Our association just got started and has read through the VA HOA blog a lot! It has been a big help to us!
I had a question about the legal responsibility of a HOA board to respond to its members. We are a volunteer board, and there is one member of our community that is constantly sending emails (averaging 6 a day), certified letters, and posting inflammatory comments on Facebook and on our association home page. He recently sent one email documenting the number of emails he had sent us that had gone unanswered. He also attends board meetings and attempts to control the agenda and speak over the board, out of turn, and spending more than the allotted time on issues. We are a board of 8 neighborhood volunteers. With jobs, kids, and lives outside of the realm of the HOA, I just don’t understand how we possibly could respond to all of his emails. Is there a legal requirement that we respond to every email he sends? Or is there a legal guideline for determining which correspondence requires a response? Also, how can a board effectively manage people who are disruptive at a meeting? What advice would you offer to an association that deals with one particularly time-consuming member?
AN UNPAID VOLUNTEER TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING
Dear UNPAID VOLUNTEER TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING
It has been a while since we commented on difficult owners but unfortunately it is not a declining problem. I have had 3 similar inquiries from clients in just the last week. I don’t know what makes people believe that it is acceptable or appropriate to heap abuse on volunteer board members but e-mail has certainly exacerbated the problem. While there is no bright line test for what inquiries require response, there is nothing in the Virginia Code which requires a Board or its management to respond to every inquiry from every owner. In fact, the Code is limited to requiring a response when documents are requested and only then to identify when they may be reviewed or copied. I would suggest that when owners have become abusive, you notify them that their email address will be blocked if they continue to act in that manner, AND THEN BLOCK THE ADDRESS IF THEY REMAIN UNCIVIL.
As for conduct at the meetings, there needs to be evenhanded procedures regarding general conduct at the homeowner’s forum to avoid anyone behaving inappropriately. Those procedures, which should be in writing and formally adopted by the Board, may include:
1. Remind members at the beginning of each meeting that they must confine their questions and comments to the open forum and that no interruptions or questions will be permitted during the other parts of the meeting;
2. Notification that disruptive members of the Association will be required to leave the meeting; (If a member refuses to leave when asked to do so then the Board may adjourn the meeting. If this is a recurring problem you may wish to have private security or your local police or Sherriff in attendance. Uniforms frequently compel good behavior.)
3. A time limit to speak be allotted each member; (2-5 minutes is standard and a timer is not inappropriate.)
4. Requiring that the owners confine their remarks to the issues on that meeting’s agenda and
5. Make audio recordings of the owner forum or the entirety of the meetings, being certain to announce you are recording at the beginning of the meeting or appropriate portion of the meeting.
These are just a few suggestions but seem to be the most common and useful.
If all else fails, encourage the disruptive party to become a Board or Committee member where they can begin to use all that energy for the benefit of the Association rather than frustrate the dedication of other members.