No doubt that many of us have been to a board meeting or two where screaming breaks out, the decibel level in the room is raised, tempers flare and little gets accomplished as a result. The overwhelming majority of these shouting matches are non violent, and end up with each side muttering a few curse words at the other at worst.
But sometimes these arguments rise to the next level and suddenly you may find yourself in a serious and dangerous situation. Just two weeks ago in Kentucky, a man opened fire at his homeowner’s association meeting killing two people. Apparently, the association had a long running dispute with an owner over the height of his fence. The association said that last year, they received a threatening letter from this owner about the ongoing dispute. By the way….there is no evidence that this owner turned murderer ever did anything worse than get a speeding ticket. He worked in nuclear medicine.
Over the years, I have watched violence in communities grow. I’ve seen senior citizens with walkers and canes throw them at each other. I have seen cars of residents literally blown up. I’ve heard threats from residents to set fire and burn down the entire property, unit owners threatened with death, unit owners actually beaten up, board members threatened with death……and the list goes on and on.
Once a threat is made, the threat often turns real very quickly. The threat cannot be ignored and if the Board believes that the maker of the threat is a danger to the community they have a fiduciary obligation to the unit owners to do something about it.
The instant any type of a threat of violence is made the police must be called and the incident documented. That’s just for starters. There are also other remedies the association may wish to consider such as arbitration proceedings, lawsuits, restraining orders and even orders kicking people out of their homes.
Two years ago Scott and I represented a large association in South Beach. One owner was a man in his mid thirties that simply terrorized many of the residents by letting his giant dog run unleashed, he tased a person, struck another with a fire extinguisher and stole the association’s golf carts. The association was able to get an order against him removing him from the property. The decision was upheld by the appeals court who didn’t take kindly to his lawyer’s suggestion that the court has no business kicking people out of their homestead property. The court made it clear at oral argument that the courts certainly have the power to preserve the peace and if kicking this guy out of his home did just that, then mission accomplished. By the way, the story ended with this man being found in the truck of a car in New York with a bullet in his head about two months after oral argument.
DO NOT TAKE THESE THREATS LIGHTLY. Many people are going through difficult times right now and fighting with their association may be the one thing that puts them over the edge. It’s not worth it to scream and shout about bushes being to tall or whether or not an owner’s truck is a vehicle that doesn’t belong on the property. Let the courts or arbitrators figure it out. Don’t turn your argument into a spectacle for all to see. That’s why I basically laughed when the Florida Legislature passed a law that allows the association to prevent delinquent owners from using the common areas. Should a Board member risk a fist fight or worse by approaching a delinquent owner and order them out of the pool in front of the other members of the community? Maybe it would have been safer if the Legislature approached the banks and asked them to pay more money to associations when they foreclose and take back a property.
Bottom line. Take all threats of violence seriously. The one you don’t take seriously may be the one that unfortunately leads to the worst result.