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Subject: Harassing Condo Owner
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PaulM30
(B)

Posts:41


01/06/2020 11:55 AM  
I am the HOA President of a small 15 unit condo building. The board is comprised of myself, and 2 other board members, both of whom rent out their units and don't live in the building. To be clear, none of us wish to be on the board, but we have an extremely disinterested group of owners, and nearly 1/3rd of our units are rented out. I am solely president because nobody else would do it, and I want to protect my investment. I mention that detail just to set context.

We have one owner who has been a huge problem since the building was first constructed 10 years ago. He was the first owner, and has basically been in a state of constant dispute with everyone since Day 1. He has had literally dozens of run ins with various board members over the years, and is universally loathed by everyone in the building. Recently his behavior has escalated to leaving abusive notes on cars parked outside our building (it's a public street with no restrictions), and yelling and being generally abusive to anyone who talks in the hallway (he has a ground floor unit by the front door and mailboxes) regardless of time of day. I have explained to him multiple times that despite being on the board, I have no day to day responsibility for building maintenance, yet he persists on reporting problems with me and the other board members directly, which are ignored. Recently he has some water leaking into his unit from outside, so he sent 5 abusive emails to me, and then actually knocked on my door to complain that the management company were not responding quickly enough. He is openly racist, recently complaining in an email to all owners of 'a Mexican' he 'caught' walking in the alleyway behind our building, and told another owner (whose wife is from overseas) that we need to build a wall to keep all immigrants out (not to get political, but he is constantly referring to immigration, liberals, conspiracy theories etc). Numerous women, (including residents, visitors, dog walkers, mail deliverers) have complained of inappropriate comments, obvious leering, feeling unsafe around him, and constant references of a sexual nature. The most recent episode involved him yelling at a new renting couple (the women is 7 months pregnant) for making noise when moving in during the afternoon.

Basically, he exists in that gray area where he isn't openly breaking the law (I don't think) or making threats, but is making life a misery for everyone in the building. One former owner moved out because she didn't want to have to deal with him anymore, and other owners have spoken of entering and leaving via the garage rather than walk past his front door. He has never physically struck anyone, but gets very close when talking, particularly when he is yelling at someone. He is a truly awful human being, and I'm genuinely concerned that he is going to harm someone, or at the very least, a physical altercation could develop.

As an HOA, this is difficult to account for in regulations. Does anyone have suggestions of what we can do? Can we take out a restraining order? A lot of his behaviour is difficult to document or to fully describe on paper, and I doubt the police would be interested, so I'm at a loss on how we deal with him, but I want to figure out if we can do something formally to attempt to regulate his behavior.
PaulJ6


Posts:0


01/06/2020 1:21 PM  
You can file a police report for harassment. Harassment is illegal, beyond a certain degree of harassment.

I'd do that.
JaredC
(Texas)

Posts:264


01/06/2020 3:25 PM  
Holy crow. This is EXACTLY what I had to deal with. I was an HOA president of a small 24 unit community (I still live here). Honestly my situation is probably worse but for for all intents and purposes it is exactly the same. I get it.

In the final analysis there is practically nothing the HOA can do. If the bad guy has a legitimate issue then resolve it the same way you would for anyone else. If they are just lying troublemakers then make sure you document it. What do I mean?

Here's an example from my community: Bad actor says they have a leak in their roof. Bad actor REFUSES to allow roofing company into unit to view damage. Is damage real? I can't know and therefore I don't care. Ask roofing company to sign affidavit stating they were not allowed access to unit. Repeat at reasonable intervals and ignore all maintenance requests (within reason) until homeowner starts acting normal. If they sue then you have a paper trail.

Remember I live in Texas. I also have a license to carry a firearm. I've had bad actors literally tell me that if I wasn't carrying a gun they would physically attack me. It sucks but bad guys know how to walk that line of legal vs not legal behavior. They also know most good people won't fight back and in fact would rather move.

I get it.



MelissaP1
(Alabama)

Posts:9444


01/06/2020 3:40 PM  
There is a line between being a HOA member and being an individual person. Set it up so it's understood that if you have a HOA issue it is addressed at the Open meeting or write it in. If you write it in, it will be reviewed at the meeting. All decisions will be made at the meeting with or without your attendance.

Once you set the HOA boundaries, you set the personal ones. Which means calling the police and making police reports. They may "do anything" but they do make records. If something really bad happened, would there be any records for the court/police to refer to? Not if you all not making them. Which this person is playing that game...

