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Battling Bully Board Members and Homeowners

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There are always a couple of television stories year after year about the out of control homeowners’ association board or the homeowner who is battling their HOA over a community parking space, fence or dog.

According to the Community Associations Institute – Central Arizona Chapter (CAI-CAC) these battles can often get personal and can pit individual homeowner against homeowner or an entire community against its HOA board.

There’s no strict definition of a bully, but we know them when we see them, says anti-bullying expert Ben Leichtling. Unlike decent people who are angry about a particular issue but want to work out a solution, bullies:

• are never satisfied
• treat you like a servant or slave
• can be “professional victims” who take offense too easily
• can also be aggressors
• want to wear you down and beat you up

Bullies might be only 1 percent of the population, Leichting says, but they take 999 percent of your time, energy and emotional reserves.

So you want to fight?
Your attorney can point you to legal tactics to fight the specific actions of a board bully.

Check your governing documents. If the bully is an officer, your board may be able to vote the bully out of office, and back to a director position. (Officers are generally elected by the board; taking someone off the board may require a homeowner vote.)

If the problem is lack of confidentiality, the board may want to create a confidentiality agreement that spells out the director’s fiduciary duties in writing.

For other “irregularities,” your attorney may also want to take the board member aside. A simple “talking to” can sometimes derail particular behaviors, if not change personalities.

Overcoming Fear
But what if the problem isn’t a board member, but a homeowner? And what if the only tactics available are expensive (i.e. lawsuit) or scary (verbal confrontation)?

Now the human side of battling bullies becomes paramount. Leichtling, who has written numerous books bullying, advocates a six-step system:

1) Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Surprised? “Bullies want to wear you down, so that you’ll give up and give them what they want,” Leichtling says. “Your job is to keep yourself at your best.” So do whatever it takes to keep your humor, courage and strength.
2) Don’t take it personally. “Bullies want to make you think it’s your fault,” Leichtling says. “You can take it seriously, but not personally.”
3) Watch for early warning signs. Bullying is more likely when there’s someone new on the board, or when someone is going through a rough personal patch: a divorce or job loss. Keep your intuition up for these signs.
4) Begin with relationship: Don’t assume you’re dealing with a rational person. Assume you’re dealing with someone who is on the emotional razor’s edge. So get together with the bully, speak emotionally and calm them down enough so they can be rational.
5) Get on their side: Put yourself in the bully’s shoes and look at their demands from their perspective. You may even want to get on their side of the desk or table when talking to them.
6) Meet in person: When people are upset, email is not a good strategy. Even if this costs you time and money now, a personal meeting is much less costly in the long run.

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