The Worst Condominium / HOA Villains and How to Deal with Them

Living in a condo is fundamentally different than living in a free-standing house because your property decisions are intermingled with the desires and needs of other people. This is very important to understand, and many current or potential condo-owners don’t get this.

In fact, I would say that the working relationship between the owners of the condo (which I will refer to as the “HOA”, or “Home Owners Association”) is one of the most important factors you should consider when purchasing a condo.

The disfunction of the HOA in the tragic Florida Surfside condo that collapsed in 2021 is evidence of that.

Even if lives are not lost, I’ve seen HOA conflict create a living hell for people to the point where they had to sell their property solely due to HOA personality conflicts. Imagine coming home from a stressful day at work, only to face more stress at home (i.e., lawsuits, name-calling, vandalism!) due to conflicts with unreasonable neighbors living one wall-thickness away from you. It’s not pleasant.

Fortunately for me, my current HOA is pretty reasonable and chill. This is worth its weight in gold. But, it wasn’t always that way. Here are some HOA villains I’ve encountered personally or heard about from friends and family. Look out for these sinister species in the HOA menagerie:

1. The Freeloader

Thinks that the HOA is a hotel where everything is done for him. The Freeloader doesn’t vote on HOA business, doesn’t answer emails, and most of all doesn’t lift a finger to better the condo community. The Freeloader, while not the worst animal, is very common in the HOA kingdom, so watch out for this species.

2. The Litigator

Believes that the solution to every problem is to sue the HOA. I know of one owner who slipped and fell on his own doorstep (which was modified against HOA rules), then threatened to sue the HOA over it. One of my previous neighbors had water damage in his unit due to his own neglect and threatened to sue the HOA. The list goes on and on. If these went to court, they would be thrown out as frivolous, but in the meantime, they cause stress and waste time and money. There always seems to be at least one Litigator in a given HOA. This person is the worst type of selfish asshole.

3. The Cheapskate

Opposes spending any money to make necessary repairs or preventative maintenance like painting, servicing equipment, and so on. This causes even more expensive damage down the line. The Cheapskate thinks buildings magically last forever without human intervention.

4. The Deadbeat

A more extreme version of The Cheapskate, The Deadbeat purchased a condo they couldn’t afford. Their HOA dues are always late due to their own financial mismanagement.

5. The Legalist

Enforces all rules to the letter of the law. If they hear the faintest music playing past the 11 PM quiet time, the cops are called. Other minor infractions result in a mass insulting email or fine. Park in the wrong place for five minutes and your car is towed. This is a supremely unpleasant neighbor to have. My condolences if you live with one of these hideous creatures.

6. The Anarchist

Is the opposite of the Legalist. The Anarchist doesn’t follow any HOA rules and doesn’t think about the impact of his actions on his neighbors. One resident I know of would gate off part of the common walkway, completely blocking it to access, so his dogs could play in the area. The Anarchist leaves his junk in common areas, blares loud music at all hours, or makes exterior modifications to his unit without consulting the HOA.

7. The Nit-Picker

Will scrutinize all repairs or improvements done on the building to a ludicrous degree, guaranteeing that no contractor will ever want to work with your HOA again. This micromanager makes life for any poor soul doing work on the condo a living hell. Has control issues likely from some prior emotional trauma.

8. The Drama Queen (or King)

Is a hater with a personal vendetta against certain other members of the HOA. They will block and oppose anything that their victims are in favor of, no matter how reasonable they may be.

9. The Grouch

This downer has nothing better to do than to write long mass emails complaining about something or another to the HOA, usually, something relatively unimportant. This grouch has a lot of time on his/her hands and probably didn’t get enough attention as a child, or might just be lonely.

I am sure I have only scratched the surface of the dysfunctional type of people you might encounter in an HOA. While the majority of my condo neighbors have been fantastic (and occasionally selfless) people, even one bad apple can ruin a condo community.

So, before purchasing a condo, please do whatever you can to evaluate the people that you will have to live with, and who will be partially responsible for maintaining your biggest financial investment: your home.

Some Advice

If you’re already in a dicey condo situation, here are my tips:

