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Is Your Condominium Association Run By An Abusive ‘Bully Board’

“Bully boards” are so prevalent in the world of condominiums that the term is commonplace among community association property managers and real estate attorneys. It’s a moniker used to describe condo and homeowner association (HOA) boards that are so drunk with power, they resort to abusing their subjects—the owners.

Unlike typical renters, most homeowners simply cannot pick up and move when a problem exists. They are tethered to their real estate—and often tied to a 30-year mortgage as well.

“Escaping Condo Jail,” a newly published 600-page book about community association living co-authored by Chicago Realtor Sara E. Benson and this writer, examines a nationwide random sampling of owner’s complaints that include, but are not limited to the following issues:

• Cigarette smoke from a neighboring unit infiltrates ducts and electrical sockets, sickening an asthmatic.

• A “neighbor from hell” uses a 150-pound Rottweiler to frighten and intimidate residents.

• Organized-crime thugs extort protection fees from homeowners.

• A roach infestation of “biblical proportions” from a hoarder’s unit contaminates neighboring units and renders them uninhabitable.

• A cell phone tower installed on top of a penthouse unit continuously awakens its residents at 3 a.m. with violent shaking of the ceiling.

In some associations, owners face the emotionally painful loss of their rights to pure and simple enjoyment and face the fear of fines administered by “kangaroo courts” where board directors play both judge and jury.

There are many more stories of condo and homeowners associations gone wrong from coast-to-coast in such states as Florida, South Carolina, Illinois, and Texas, and as far away as Hawaii. Here are three signs that your condo association might have a “bully board:”

• Some boards treat their associations like their own personal fiefdoms. There is often selective enforcement of rules and a secret, unspoken pact among tight-knit board members known as “The Buddy Rule”—much like the motto of the Three Musketeers: “One for all, all for one!”

These out-of-control, power-abusing bully boards may issue sword-sharp edicts against property owners, but they are far from being swashbuckling defenders of justice.

• Bully boards can severely restrict an owner’s quality of life and even cause a newly documents illness called “HOA syndrome.” Bullied and harassed condo owners can emotionally snap under pressure-and violence involving the police and the courts can erupt.

Bullying has even led to deaths.

In some cases, condo boards have been infiltrated by organized crime, perhaps the ultimate bully of all. However, there’s a risk to being a bully. It’s called payback.

• Thirteen percent of the respondents reported that they had been physically assaulted one or more times by an angry resident. And, 52 percent reported they had been threatened with physical violence one or more times by such a resident, reports “Violence in Homeowner Associations,” a 2012 survey of more than 1,300 managers, staffers, and homeowners conducted by the Community Associations Institute.

Critics do not condemn all condominium, cooperative apartment, and homeowners associations. Ownership in a multifamily housing development began as an extremely noble and creative idea, and many associations are well run.

Today, more than 65 million American homeowners are governed by their neighbors. The condominium lifestyle introduced homeownership to millions who would ordinarily never be able to afford it. Developers have long argued that condos help stabilize inner-city neighborhoods while giving owners a permanent stake in their community.

However, experts say this “utopian” view failed to take long-term management into consideration—and today’s inexperienced owners/buyers now are bearing the consequences.

Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Paperback or Kindle editions are available at

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“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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