Dr. HOA,
I recently began attending my association’s board meetings after learning of a proposed special assessment and rumors that the current board of directors never agrees on anything.

After attending the first meeting, I realized that it was worse than I thought. Not only do the board members constantly disagree, they argue and name-call. Our most recent board meeting ended in a yelling match between two board members, one of whom ended up throwing a chair against a wall.

Do you have any advice regarding what we as homeowners can do to fix our dysfunctional association? Should management be stepping in to resolve this problem?
— David G.

Dear David,
Absolutely. Tell your board of directors to shape up or ship out.

This type of board member behavior is not only counter-productive; it is unprofessional and completely inexcusable.  Dysfunctional boards can and will harm an association if allowed to remain in power for too long.

By making poor decisions that negatively impact the association, and/or by damaging the community’s reputation, it is likely that an association will see the effects of irresponsible leadership.

A dysfunctional board might drive away potential homebuyers vetting local area neighborhoods or discourage existing owners who may otherwise volunteer their time and skills to bettering the community.

I would first suggest that you get a small group of equally concerned neighbors to attend the next board meeting and respectfully demand during the homeowner forum that they put their personal differences aside and begin working together to focus on issues impacting the community.

I would encourage you to focus on addressing the fact that you are concerned about how the board’s behavior is negatively impacting the productivity of board meetings and the board’s ability to make rational decisions, as well as the effect their behavior has on the community’s reputation, which directly impacts home values.

There is a good chance that once the board  members are “called out” regarding their inappropriate behavior they will make a conscious effort to change the way they have been conducting business.

If the board of directors does not heed this advice and start focusing its energy and time on bettering the community, rather than demeaning one another, I would suggest orchestrating a campaign to elect new leaders at the next annual meeting and election.

If the situation becomes urgent, there are also methods afforded to homeowners to remove officers from the board, but this can be much more challenging. Please refer to your association bylaws for pertinent information regarding director powers, duties and term of office.

Regarding management’s role in this type of situation, I believe strongly that management should discuss roles, responsibilities, etiquette and behavior with the board of directors, but ultimately, it is not a manager’s responsibility to ensure that board members behave appropriately.

Since management works for the association and takes directives from the board of directors, it is not necessarily realistic to expect management to get overly involved given the sensitivity of the situation.

That said, a strong manager should be able to help a board productively work through differences and implement communication tools and methods to ensure a healthy, responsible dialogue.

It is healthful for board members to debate association issues and decisions. Problems arise when those debates turn into arguments and personal attacks that become counterproductive.

I am cautiously optimistic that if enough homeowners take an active role in demanding that the board start acting in the best interest of the association, you will see a change. If the board members are too stubborn to make significant behavioral changes, vote them out.