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Addressing Harassment Issues in Community Associations

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Community Association Board of Directors Powers:

As is well understood, Community Association Boards are elected to manage the property, affairs, and business of the Association. The Board has the power to enforce obligations of the unit owners and do what is necessary and proper for the management of the community. This includes enforcing the Association’s Governing Documents. If a violation occurs, the Board generally has the power to assess penalties.

Typical violations concern parking issues, storage of property in common areas, failure to comply with fireplace and dryer vent cleaning requirements, violation of pet restrictions, and similar issues.

However, sometimes unexpected egregious behavior, in the form of harassment, occurs. While unit owners and residents may express their opinions and communicate with Board members and Association representatives about community business, harassment has become a growing problem in community associations, with owners offensively addressing managers, board members, vendors, and other residents and owners. As a result, boards are more frequently establishing policies to address communications that constitute harassment. That policy can require that:

  1. Communications are conducted in a manner that does not constitute harassment of the Association’s employees, property managers, vendors, directors, and related individuals.
  2. Unit owners and residents do not exhibit conduct against Association representatives that constitute harassment whether at meetings, on site offices, on common property, or otherwise.

Boards should consider adopting or amending a Policy Resolution to address harassment. Such Resolution should address untoward, disruptive, and inappropriate communications between residents, unit owners and board members. Harassment can be defined so as to substantially mirror N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 as follows:

A person commits a petty disorderly person’s offense if, with the purpose to harass another, he does any of the following:

  1. Makes or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively course language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm. Such communications may be deemed to have been made either at the place where it originated or at the place where it was received.
  2. Subjects another to striking, kicking shoving or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so.
  3. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
  4. Acts with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

Additionally, a unit owner or resident commits harassment by failing to come to order when requested at a Board or member meeting.

Certainly, the specifics of any policy, rules or regulations promulgated by an Association must comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

Additionally, procedures should be established to verify the incident and describe the steps to be taken to address alleged violations. The owner must be provided notice of the alleged violation as well as the consequences arising therefrom. Additionally, the alleged violator must be offered the opportunity to participate in the Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure.

Lastly, Associations have frequently determined that harassment violations can, and often do, affect the health and safety of the Association as a whole. As such, Boards have been authorized to impose enhanced fines and sanctions, with such fines oftentimes far exceeding the fines levied for more routine violations. Sanctions have included suspension of membership privileges, restricting forms of communications by the resident to the Association, as well as the enhanced monetary sanctions mentioned above.

Of course, Boards should consider seeking legal advice in drafting an effective policy regarding harassment and establishing the procedures and consequences when addressing harassment allegations.


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