ARE YOU RISKING BECOMING THE VICTIM OF VIOLENCE BY VOLUNTEERING TO SERVE ON YOUR BOARD OF DIRECTORS?

So this morning I’m on the internet researching some issues and I kind of stumble upon something that was truly alarming.  There is case after case after case of violent incidents against Board members.  In all fairness, there are also numerous cases alleging violence by board members against home owners.  This is scary, uncalled for and should NEVER be tolerated.  NEVER.

I’ve seen articles written by some attorneys suggesting ways to deal with these situations, but I’m not necessarily in agreement with all of the suggestions.  I can only tell you how members of my firm and I have dealt with such issues in the past.

A few years ago we represented a condominium in South Beach that had an owner living there that used his dogs to terrorize the community, tazed people with a taser, beat someone with a fire extinguisher and otherwise caused havoc and fear among the residents.  My star witness was the wife of an Assistant United States Attorney who lived at the property.  The trial judge permanently removed this guy from his home.  On appeal, the defendant’s attorney argued that a court does not have the authority to permanently remove someone from their home.  I’ll never forget one of the Appellate Judges stating at oral argument that a judge’s first responsibility is to “preserve the peace” and that the only way to preserve the peace in this community was to remove his client from his unit.  The decision of the trial court was affirmed on appeal.  About two months later the same guy was found in the trunk of a car on Long Island with a bullet hole in his head.  Perhaps if the trial judge and appellate court did not remove him from the condo, the bullets would have been flying at the Florida condominium instead.

In Central Florida we recently had a woman removed from her home after repeatedly threatening violence against her neighbors.  A guardianship proceeding was established, a guardian appointed and the owner received assistance that she needed.

Many years ago I represented an association where an owner was caught on video taking out a knife and destroying the common area furniture.  He would tell people he was infected with HIV and that he was going to bite them.  I organized several owners who jointly prepared a Baker Act petition and the court granted same.  The owner was picked up and held against his will to be medically evaluated.  I remember fearing at the time that eventually a member of this person’s family would call my office and threaten to sue me and the association.  Sure enough that call came after a few days.  However, it was a call to actually thank me for the action we took.  I was informed that without a forced intervention their family member would never have received the medical attention they need.

In yet another case, an owner in a condominium threatened to blow the place up because the Board would apparently not fix a problem that was creating noise in his unit.  His comments that he had the knowledge to pull it off were taken very seriously.  The judge ordered him out of the property.

In another case our firm handled, we removed an owner from a condo unit who took out an AK-47 and AR-14 and emptied the clips into the walls.  You may remember that the criminal court judge released the owner on a low bail and he was back at the condo within a few days.  We filed an Emergency Petition in civil court to remove him and were successful.

The bottom line is that if you know there is a person living in the community who has actually acted violent or threatened violence, it is certainly foreseeable that they will do so again.  As a result, if someone is now physically or verbally attacked by this person, the board and potentially the directors individually can be held responsible in a civil suit for damages.

Sitting back and hoping the problem will go away is not an answer.  However, in order to actually get the relief from the court that you want, board members and unit owners will need to step up to the plate, come to court and testify.  And sometimes, that’s where the problem lies.  People complain, but when it’s time to tell your story to the judge, nobody wants to become involved.

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