child when the problem involves an elderly parent suffering from various mental deficiencies. Examples (all tried and true remedies to real problems):
  • Find an article on approaching your neighbor about a noise complaint, and try it, before bringing your issue to the board - there are many, many articles on the web on this subject.
  • Tell a friend about dog barking remedies whistles and other electronic gismos that are sold with the guarantee of stopping the neighbor's dog from barking are available in Skymall magazine and also on the web.
  • Enlist the help of a parent to bring their kids by to paint the garage walls where graffiti was a problem and their children were involved.
  • Encourage an adult child to move their parents out of a condo when the elderly parent gets to the point where they become a danger to themselves and others such as when they leave the stove on unattended, let newspapers and magazines pile up until there is no room left but pathways, stop emptying the cat box, wander the neighborhood after dark in their skivvies, etc.
  • Consult with a minister, pastor, or clergy person if there is a claim by a resident that some religious exterior "adornment" is necessary for their religion.
  • If a person is harassing or threatening another person, get help from a knowledge-able source: perhaps an experienced attorney, judge, social worker, a psychologist, or a police officer, or mediator or attorney that has dealt with these kinds of problems. These people can often help lead you to resources you can point out to the owner that is the victim. For example, - individuals can file papers with the courts (called requests for restraining orders) on their own, without an attorney, to protect themselves, and most courts have packets of the necessary papers as well as instructions available to the public. The police sometimes will intervene. Neighborhood watch training officers can help groups of people cope with and beat crime in the neighborhood. Many areas have what are called "Safe Streets" officers and will help residents of a neighborhood or homeowner's association address serious problems like drug houses, meth labs, or "flop" houses.
  • If one owner is doing something in their unit that completely annoys the neighbor, and the neighbor is retaliating, get them the information on the local conflict resolution panel. Maybe threaten association action, depending on the facts or situation, but realize at what point it is about conduct that is equally bad that is driving the disputes and the activities.

    You can be the greatest problem solver, but still not every approach works in every situation. Association "policies" engender consistency and order. Board members need road maps to go by. And, I hold firm of the belief that it is harder for an owner to argue with a piece of paper than the Board President (hence, the value of policies).

    However, when you are dealing with a person who has no regard for rules, reasonable behavior, or other people, sometimes you just have to "punt" (meaning here, try something you have not tried before, or that you use only as the last resort in difficult cases). But don't go blind with it. Get help from someone skilled in dealing with the challenges. Sometimes board members or managers have had "difficult people" training. If there is no one in your association that has any specialized training then get help early, before the person who is causing you to lose sleep at night does too much damage, or frustrates the board into threatening resignations en masse. For every problem, there is a solution. Sometimes it just takes the right combination of forces and awhile to figure it out.

    This article is republished here but originally appeared as a blog on Beth's Blog. Check out the link to the blogs and find out more about many, many subjects.

    copyright 2008, Beth Grimm, All rights reserved.

    By Beth A. Grimm, Attorney. A "service oriented" attorney and member of ECHO and CAI and various other industry organizations in California and nationally, host of the website www.californiacondoguru.com; two Blogs: California Condominium & HOA Law Blog, and Condolawguru.com Blog, and author of many helpful community association publications which can be found in the webstore on her site.