Q&A: Dealing with a Verbally-Abusive Neighbor

Q&A: Dealing with a Verbally-Abusive Neighbor

Q. A unit owner is using really foul language at some other owners continually. He goes as far as telling them they should fall down the stairs and die. The association has been notified many times and says they can’t do anything. The rules and regulations state no owner can create disturbances and interfere with other owners’ rights. He continues to break rules. The victims don’t even talk to him and he starts with the filthy language. What steps could be taken?

                                 —Nervous and Upset

A. According to attorney Hubert Cutolo of the Manalapan firm Cutolo Barros LLC.  “When management is notified of the offending conduct, a letter may be issued from management to the offending unit owner requesting that the offensive conduct cease.  The letter should describe the conduct and explain why it is in violation of the community’s rules and regulations.  Further, it should explain that failure to comply has consequences such as being subject to fines or suspension of rights, if applicable.  It is important that management keep a log of the type of offending behavior, the dates/times, and identify each complaining unit owner.  The main purpose of the log is to document all incidents for purposes of imposing fines or other sanctions.  The log should also indicate what actions that management or the board has taken in response to the offending conduct.

“If the letter from management fails to stop the offending conduct, then management may levy fines against the offending unit owner’s account and/or suspend the rights of the offending unit owner if there is a resolution and rule and regulation concerning unit owner conduct.  Should those sanctions fail to curb the offending conduct then management should contact the community’s counsel for assistance.  Counsel may send a cease and desist letter to the offending unit owner advising that the conduct may constitute harassment and the victim(s) may file charges against him/her if the offending conduct is not abated. 

“It bears emphasis that the community’s counsel does not represent the individual unit owner.  If further action must be taken on behalf of the victim(s) (e.g. filing harassment charges or obtaining a civil restraining order) then the victim(s) should retain their own counsel.” 

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  • This will leave your Association with a thick file, a large legal bill, unit owners calling management and the Board uncaring, useless and ineffectual, the Board trying to gather an Alternate Dispute Resolution committee ( because that letter the lawyer sends must offer ADR when you attempt to impose fines) and the offender still offending! It is a tough, no win situation. First step create a resolution to offset as much of the legal fees to the offender. That way when the lawyer is writing that third cease and desist letter at least you can add those charges to the offender! Depending on the behavior tell the “victim” to contact the local police. They can also file “real” harassment charges. Sometimes the police can scare the offender into behaving— for awhile. Plus it signals to the victim that management is not a policing agency and can’t control ( nor be responsible) for a community member’s behavior. And if this resident is someone’s tenant and not a member himself, this process takes on a whole other layer of complication. Good luck.