Harassment can happen anytime and anywhere, even in your homeowners association. Having a harassment policy in place can help to prevent incidents from occurring, and give your board a clear path to follow in the event that something does take place. Whether your community is big or small, you need to have a plan.
Harassment is a broad term for a many different types of inappropriate behaviors. The term can be used for sexual harassment, continual verbal abuse, threatening emails or letters, or any type of physical harm.
Developing a Policy
Many governing documents will have some type of wording describing words or actions that are inappropriate and considered harassment, but these sections are often vague and in need of amendment or addition. As a solution to this problem, lawyers recommend that homeowners associations develop a written document that leaves no doubt as to the HOA’s position on harassment of any kind.
It is usually recommended to get the help of your HOA lawyer to draft the document so as to ensure the legality and effectiveness of the policy.
The policy should outline the type of behaviors that are considered inappropriate or injurious and designate a person or persons to whom all complaints should be made. The property manager usually takes the complaints, but it is important to designate a secondary representative in the event that the property manager is the perpetrator of the harassment.
The policy should underline the steps that will be taken in the event of a policy breach. These actions usually begin with an official letter of warning documenting the inappropriate action and calling for immediate cessation of the action or words. In the event of a frustrated or angry homeowner, steps can also be taken to try to diffuse the complaint. Usually one or both of these steps will be sufficient. However, the board should be prepared to take the case further by dismissing the individual from the board if they are a member, or taking legal action.
In the case of a possible immediate danger such as an active threat (“I’m going to hurt you” or “I’m going to kill you”) or the brandishing or any type of weapon (fists included), it is recommended that the police be called right away, even if injury does not seem likely.
It may be difficult for your board to decided when the line is drawn between an irritating action and one that can be defined as harassment. If a homeowner is acting in a way that is disturbing the peace of any other member of the community, it is reasonable to begin to take actions to try to diffuse the situation. Every homeowner has the right to live peaceably in their homes without excessive disturbance.
It is worth noting that harassment is an issue which the board has the right to use HOA funds to resolve. Harassment can effect the job performance of board members, and the quality of life within the community.
Harassment is increasingly becoming a problem, and most experts agree that HOAs should develop policies as soon as possible. Help protect your HOA and the peaceful way of life that your community strives for by investing the time and money into a harassment policy.