HOA Homefront: Can one person destroy our meetings?

Q: Is there a way to limit comments and attendance at monthly board meetings? We have a member who is constantly making harassing comments at board meetings. — B.P., Encinitas

Q: We have an abusive owner with anger management issues who has been demanding in-person meetings for over two years. We did one meeting in person and the owner was screaming, out of his chair lunging at the manager, which was enough for us. We are not willing to put our board members or management in harm’s way, especially after what happened in Canada and Atlanta. We did obtain a temporary restraining order on the owner, but it was not extended due to a judge change.

Besides hiring an armed, off-duty law enforcement officer to be present at our meetings, we are out of ideas. Is there any type of legislation or suggestions that are available to avoid doing in-person meetings because of this particular owner? — D.C., San Diego

A: An immature, rude or even unhealthy homeowner should never be permitted to destroy the orderly meetings of your community. Having security in attendance at meetings reflects a failure of the community to rein in bad behavior and should not be necessary.

Here are some techniques that may help your HOA bring this under control.

Strictly observe open forum

The law allows members to attend and observe meetings, but nothing says that they may participate in the meeting. The Open Meeting Act at Civil Code Section 4925(a) allows members to attend the open portion of the board meeting, and subpart (b) requires the board to allow a member to speak to the board, subject to a “reasonable time limit,” which is often called “open forum.”

During open forum, the directors should not respond or answer those comments -that time is the audience’s time to speak for a limited time. Outside of open forums, members should be barred from interjecting or otherwise disrupting board deliberations. Those interruptions also harm the ability of the audience to hear what the board is saying.

If someone disrupts the meeting, the chair should ask the disruptor to stop. If that doesn’t work, ask for a censure motion from the board, asking the disruptor to stop obstructing the meeting. If that still doesn’t work, a motion to expel the member may be necessary.

Adopt meeting rules

Association meeting rules can help explain how board meetings are run and set reasonable standards of behavior and consequences for violating those standards, which should be applied to everyone attending – including the directors. Include in the rules a fine for disrupting meetings, so that the board can call that owner to a hearing and potentially impose a fine. Such rules can also explain closed sessions and provide disciplinary hearing guidelines.

In extreme cases, clients have obtained restraining orders barring a homeowner from attending board meetings to protect the attendees’ safety. This is a last resort, and hopefully, HOAs will not need to pursue this measure to restore order to your board meetings.

Don’t allow bullies or self-absorbed owners to hijack HOA board meetings. Elevating the standard of behavior requires collaboration by directors and attendees. More productive meetings will be the outcome, benefitting all owners.

Attorney Kelly G. Richardson is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Partner of Richardson Ober LLP, a California law firm known for community association expertise. Submit column questions to Kelly@roattorneys.com.

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