Dealing with difficult homeowners is inevitable for board members of an HOA. It is just part of the job. Every community will face conflict and have its fair share of difficult people. A key part of your job as a board member is to keep the peace and diffuse any difficult situations as they arise.
When conflicts happen, keep in mind that patience and communication are the way to go. Do not get aggressive and turn a minor dispute into a major one. If you temper your reactions, listen and ask the correct questions, your community’s homeowners and the board will come to an acceptable resolution. Before you can learn how to deal with difficult homeowners, you must first identify the common types. Let’s look into them here.
Dealing with Difficult Residents | The Different Types of Homeowners
When you’re dealing with difficult homeowners, you must first assess what type of residents they are. This way, you’ll know what strategy to adopt to achieve the best results. Most difficult homeowners fall under one or a combination of these five general types:
1. The Bully
You can easily spot the Bully by how other people behave around them. They are often angry or short-tempered and exhibit in-your-face behavior.
The Bully tends to incite fear among fellow residents and, sometimes, even board members. They typically resort to threats or aggressive comments.
There are many things that can set off the Bully. Not getting what they want is a common trigger. Receiving notices about their violations is another.
Because the Bully can be very imposing and hostile, board members may be too afraid to take action against them. The Bully is usually well-aware of their influence and, thus, exploits it to no end.
How to Deal with the Bully
The Bully may also resort to verbal abuse. In that case, do not engage or raise your voice. When dealing with difficult homeowners, you must remain perfectly calm. Avoid expressing judgments or opinions, using only facts to respond. Should it become impossible to hold meetings due to their outbursts, limit all communication to written letters and respond within a reasonable amount of time.
Because board members are also residents within the community, it can be hard to avoid running into the Bully outside of meetings. If the behavior becomes overbearingly toxic or dangerous, think about getting an outside party involved. Consider seeking help from an HOA management company. If you must, contact local law enforcement involved or consider getting a restraining order.
2. The Complainer
The Complainer constantly complains about everything. If they experience the slightest inconvenience or dislike the way something is handled, you can be sure you’ll hear about it.
The Complainer consistently whines about subpar facilities but is also the first to complain when assessment fees see the tiniest of increases. They complain about not being “heard,” even if the board has already promised to look into their concern.
The Complainer will keep bringing up past issues because they refuse to accept the outcome. They are close-minded, inflexible, and believe the only correct way is theirs.
Their persistent whining may fool others to see them as the victim, which they will gladly play the part of. More often than not, the Complainer also enjoys the controversy and attention that comes with being the constant contrarian. With this kind of resident, disagreements are pretty much inevitable.
How to Deal with the Complainer
Oftentimes, the Complainer simply wants to know their voice matters in the conversation. When dealing with difficult homeowners like the Complainer, the first thing you must do is listen. Let them know clearly that you’ve received their complaints and thank them for the information. An immediate solution isn’t required.
If needed, ask the Complainer what action they expect from the association. Should you arrive at a decision, let the Complainer know as soon as you can. If action is needed, notify them of the approximate date or time of when that action will be taken.
If the Complainer continuously brings up the same issue time and again (even after a decision has been made), politely remind them of the decision. Opinions and judgments must be kept out of the discussion.
3. The Entitled
Rules are rules for a reason, and no one is exempt. However, the Entitled feels as though they are. They figure the rules don’t apply to them just because they’re long-time residents of the community.
The Entitled believes they can bypass regulations because of their various contributions to the board. This type of difficult homeowner uses these facts as leverage when the board issues them a violation notice. And when they fail to get their way, they play the victim card to gain sympathy.
How to Deal with the Entitled
Make sure all procedures are standardized, with protocols in place for every kind of violation. Without raising your voice, remind the Entitled that these rules apply to all residents of the community equally. This includes past and present members of the board.
If the Entitled accuses the board of playing favorites, ask them to elaborate and, if necessary, for evidence. The Entitled may share their experiences with other homeowners. When confronted or questioned, do not entertain uninvolved parties. Simply let them know that the rules favor no one.
If suitable, consider waiving the first fine the Entitled is required to pay. However, make it absolutely clear to them — preferably in writing — that this is a one-time exception. The Entitled may intentionally neglect to pay the fine out in an act of defiance. In that case, issue a final warning before referring the account for collection.
