In 2014, I agreed to join our HOA. I took on the role of Secretary and agreed to do so for a two-year term. This brought me front and center to dealing firsthand with a long standing member that I'll call Howard. He was one of the first owners in the neighborhood when it was built in the mid-1990s and has been on and off the Board for most of that time. I'd dealt with him before when I made some inquiries to the Board. I knew that he had an aggressive personality, but it was only when I joined the Board that I saw him for what he is. A bully.
Our Board is made up of five positions, but it was very clear from the first time we got together that he felt he ruled the show. He probably felt even more comfortable trying to take charge since three of the other four of us were brand new to the board at the time.
When One Board Member Has An Agenda
Howard immediately set out trying to get his personal agenda fulfilled, which was tied to a personal vendetta that he had with a neighbor a few doors down from him (and it's worth noting that he has or has had at least half a dozen vendettas with other neighbors). What did this neighbor do? Well, they built a house that Howard didn't like. The house was built way after any other home in the neighborhood (a fire destroyed the previous home on the lot, and the owners did not rebuild) and Howard did not like that.
I'll admit, the property that Howard had a problem was an issue with many neighbors. It was right at the entrance to the neighborhood so everybody saw it. The house took about two years to complete, and over a year to landscape. So many neighbors did have an issue. However, by the time I joined the Board, things had been complete, but Howard still did not like it.
He didn't like the number of bushes and plantings they put around the perimeter of the house. He didn't like that they didn't regularly edge the grass around the sidewalk. There were a few other things that he didn't like and he wanted the Board to address them.
When Issues May Not Be Actual Issues
The only problem? Most everything that Howard wanted the Board to send letters and issue fines about were not actual violations. Like many neighborhoods, we have bylaws that cover things like fences, swimming pools, sheds, and other things that are commonly addressed for suburban neighborhoods. But, none of the things that Howard wanted us to go after these neighbors about was tied to an actual bylaw, nor was it tied to a city ordinance.
Would it have been nice to see a bit more landscaping? Sure. Would it be nice to have a clean cut sidewalk? Yeah. But the problem is that the Board has no right to address these types of things with neighbors when they aren't actual rules.
When the rest of us took it upon ourselves to look at the rules and realize that they weren't actually being violated, we sat down at a meeting and discussed it with Howard, who already had a letter crafted and was ready to go.
He didn't care.
He wanted to send out the letter anyway.
The rest of us, wisely, voted No.
He sent e-mails about how horrible it was to work with the rest of us. None of us responded. He tried again. We still said no. Another e-mail about how awful we were.
This continued until his term expired. His position only had a one year term so he decided to ‘retire'.
From Retirement To A Bully Wannabe
Well, a year passed, he was quiet, but then elections were up for most of the positions.
I decided not to run again as did two other people, leaving three of spots open. Sensing blood, Howard jumped at the chance to join. Two brand new residents filled the other spots.
I exchanged some e-mails with the person that took my position and he asked for any advice and I gave him a few tips about the position but also gave him a simple tip “Don't get pushed around.” I didn't name any names or give any detail, but just left it at that.
Well, even though I left the Board, I was asked and agreed to make updates to the subdivision website and to monitor the general e-mail box. There was a few questions that had come up via the general e-mail that I sent to the individual members. Everyone responded, and one of them told me that “Howard is no longer on the board.”
This was less than two months after the elections, so I knew something was up.
I got to be pretty close to one of the other members, and so I sent him a note and asked what had happened. Apparently, Howard wanted to send a letter to all residents about the conditions of yards and lawns and such. He had drafted a letter and basically sent it out saying that he was going to send it out. From the sounds of things, it was pretty strongly worded and would certainly have ruffled a lot of feathers.
Again, he probably hoped that the two members wouldn't know any better and would agree, giving him the majority. Fortunately it didn't work out and they told him that the Board needed to meet to discuss.
First of all, the wording was very strong. Too strong. Second, the same thing as last year was in play, that the items were not violations. Third, it's just a bad time. We've had virtually no rainfall since June, probably one quarter of what we normally get. So, the fact of the matter is that most people have lawns that simply don't look that great this year, including mine. It would take probably $300-400 per month in water bills to keep the grass green. Howard retired as a VP for a well established company, and it sounds like he had a good career, so this is not a problem, but for many others in the neighborhood, myself included, that extra expense just isn't going to happen.
Still, he didn't care, and when the rest of the Board voted him down, this time he didn't wait until his term ended, he quit.
And I know all of others feel it's good riddance.
Future Bully? We'll See
So, we'll see what happens next spring when two of the positions open up again. Maybe he'll try again though it seems like, after so many years of offending neighbors, he might have run out of potential allies.
Ah, the joys of suburbia.
Readers, what is your version of the neighborhood bully and have you been able to effectively neutralize him/her?