What Do You Do When An Owner Is Ordering Association Vendors to Do Work?

This is not an extremely common problem but it does occur to varying degrees. Sometimes owners (especially some of those who reside on site, are around during the day, and are of the mind to watch whatever is going on), involve themselves with contractors and vendors that are on site performing repairs or fulfilling contracts, such as the landscapers. Here is a quandary raised by a reader:

“We have a non-board member that is constantly ordering vendors to work here
without board or management permission. Today she ordered the trash company to
pick up without getting permission. This will cost us extra money that we don’t
have and she feels that since she owns three units she may do as she wishes. She
has had the trash containers relocated and pool services performed as well as
parking issues. She has some unruly tenants here with loose dogs and does
nothing about it even though one tenant’s dog had bitten a person! I am the
president of this board and am at my wits end! My association manager is also on
the verge of collapse! What should/could we do to rid ourselves of this kind of
malign behavior?”
I have not heard the other side of the story, nor have I heard anything about what measures have been taken. I am not sure where the owner gets the idea that they can do these things. So first I will say that a board needs to be clear in its instruction to an owner if that owner is doing something unacceptable. How about a phone call telling them to stop, followed by (if necessary) a letter telling them to stop. If they don’t stop, call a hearing and consider disciplinary action against them – such as a fine for being a nuisance, or a reimbursement assessment for arranging for unauthorized work. And why not provide vendors with a notice that they are not to take any instruction from owners or residents – or name a specific owner or resident if one has identified themselves with the propensity to make demands on vendors.
The extent to which a board can take action would be found in the governing documents. Don’t expect it to be spelled out clearly in one section, especially if the documents are old. You may well need the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney to “comb” the documents for authority relating to actions that can be taken in this situation. Even if the authority is not clear in the documents, the board could, at the very least, file a small claims court action to recover costs that are expensed by unauthorized work. And in some states, like California, guidance can be found in the laws. Check out the 5 enforcement primers in the webstore at www.californiacondoguru.com if you wish extensive guidance on enforcement authority.
One last thought – if you cannot find the words to characterize this conduct, how about “a nuisance”. There are prohibitions on nuisance in most governing documents.  As a last resort and for more serious situations where an owner or resident, or even a board member, is interfering with contractors and vendors doing work on site, there are serious causes of action that can be brought in Superior Court including interference with contract, harrassment, and the like.