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Condo board is limited in dealing with owner’s offensive behavior

A condominium owner might have behaved in an extremely offensive manner to his neighbors and to the condo manager, but the condo board can’t sue him for creating a nuisance, according to a Massachusetts court.

Over a period of five years, the owner did almost everything he could to offend his neighbors and the building manager. He cursed at them and left them vulgar and derogatory voice-mails, posted offensive messages on signs in the laundry room, shouted profanities at condo meetings, wrote highly insulting messages on his condo fee checks, made obscene gestures when passing people in the hall, made obscene gestures when passing the building’s security cameras, propped open fire doors, and twice left bags of dog feces outside a neighbor’s door.

So what exactly can a condo board do in such a case?

The condo board is pretty much limited to enforcing the condo rules, the court said. So, for instance:

  • The board could warn the owner not to prop open fire doors. (He complied once he was warned.)
  • The board could warn the owner not to leave dog feces in the hall, since there was a condo rule against leaving objects in common areas. (The owner claimed he was retaliating against another owner who didn’t pick up after his dog, and he stopped after getting a warning.)
  • The board could warn the owner not to post signs in the laundry room if there was a rule against it.
  • The board could warn the owner that it wouldn’t deposit condo fee checks that contained offensive messages.
  • The board could evict him from condo meetings if he was disruptive.

However, the owner had a First Amendment right to speak his mind, as long as he didn’t directly provoke a fight. That meant he had a right to swear at neighbors, use profanities at board meetings, and make offensive gestures at the security cameras.

Handling disruptive condo owners can be extremely difficult from a legal point of view, and this is one reason why a board should consult with an attorney before problems get out of hand.

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