4. The Nitpicker
The Nitpicker finds fault in everything. In fact, they make sure to dissect every action the board takes in an effort to undermine their authority.
If the board makes the slightest misstep (no matter how understandable or justified), the Nitpicker will point it out.
They know the HOA Bylaws like the back of their hand, not because they’re a dutiful resident, but just so they have something to refer to when they pick on your mistakes. However, their nitpicking doesn’t stop with the board. If a homeowner misses the deadline for taking down Halloween decorations, the Nitpicker will demand a fine be issued.
How to Deal with the Nitpicker
Strictly follow the Bylaws to ensure the Nitpicker can’t hold anything against you. That means doing anything necessary, such as creating calendars or checklists, to remain compliant. If for any reason some procedures stray from the Bylaws, you can either amend the Bylaws or change your procedures. Any mistakes on the association’s part must be acknowledged and rectified. If the board makes a commitment, honor it.
Consider inspiring the Nitpicker to become a board member in the future. Though they may not be interested, their talents could prove beneficial when used in the right position. That way, they can certify the board acts in compliance with the governing documents at all times.
5. The Passive-Aggressive Resident
Some residents are overly aggressive, to varying degrees, and can be very difficult to deal with. On the other side of the spectrum, passive-aggressive people often have hidden intentions.
Unlike the Bully, the Passive-Aggressive Resident doesn’t use a direct approach to undermine you. Instead, they hide behind thinly veiled contempt.
They employ snarky attacks, such as harsh personal comments attacking a person’s character. They can also be stubborn or give you silent treatment when displeased. Aside from obstructing meetings or regular processes, these actions are meant to get things done their way.
How to Deal with the Passive-Aggressive Resident
Because the Passive-Aggressive Resident uses subtlety as a weapon, it can be a challenge to determine what they really want. When dealing with difficult residents like this, don’t play their game or stoop to their level.
Refrain from lashing out at them, even though their remarks can be hurtful. Instead, turn the other cheek and ask them directly what they want or how they feel. Adopt a straightforward yet professional MO. If the Passive-Aggressive Resident has aimed their attacks at another homeowner, consider seeking the help of a trained mediator if you don’t have any experience in that field.
General Rules of Thumb When Dealing with Difficult Homeowners
Dealing with these kinds of homeowners is not easy. Identifying them with a single glance can be even tougher. If you encounter a difficult resident but don’t know which type they fall into just yet, here are some general tips you can employ:
- Listen: Always listen, even if somebody is not being reasonable in the slightest. Showing them respect and the benefit of active listening is often what it takes to change their minds and lead to a healthy resolution.
- Take a second to breathe: Sit back for a second, and take a deep breath. If you or the HOA board immediately get defensive or aggressive when dealing with a difficult resident, the dispute will only worsen. Once you’ve calmed down, proceed to respond in a positive yet gentle manner.
- Be direct: When dealing with a difficult homeowner, it’s important to avoid any misunderstandings. Asking direct questions like “What do you want?” can make your discussion much easier.
- Stick to the facts: Do not involve any personal feelings or qualms. The facts must always prevail.
- Compromise: Not everyone can what they want all the time. Compromise where you can. In every situation, focus on the needs of the community.
- Put it in writing: Conversations and agreements are best communicated in writing. This eliminates the “he said, she said” problem and could come in handy should confrontations escalate to legal actions.
- Change your approach, if needed: If what you’ve been doing isn’t effective, then change things up. You can’t control what difficult people do, but you can control your thoughts and actions.
As an HOA board member, you should be in the middle of any disputes regardless of the homeowners’ behaviors. As much as possible, try to understand where the person is coming from and put aside your emotions for a while. Another great idea is to plan the HOA annual meeting properly so that community members can accommodate the schedule ahead of time and join in. This way, any conflicts or common misconceptions can be addressed accordingly during the meeting.
Dealing with difficult homeowners is no easy task. However, with the right strategy and attitude, you can pacify the complainant and maybe even get them on your side. If you want to professionally deal with situations like this, we can help you. Feel free to fill out our online contact form or give us a call at (855) 238-8488.