Neighborly Neglect Dealing with the Liability of 'Difficult' Residents

Bad neighbors are something that everyone living with shared walls fears—and not without cause; co-op or condo, small or large, chances are there's at least one chronically objectionable person who seems to do his or her level best to annoy, thwart, and agitate his or her neighbors, and otherwise disrupt the peaceful functioning of the community.     

The thing is, the term 'objectionable' is a subjective one. “Some members are labeled as ‘difficult’ when they really are just espousing views that may be unpopular or different from those held by the board or a majority of the other members,” says Donna DiMaggio Berger, a shareholder attorney with the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale. “Some of the best association leaders started out as ‘difficult’ owners.” On the other hand, behavior that can fall under that same label ranges from constant noise and unpleasant cooking odors to full-on hoarding, or even assaulting neighbors or board members in the lobby.

Obviously, punching or threatening someone is an actionable offense—as is drug dealing, or running an unlicensed business out of one’s home. Residents who are a perpetual pain-in-the-neck, who constantly bicker with their neighbors over every little thing, or whose behavior stems from unaddressed mental illness or other situations may not be illegal, but their behavior still negatively impacts the quality of life in their building community.

However, there are ways both managers and boards can handle seemingly unmanageable situations in their building or community, helping those in need of help and at the same time avoiding exposure to liability themselves.

There are Rules

One of the most common issues in community associations is rule enforcement—but ironically, industry surveys show that fully 90 percent of residents in community associations recognize that such rules protect the value of their unit and provide for the quiet enjoyment of their property, says Andrew Fortin, senior vice president of communications for Associa, the largest association management company with offices nationwide including about a dozen in Florida.

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