Mental health issues can impact community associations in a myriad of ways. Often Associations become the “reluctant care provider” (owners have no family/next of kin, or the family “dumped” the owner in the Association rather than in a care facility). This can be true of older residents (“aging-in-place”) as well of younger residents. The COVID pandemic, and the corresponding year of lockdowns, has added extra stress and increased isolation, exacerbating existing mental health conditions. This has led to an increase of emotional distress, substance abuse, and suicides.
Because community associations are communities, issues that arise with one resident can interfere with another resident’s use and enjoyment of their property. Mental health issues don’t always stay “contained” within the affected owner’s property – noise, shouting, threats, trespassing, damage to property, physical violence – all can interfere with other residents’ quiet enjoyment of their property. While these issues can manifest themselves as harassment and hostilities, they can also lead to dangerous situations. [To read more on dealing with harassment and hostile environment, click HERE.]
While it is not the Association’s responsibility to determine if someone has a mental disability, it is the Association’s responsibility to help ensure that all residents live harmoniously. When a resident has the ability to do harm to themselves or others, the Board needs to know what their responsibilities are. The Association can be liable for harm caused by an unreasonably dangerous condition, if the Association could have through reasonable care, discovered and made the condition safe. The Board of Directors has a fiduciary duty to act for the benefit of the Association and its members:
- Be prepared – adopt a response plan.
- Know what referral sources are available in your community (ex. welfare checks, adult and child protective services) and use them effectively (calling the police might not always be the best solution).
- Know your community’s statutory requirements.
- Nurture an environment where residents can obtain information and the services they need to live independently rather than remove people from their homes.
- Remember that sometimes just listening is all that is needed.
- Have a good, clear, and easy to follow enforcement policy that includes the right to fine an owner daily for continuing violations, and follow it every time.
How do we address and accommodate these issues in a community association? There’s no easy answer, and often enforcement challenges arise. It’s a balancing act of treating all residents equally without interfering with their privacy. Associations need to toe the line carefully. No two cases will likely mirror each other. To avoid expensive litigation, consult with your community association attorney on the front end when issues arise. It is important for Boards to rely upon professionals, like community association attorneys, to help navigate and interpret their governing documents, and their responsibilities and obligations (Business Judgment Rule). It’s better (and often cheaper) to address issues on the front end, rather than once tempers flare or litigation starts.