As most community managers know from experience, it’s not unusual for a homeowner or resident to lie about the actions of the board of directors or manager. People lie for a wide range of reasons. Sometimes they’re trying to save face, stir up trouble, or maybe they actually believe their own lies. When a homeowner tells a whopper, it’s usually after they have been cited for a violation or “forgotten” to pay their assessment for 6 months in a row. A little lie to make themselves look like an innocent victim is really the only logical solution…right?
How to React
It’s hard not to take it personally when a homeowner tells a lie that directly attacks your good name. After all, lies like this can affect your reputation and even your livelihood. In these cases, your reaction to the lie can often have a more profound effect on your reputation than the initial lie. I admit I’ve been tempted to call out lying homeowners on social media or post their picture in the office with a huge LIAR stamp across the front. But while retribution might feel good at the moment, it almost always makes the situation worse — and may even validate the lies.
Unfortunately, there may not be much you can do to stop a homeowner from lying, but there are a few things you can do to combat the lies, or perhaps resolve a situation before a resident finds it necessary to lie.
- Be Professional: Even when talking with those who share your view of the situation, it’s important to stick to the facts and be respectful. It’s never appropriate to share personal details of a homeowner interaction, even if it is to save your good name.
- Be helpful: Remember that as a community manager you serve all of the owners, not just the board. If the owners see you as a helpful manager — rather than a cold enforcer just waiting for them to step out of line — they’re less likely to make up tall tales about your “short temper.” An enforcer is easy to make into a villain, and it’s easier to lie about a villain than an ally. Focus on being a helpful manager, and you’re likely to face fewer lies.
- Communicate Well: Often homeowners will say, “I never got a notice” or, “they didn’t even give me a warning.” In reality, they probably just ignored the notices. For your part, remember that building and maintaining a reputation for good communication will make those kinds of lies difficult for other homeowners to believe. If homeowners know your track record of great communication, the lies will be taken with a grain of salt.
- Keep Good Records: Recently at an annual meeting, an owner accused the manager and board of discriminating against him. He claimed he had been singled out for a particular violation while others had not. Combating his claim was made simple by running a report showing that many homeowners had been cited for the same violation. The habit of keeping good records will help negate those pesky, “your word against mine” scenarios.
- Be a problem solver: In some cases, the homeowners don’t realize they are spreading false information. For example, the homeowner may claim that they were sent to collections without any notices. If they have failed to update their email or mailing address, they may think this accusation is true. After all, to be fair, they really didn’t get the notices. Perhaps in this situation, a simple phone call could have resolved the issue and made life easier for both of you. Sure, we can only do so much. But if one phone call can mean the difference between keeping the peace and dealing with a disgruntled, angry homeowner spewing lies all over the community…a phone call seems a lot less painful.
Unfortunately, upset homeowners and false claims are just part of the job. But remember you have a good reputation, and that reputation is best maintained by treating people with respect, honesty, fairness, and professionalism. Do this, and most people will judge you by your track record and their own interaction with you — rather than the word of someone whose lies just don’t seem to add up.
- Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! Handling Misinformation in Your HOA - March 13, 2019
- Setting the Ground Rules for Neighbor Disputes - June 27, 2018
- HOA Board Responsibilities – It’s Not as Difficult as You’re Making It. - April 23, 2018
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Good essay and even better outline for discussion & solutions. GoGladly has been and will continue to be a popular place for many WV homeowners – thanks Burke for your input and “hanging in there” over the years!
Thanks, Nance! We’re lucky to have Burke on the team.
Thanks, I’m glad you like it.
I’d just add one thing, which ties in with record keeping – communicate in writing as much as possible so there’s a record of what was said and done, and when. As was stated in the record keeping, it can be crucial when needed to be able to show a documented history of communication as well as what was actually said or done. I’d also recommend using software that keeps track of when people log into the system. Recently we had an owner who was turned over to an attorney and had a lien placed on his unit. He claimed he had no idea that there was a monthly HOA fee, yet we had proof that he was in attendance at the turnover meeting as well as him logging into our portal and making a payment for one month. Document and retain documentation. Can’t argue facts.
Excellent example, Dave. Thanks!
Very true David. As a manager, there is peace of mind that comes with having detailed records and knowing you can back up your actions and defend them if needed. Your example with the online portal tracking is excellent, I can’t tell you how many time I have had a similar experience.
This is absolutely true, the owners like to tell “stories” although I have had several owner apologize later because I am always respectful and do not let them get me upset. Am I upset for a moment while they are spouting..yes.. but I also am able to let it go, because I know it is not true.
That’s such a great way to approach it, Juanita. It’s difficult to stay upset with someone who is reasonable and calm when we are freaking out.
And then, there are such big lies that are told in a large forum, that sometimes, it is better to keep your mouth shut. Then when people who witnessed it will tell you that you did the right thing by not adding fuel to the fire, because of the tactfulness that was taken, and not belittling the person. There are those out there that really know the truth, and by not being combative, you end up with an army of supporters with you.
That’s such a great point, Lisa. Reasonable people can tell when someone else is being unreasonable. We can earn trust (and supporters) when we react in a classy way.