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Posted 10/24/08

What Happens When "Idiots" Come To
Homeowner Association Meetings?

The following blog can be found on this website under "Beth's Blogs. It may be helpful to you because it lays out several tactics that boards can use to try and bring control to a meeting when there are attendees that are bent on disrupting the proceedings. Each short note signifies a process that could be explained in more detail (if this were a book), but use your imagination.

Do You/Your Boards Ever Have a Hard Time Getting Through Meetings? Here Is A True Story (No Lie!)

One of my readers wrote in and asked if there was any legislation that would pertain to what a board can do about disruptive owners. The writer said that they had two owners in the association that come to every board meeting, that aren't satisfied with the homeowners forum time, and that interrupt the Board on every item of business that is discussed.

I experienced this on one very memorable occasion. At this association, two owners came to every meeting and harassed the board and manager on everything the board tried to discuss. The number of other members that attended had dwindled down to a few diehards. It was almost impossible for the Board to get any business done. When described to me, it hardly seemed possible that two adults could or would create so much mayhem on a regular basis.

These are some of the things the board attempted, at my suggestion.

Get a big gavel (in this case size does matter), and use it to keep order. It is a tool that usually engenders more respect than a meek - "please stop talking".

meetingHave the homeowner forum at the beginning of the meeting, and let the attendees know that once it is over, then the board will move into the business portion and that comments from the audience are welcome only when invited. Sometimes the "disgruntled" will leave afterwards.

Use an egg timer for the homeowner forum time. In many cases, even difficult people will have to acknowledge the "ding" as the end of their time to talk, and sometimes even give it more respect than the President of the Board who tries to keep order. 

Try a timed agenda and the egg timer, to help everyone stay on track and as a reminder that time is limited.

Adopt a meetings policy that spells out the order of things and enumerates the possible ramifications of disrupting the meeting. Usually, it is harder for a person to argue with a piece of paper than the Board President.

Bring in a video camera on a tripod and let the members know that the meeting will be taped. Usually, that is a deterrent to bad conduct (note: that is a tactic used by some attorneys in deposition to control the conduct of an overbearing and disgust-ingly difficult attorney who is there to question someone). Whether or not the Board or management knows how to use the equipment, having it there, pointed at the audience, may help.

Tell the problem attendees that they are subject to being called to a hearing to consider fines (if the governing documents allow for fines).

Another tactic that can be used sparingly is, if the disruptions continue after appropriate warnings have been issued, is adjourning the meeting, closing it, clearing the room,  and calling an emergency meeting with notice only to the board members, after everyone has left, and in this case only business that needs to be done should be done.

A study and use of Roberts Rules to keep order in the meetings might help as sometimes disorganization works against a board's best efforts to get through business.

At this association, the board was stymied no matter what it tried, so I was asked to attend the meeting. Sure enough, the two trouble makers showed up, sat in the front row, and exhibited rude and thoughtless behavior. The two commented after every owner spoke in the forum time, declined to have their own few minutes, and then started in on the board once the business began. Usually, my presence engenders some cooperation, especially when I stand up and explain to the group that the board needs to get through business and the attendees must let it, or the meeting will be adjourned. Often, an authoritative presence leads the other attendees to jump in and verbally chastise the problem attendees. Sometimes they are empowered with an authority figure present.

But in this case, there was simply no respect of any kind exhibited by the two trouble makers. So, (hope I do not offend anyone but this is a true story, I said a little prayer. "God, if you have any ideas, I would like to know what they are. I'm plumb out and this board deserves a break.") Somewhere in the distance I heard sirens, but paid little attention., as usually happens when sirens are a common sound.

This meeting was taking place in a County Library. About 10 minutes after my "prayer", the night librarian popped in and said, "I have some bad news. There have been some car breakins in the parking lot. The good news is that only two vehicles were broken into - they are a Mercedes [something or other]  and a BMW [something or other]. There were some items recovered, some laptops and things."

The two trouble makers shot out of the front row and ran outside. Both were tied up for the rest of the meeting with the police.

The moral of the story: Don't ever give up!

The truth is that - if these people continued to harass (which, after the implement-tation of all processes described above seemed to dissipate), a board could, if the governing documents allow for suspension of membership rights, arguably (but consult your own attorney on this) call a hearing (California has laws on the procedure) and suspend rights of the owners to attend the meetings for a period of time. That was to be the next step in this case. A board could seek a restraining order; however, that can be expensive and there are no guarantees of success as many judges would wonder why a board had such a lack of control of meetings, so choose that remedy "judiciously".

And although I believe a board could use the "adjournment method" as an alternative, it is not a pleasing long term prospect (and again, please check with your own attorney to see what he or she thinks of this remedy).

Most of the above steps will cure any problem with disruptive owners because in most cases, even the most aggressive owners have some respect for rules, discipline or the thought of appearing on tape acting like a child.

At any rate, I hope some of this helps. It is very frustrating to try and get through any kind of business with disrespectful attendees. Sometimes the problem attendees are sitting at the board table, in which case the additional remedy of a "discussion with" or letter from the association attorney reminding the board member of his or her "fiduciary duty" to act in a business-like manner might help.

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.