HOA Boards are elected by homeowners and have a responsibility to manage the day-to-day activities required to best serve the community. In most cases this goes smoothly. When something has to be decided, it is put to a vote and the majority rules.
What is the Fight About?
There are times, however, when a vote doesn’t end things. Someone in the minority doesn’t like the decision or wants to contest the results. In most cases if there is disputes among board members, there are four possible causes:
A power play – A board members wants to assert his or her power in the board. In many cases, the individual leading the fight hopes to over power the president or other officers in favor of himself or herself.
Reform – New board members feel they have lots of great ideas and want to immediately change everything to fit their idea of how the board should be run.
Simple disagreement or personal vendetta – One or more board members just doesn’t like the way the vote went or the opinion of another member and they want the result to change.
Personal gain – A board member has some kind of personal agenda they are trying to push through using the homeowners association board to further their personal goals.
How the HOA Board handles battling board members hinges largely on what type of fight is taking place.
The Power Play
When a board member exerts a power play in hopes of taking control of the HOA Board and asserting his or her own power, he or she is misunderstanding how the board works. While the president of a board does have some small administrative powers, he doesn’t have the power to make decisions on his own. Using a disputed vote or disagreement as a way to try and depose a current officer should be deflected by the board.
The HOA Board has to keep in mind that, unless it can be proven that an officer has acted in bad faith or has done something illegal, he or she shouldn’t be removed. Constantly voting in and then removing officers leads to confusion and the mistrust of your community members. Remind anyone using a disagreement with an officer as part of a power play that he or she can be removed from the board if necessary.
Many times, arguments erupt on HOA Boards right after the election of new board members. This is usually a mix of new member passion and old member defensiveness. New members may come in with lots of great ideas on how improving the way things are done. Old board members may see this as an attack on how they’ve been successfully running the community for years.
A good rule of thumb for new board members is to vote on every decision but refrain from protesting unless there is a clear violation of the HOA rules. This can be hard when you have fresh ideas, but new members need to remember that the HOA has functioned fine a long time without them.. The first year should be spent learning and striving to understand the established members before trying to make change. Reformers will have a stronger stance if they learn first, then ask questions and make suggestions instead of arguing or attacking.
Disagreements or Vendettas
Most HOA Board members want to serve their community. Some people start that way, but a disagreement or personal conflict gets in the way. When a board member tries to use their position as a way to punish someone else, they have forgotten their responsibility to the members of the community.
This is dangerous ground because homeowners don’t like a divided board. They could vote everyone out at the next election if they feel conflictor pettiness is taking up too much of the Board’s time and resources. If you suspect someone is consistently voting against another member for personal reasons, you owe it to the board and to your HOA to nip the problem in the bud. Board members have to look at the greatest good, even if they don’t like the person leading the way.
Sometimes a member of the HOA Board uses it as a pulpit for their own agenda or for personal gain. The fighting that ensues when one person is trying to get his or her own way n can put the entire HOA Board in danger. If homeowners suspect someone is using the board as a way to steer contracts to family members or vote against needed assessments to save his or her own money, they can take legal action against the board. This can cost the HOA and community tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and the destruction of homeowners’ faith in the HOA.
How to Stop the Fighting
Knowing what the fight is about is the first step.. Here are several steps to take:
Educate the Board About Procedure
In many cases a board members bickering with others over his or her role or trying to oust an officer doesn’t understand how the board works. Review the policies and procedures of your board on an annual basis to clarify everyone’s role. Ask the HOA attorney to explain the duties and limits of each board member and officer. Clearly outline how to handle disagreements and when they will be addressed.
Appoint a Mediator
If two members of the board cannot work together without arguing, have a neutral board member or the HOA attorney try to mediate, behind closed doors. You do not want to do this at an open board meeting. Keeping it private avoids hurt feelings that may be personal and should be private. Stressing the importance choices working together and reminding each person of their responsibility to the community first is key. If a mediator cannot help them “kiss and makeup,” it may be time to ask one or both to step down in the best interests of the HOA.
Have an Emergency Meeting
If two battling board members just cannot work together, the HOA board or its officers may have to have a special, closed-door meeting. Before doing this, consult the by-laws of the HOA to make sure this is done properly. Stress to each person involved in the fighting that a change has to be made or further steps will be taken. Discipline of both members or possible removal from the board might be the result, but this should not take place at the same meeting. It is a good idea to have the HOA attorney present for these meetings.
What if the Battle is Over Illegal or Immoral Decisions by Some Board Members?
Sometimes there is a battle between HOA Board members because some members are doing something illegal or unethical. In this situation, the person protesting the actions may have to step down from the board in order to resolve the problem. Here’s why:
As a board member, your duty is to uphold the decisions of the board, even if you do not agree with some decisions. If the decisions are illegal or immoral, you have to step down to avoid being potentially liable for these abuses.
Once you step down, you have no obligation to support the board and you can take the problem to community members. Doing this while you are still a member of the board can be seen as a conflict of interest and a betrayal of your role on the board.
There will always be disagreements between board members. This is even more likely on volunteer boards such as HOA Boards. To minimize them, always give members time to debate (not argue) before any votes are taken. Give everyone as much information as possible when decisions need to be made. Keep the situation internal when possible, and do not allow board members to try and get community members to take sides except by voting for new or different members at the next election. The HOA Board was elected to serve the community. Each member must do this even when they don’t agree with the majority rule.