Running a community association requires boards and managers to work with people from all walks of life, including those who have unique experiences, wants, needs, and challenges. That may also apply to people with behavioral or mental health issues. In some cases, a resident may be quite open with neighbors and others about a diagnosis in effort to create awareness within their community and defuse confusion or concern should they experience symptoms. But in other instances, behavioral or mental health challenges can be undiagnosed or undisclosed, in which case the board or management may be perplexed as to how to deal with an individual who’s behaving in an unpredictable, erratic or disruptive way.
Regardless of the specific scenario, all residents deserve to be treated with dignity and respect – and that mandate starts with boards and management. When behavioral or mental health factors are objectively in play, an association may find itself liable for damages should they fail to treat a resident with the appropriate care. The Cooperator spoke with several management professionals and attorneys in order to help provide associations with best practices for dealing with residents living with behavioral or mental health issues.
Ira S. Goldenberg, Esq., a partner with Goldenberg & Selker, LLP, in White Plains, New York
“I’ve seen managing agents fail to understand that they’re acting at a board’s direction. When a managing agent acts beyond the scope of what the board tells them to do, it can immediately create a problem for that managing agent. So in dealing with a difficult resident, where you don’t know what type of reaction they’ll have or how they’ll respond to a request, I’d suggest that the manager always get clear instructions from a board, and always have a witness with them whenever they go out to visit such a resident. And I would make sure that the insurance for both board and manager is up to date and covers this type of situation.
“If there’s a legitimate mental health problem or disability, there may be an Americans With Disabilities [Act] (ADA) issue. And you don’t necessarily need a formal diagnosis for that, by the way. You can have a doctor’s note [verifying the disability], but sometimes there’s a grey area where someone may have a disability and be claiming an accommodation – and at least initially, a board or manager [should] be guarded and take that claim seriously. Emotional support animals is always a prudent example. We had a resident who owned two pets, and we asked them why they needed the second one, they said that the first emotional support animal itself needed an emotional support animal. You don’t get to have two!
“There are various government agencies that might be of assistance, and you do have the option to call those in. But the problem there is that they’re often reluctant to get involved, and the person in question has to want them to come in. It has to be a voluntary thing, unless there’s something quite terrible going on.