  1. Don’t lose your cool!
    As soon as strong emotions enter a discussion or dispute, it becomes personal and much harder to resolve. Believe me, there have been times when I’ve been tempted to tell someone to F-off in an email, but I didn’t. Take the higher ground. Be cool and logical in your arguments. Never write an email when you’re mad. This is also good because if your emails ever get subpoenaed (hey, it’s possible), you’ll look like the good guy. Don’t stoop to their level. It makes them look even more irrational.
  2. Always refer to the HOA CCRs (Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions), a.k.a. the bylaws, to resolve disputes.
    Keep opinions and arguments out of the conversation by always deferring to what is in the CCRs, which is a legally-binding document. I’ve found that this defuses many situations. Don’t take sides or play politics. Always refer to the CCRs.
  3. Remember, these are your neighbors; cut them some slack.
    You have to live next to these folks and see them perhaps every day or week. Do everything you can to avoid creating an enemy that lives next door.
  4. Participate in or organize in-person condo social events
    Throw a condo social gathering once a year in your courtyard or common area. Or, host a gathering with food in your unit. Usually, when you know someone socially and face-to-face, they’re less likely to be antagonistic later.
  5. Volunteer some of your own time for the community; this is not a hotel
    Yes, pick up the garbage that is sitting next to the trash cans. Throw away the junk mail that’s been sitting next to the mailbox forever. If you owned the whole place, you’d do it, right? Just because you’re sharing the place, don’t stop doing work that needs to be done. And, don’t expect payment or recognition (although you will sometimes get it). Just do it to make your own life better. Don’t be a freeloader off of the contributions of others. In some cases, my own volunteering has prompted others to act as well. Volunteering can be contagious!
  6. Help your neighbors
    Pick up that mail that has been sitting on your neighbor’s doorstep while they are on vacation. Water their plants while you water yours. Your acts of kindness could go a long way.
  7. Communicate
    If you are going to throw a party, invite everyone and clearly tell them when it will start and be over. Don’t go crazy with loud music (unless everyone is on board). If you need to shut off the building water, give sufficient warning and be apologetic about it.
  8. Become an officer on your HOA board
    If you don’t like how things are being done, organize some votes and get elected!
  9. Weigh the costs of a lawsuit
    HOA’s these days are very vulnerable to lawsuits if exact procedures aren’t followed or the CCRs are out of date (as is often the case). Sometimes it’s cheaper for you to give in to an owner’s demands if it could prevent a future lawsuit.
  10. Remember that you might need their vote
    If your neighbor plays loud music once a year for his Fourth of July party, is it really wise to call the cops? What if you need their vote to approve a modification to your unit in the future? It’s really bad to make enemies in your HOA.

Since condos are populated by imperfect human beings, every HOA has some of these creatures, at least to some extent. There is no perfect utopia when HOAs are concerned. It’s just part of the cost of condo ownership.

Extreme Cases – Harassment

If you are dealing with severe harassment or threats of violence, you should document everything and seek legal counsel (or the police if you are in immediate danger). Not dealing with it could result in a lawsuit against the HOA by one of the victims, not to mention continued harassment. Time to lawyer up.

HOA Law Firms

There are law firms that specialize in HOA issues, usually specific to each state. In California, the Adams Stirling law firm specializes in HOA law and puts out an excellent monthly email newsletter. I highly recommend signing up if you live in California.

Dealing with Noisy Neighbors

A lot of HOA disagreements stem from noise, either from a unit next to you or above you. If you’ve exhausted all of your options to make the offender quiet down (ranging from asking nicely to calling the police) you can sound-insulate your own home.

Two layers of 5/8 drywall with acoustic glue can help tremendously. If you’re OK with opening up your ceiling or walls, then you can add insulation as well.

Check out this video for ways to soundproof your ceilings:

Here’s another video on soundproofing ceilings and walls in a basement, but the principles apply to any room. Skip ahead about six minutes to get to the solutions.

What kinds of HOA villains have you encountered? Please let us know below! – Brian

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Greg Parchello
Greg Parchello
2 years ago

We have a litigator on site.
Your ideas flow from a well-,=meaning approach with bad condo neighbors.

We have Litigator type, sends countless emails to our PM on items previously addressed.
Now has gone to Human Rights commission.
Passes B of d members giving the “one-fingered salute.
Said they were going to “go postal” if needs not met.
Has litigated several times and cases have been discharged.
Never satisfied and the B of D member, all volunteers are at wit’s end.

How to deal with a person who is NEVER satisfied?

3 years ago

Thanks Brian! I am new to Condo community living this year, and have already encountered a neighbor that displays characteristics from 3 of the menagerie species that you describe (litigator, nit-picker and downer).

I’m glad I came across your helpful post and am thankful for the tips and strategies!

3 years ago

We purchased our condo a little over a year ago. We were unaware of the amount of noise we’d expect from the unit owner above us because they were out of the country the 1st month we moved in. The family have 2 children that are not watched or disciplined. We hear & feel the vibration & explosions of bodies hitting the floor from children jumping off furniture, counters. There’s constant running up & down their hallway. Toys are drug & dropped. Oh, did I mention they removed the carpets so this is all on hard floors with no insulation. We have written letters, done face to face, contacted HOA/COA, we’ve called police after 10pm. The answers have always been, well they have kids. We hired an attorney who sent C&D letter just to get a response from their attorney with the 1st line reading, “My clients are of India Ethnicity.” We were threatened by their attorney because we are discriminatory towards them! We never complained about anything except them not acting as if they live in a community, not private home. We complained about noise!! We have purchased cameras, recording devices, keep logs. Our attorney seems to not be quite as interested in our problems because his response was he tried to reach HOA attorney but he won’t take his calls. Now what do we do? We’re retired & this is our final resting place. Both of our health, blood pressure, is suffering because of this. My mental health is suffering because I never know when a “bowling ball” as we call it, is going to drop. I’ve even had to start my dog on meds because it’s got her so nervous! We understand normal day to day noises. We also have raised 5 of our own children & 10 grandkids so we know things happen. The more we complained the more they intentionally continue. We have never been accused by anyone of being racists. I’m seriously crushed by this because We are kind, caring & being loyal to our religion is our lifestyle. Help!