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Dealing with Complaints & Difficult Owners

While most board members truly act with the best interest of the Association in mind, even with the best of intentions a board may at some point have to deal with opposition from fellow homeowners. Sometimes the opposition is legitimate. Other times, it is not. Knowing how to respond to members in the Association and handle conflict is important to building and maintaining a strong community.

Problems often can arise when an owner or owners are not happy with particular board decision or policy. For example if the board has instituted a necessary but unpopular parking program, or someone wants to paint their home a color that is not approved by architectural review committee. The owner disapproves of the decision, but the board supports the committee’s decision. In such cases there is a conflict between the owner and the board. But when does a person cross the line from simply expressing their disapproval of the decision to actually becoming a problem?

Typically a problem arises when, in response to a board decision, the owner declares “war” and begins interactions with an aggressive attitude, and makes demands that are designed to harass the board and manager. A situation like that is detrimental to the entire Association because it distracts the board or manager from their important tasks, and uses Association resources in order to respond to the upset owner.

Other times the problem may be less obvious. Because board members are often neighbors and friends of other residents, owners don’t always respect board members’ personal time. It’s easy for fellow owners to stop board members outside their homes, poolside, or by the mailbox to discuss issues within the community. While the owner’s concerns may be warranted, it may border on being overzealous or even harassing since it can occur at any given moment. Typically, when this occurs there is a lack of knowledge about how a homeowners association is structured, and how the board should function. Owners (and board members) need to recognize that the boards’ authority comes from the board acting as a whole, not from any one individual board member.

Transparency is good

One of the key steps in dealing with all members in an Association is to maintain regular, open communication with owners so the board’s actions are always clear. A good board is responsive to residents and takes the position that every owner has a legitimate interest in what’s going on and that their questions deserve to be answered. Open lines of communication will help lessen confusion and reduce any “us vs. them” attitude that some members may feel toward the board. When considering an item that may be controversial in the community, consider soliciting the input of the other owners via a survey, or even a town hall meeting.

Handling Complaints

Even while taking steps to involve the community in the difficult decisions, there will be times when an owner has a complaint. In evaluating any complaints, there are several tried and true approaches the board (and management) should consider:

  • Gather as much information as possible about the facts surrounding the complaint;
  • In gathering facts, initiate contact with the affected owners in a neutral fact gathering rather than confrontational fashion;
  • Unless there is an emergency, only act on written complaints;
  • Use IDR — internal dispute resolution, whenever possible;
  • Keep the emotions in check and make sure they are not a factor in deciding any outcome;
  • Listen to the complaints from the owner’s perspective and evaluate if the complaint has any merit;
  • Keep your end of the agreement even if the other side doesn’t;
  • Standardize procedures in dealing with violations and follow the procedures as consistently as possible.
  • If none of these concepts work, seek out the right kind of professional for help.

Don’t get sucked into a pattern of ineffective behavior in dealing with difficult people. Follow the policies the board has adopted in compliance with the association’s governing documents. When these issues arise, give the complaining party an opportunity to state their case, and do your best to let them know that they have been heard. Lastly, in resolving the issue, be fair and reasonable. Most of the time following these steps will resolve the situation. In cases where things continue to escalate, or the owner continues to make unreasonable demands or complaints, the association may need additional help. In those rare cases, discuss your options with your Association’s counsel who can advise the board on specific options the board may implement to deal with such a situation.


Posted in Governance, Operations.