Lindsay S. Smith in Board Operations on January 6, 2012
Jan. 6, 2012 — Bullying is huge in the headlines lately. Lady Gaga is starting a foundation to fight the problem, the government's involved with StopBullying.gov and there are hundreds of recent news articles on the subject. Bullying is pervasive and infects every area of life. But what can co-op / condo residents and board members do about it?
The issue gets particularly problematic when the bully is a board member, one who refuses to allow fellow board members the right to speak and discuss a subject. Other times, the bully is a shareholder or unit-owner who has a personal issue with a neighbor, and drags the co-op / condo board into that conflict. The bully can also be a resident who disagrees with building policies, and disrupts meetings in an attempt to assert his or her position.
Surprisingly, lawyers get bullied too. We've received simple death threats, insults about our practice, professionalism, intellect and personal grooming, and even threats of biological weapons. A homeowner once even chased one of our attorneys with a machete.
People get angry, and a co-op / condo attorney an easy target. I understand that. However, individual residents and board members should not have to live with bullying. If you're being bullied at your condo or co-op, consider taking the following steps:
1) Demand respect. When a defendant attempted to bully me based on my gender and age, he backed down immediately when I addressed his inappropriate actions directly.
2) Disengage. A bully is looking to provoke a reaction. Don't allow this to happen. If your emotions take over, the bully "wins." Stay calm, keep rational, and remember: You don't have to say a thing to this person.
3) Follow your policies. If the bullying occurs during a meeting, look to your condo / co-op's policy regarding the conduct of meetings. The bully will likely be violating the policy, such as a civility provision. Point out the violation and request compliance. Embarrassment can sometimes help to tone down a bully's aggression. You may also silence a bully by implementing and enforcing strict time limits on speech. If you have these limits, enforce them equally with everyone.
4) Look to your management company, attorney, or other professional for assistance. Your building manager and the board's attorney have likely had significant experience with bullies. They may be able to step in and remove the "personal" from "personality conflict." This will likely be necessary if the bully is also a dominant figure on the board. Of course, sometimes the dispute is between neighbors and is not properly addressed by the board. In this case, consider whether you need to retain your own professional assistance, such as a neighborhood mediator, to resolve the matter.
I don't know why people feel the need to bully. It is my goal to help my clients be harmonious and functional. Some people just don't seem to thrive in these sorts of environments, leading to conflict, legal fees and great war stories that begin, "Did I ever tell you about the time I was nearly shot at a board meeting?"
Lindsay Smith is an attorney with Winzenburg, Leff, Purvis and Payne, LLP, where she focuses on the creation, operation and governance of homeowners and condominium associations. She blogs at COHOALaw.com, from which this article was adapted.
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