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Preventing Violence in Homeowners Associations

HOA-USA Staff Writer

Preventing Violence in Homeowner Associations

Unfortunately, violence is an issue that has become a consideration for most of us in our own assessments of personal and family safety. Violence occurs in our schools, universities, theatres, shopping malls, workplaces and our neighborhoods. It has become a focus of study for law enforcement, educators and public health professionals. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) even has a Division of Violence Protection.

Homeowner Associations represent a significant element of our society with higher than average exposure to incidents of violence. At risk are property management professionals, association employees and contractors; as well as millions of volunteers that serve on homeowner association boards.

Nothing seems to incite emotions more that affecting one’s ‘castle’ or freedoms. This presents a particular challenge for board members who have the ultimate responsibility of governance in their community. Unfortunately most receive little or no training to fully understand their responsibility, authority and liability and in this case as it applies to violence. The following are measures that managers and volunteers should consider in preventing violence in their community.

  • Preventing violence begins with a heightened awareness of abusive, harassing and threatening behavior by residents as well as board members. Recognize the risks associated with dealing with an individual who may exhibit signs of alcohol or drug abuse; or mental illness. Review your techniques for dealing with issues of anger management and know how to avoid confrontation. Know when to compromise, de-escalate and defer. Know when to remove a board member whose behavior presents a risk to the association. Management companies should educate their managers and their boards to be more aware, focused and to follow procedures to prevent or handle violence.
  • Association boards have a duty to prevent foreseeable violence on HOA property and at HOA meetings. If the board is aware of a specific danger, it has a duty to act. The board may want to reduce the association’s exposure and liability to a lawsuit by adopting a policy regarding personal behavior and violence. A softer approach may be a Code of Conduct for both residents and boards. Managers and board members should be mindful of being drawn into conversations that can escalate at the curbside, on common area property such as the pool or clubhouse and especially on personal property. Similarly personal attacks, gossip and email attacks expose the board to risk and liability and should not be tolerated. Finally, remember that as an individual board member it is better to defer comments and actions to the board as a whole.
  • Boards should not become involved in situations that are not the responsibility of the association. Stay out of domestic situations and neighbor to neighbor conflicts. Whenever possible, boards should use local government agencies and the power of local ordinances to handle code enforcement issues, junk cars, overgrown lots, animal control, noise and similar issues. The same goes for utility easements, tree and vegetation management, construction setbacks, and building codes.
  • Communicate with your management company and/or attorney when warranted by an incident, escalating issue or potential for emotionally charged meetings. These are your best resources if the board feels that stronger measures are necessary to ensure order at meetings or if a restraining order is necessary. These professionals can best advise when and how to use security and law enforcement; when and how to document an incident; and when the association has a duty to notify residents.

Instances of abuse, harassment and threats related to homeowner associations occur all too frequently. As volunteers and community managers it is imperative that we maintain perspective while at the same time understanding the importance of awareness and preparedness for preventing violence in our communities.

Reprinted – Courtesy of HOA-USA

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