No reason why after a few reports, one can't get a restraining order against this person. That will hold even some more teeth and be easier for police response. It will still be up the INDIVIDUAL and NOT the HOA.

Establishing the line between HOA business and being a neighbor should be established ASAP. No reason to put up with this behavior. He wants someone with a backbone to stand up to him. Otherwise he's just having "fun".

Former HOA President
AugustinD


Posts:3647


01/06/2020 5:29 PM  
Posted By PaulM30 on 01/06/2020 11:55 AM
Recently he has some water leaking into his unit from outside, so he sent 5 abusive emails to me, and then actually knocked on my door to complain that the management company were not responding quickly enough.
This is a legitimate complaint. It needs to be addressed immediately. If it is not addressed immediately, the infrastructure and other damage could easily worsen, holding the condo out to significant liability. Has your manager contacted the insurer to let them know what happened?
Posted By PaulM30 on 01/06/2020 11:55 AM

He is openly racist, recently complaining in an email to all owners of 'a Mexican' he 'caught' walking in the alleyway behind our building, and told another owner (whose wife is from overseas) that we need to build a wall to keep all immigrants out (not to get political, but he is constantly referring to immigration, liberals, conspiracy theories etc). Numerous women, (including residents, visitors, dog walkers, mail deliverers) have complained of inappropriate comments, obvious leering, feeling unsafe around him, and constant references of a sexual nature.
He is creating an environment that is hostile on the basis of national origin, ethnicity and sex. According to the Federal Fair Housing Act and probably your own state's housing anti-discrimination laws, this is unlawful. HUD's web sites claim it takes hostile environment on the basis of sex, national origin, ethnicity et cetera seriously. This includes potentially holding a HOA responsible for a resident it knows is perpetrating harassment of this nature. It goes back to the days when some suburban neighborhoods (for one) tried to keep African Americans and Jewish people from moving into them.

Your HOA could seek a restraining order in civil court. The first step would be to have the HOA attorney send him a cease and desist letter.

For the general cacophony of complaints that have no merit: Board members nationwide must either have a thick skin or surrender.
GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:2890


01/06/2020 6:02 PM  
This part seems a bit far-fetched ... “ This includes potentially holding a HOA responsible for a resident it knows is perpetrating harassment of this nature.”

You think an HOA could potentially be responsible for the racism of the property owners?

Perhaps I misread?

AugustinD


Posts:3647


01/06/2020 6:33 PM  
Posted By GeorgeS21 on 01/06/2020 6:02 PM
You think an HOA could potentially be responsible for the racism of the property owners?
Academic (meaning not real life) answer:
Racist acts that are severe enough to result in a housing environment that is hostile to someone because of her or his race may be unlawful under the Fair Housing Act. The idea is that, if the racial harassment is so severe and unavoidable that, say, an African American does not want to live in a certain community, then this is the same as refusing to sell a unit to that someone because of her or his race. It's also the same idea as an employer who knows that John Kuklux is going around telling fellow employees who are black that they are n----s and should be lynched. The employer could be sued for failing to stop the environment that is hostile on the basis of race. (And since about 1986, there have been many such suits, some successful, some not.)

HUD has said that landlords and HOA/condo associations may be liable if management knows about these acts and does nothing.

Real life answer: HUD cares about familial discrimination and disability discrimination. Else I think the civil servant laddies at HUD, certified by sending in two boxtops and 75 cents for their certificate of training, are as racist, sexist and anti-immigrant as the general population. One usually has to hire an attorney to get action under Fair Housing law, especially if the complaint does not involve familial or disability discrimination.

Short overview:
https://www.fairhousingissuesreview.com/2017/08/fostering-hostile-environment-importance-addressing-hostile-environment-harassment/ (applies to condos and HOAs too).

Official HUD rule:
https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2016-21868.pdf

If the OP's board gets the HOA attorney to write the creep a cease and desist letter, and I were the attorney, I would speak in general, but firm, terms about harassment and how the HOA will seek a restraining order if he does not keep his distance from others.

GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:2890


01/06/2020 6:44 PM  
I would just ignore and ensure a record of each interaction.

Either it rises to the level of threatening activity, or it doesn’t. In the former, the cops get called - after ensuring suitable evidence is kept.
SueW6
(Michigan)

Posts:714


01/06/2020 8:37 PM  
It sounds like his actions have escalated over the past 10 years. Perhaps there is some mental or physical reason he acts the way he does. He is harassing others and causing a ruckus.

Is there a wife or adult child around? They need to be notified. Perhaps Adult Services needs to be brought in to evaluate if he is in danger of hurting himself or others.

Your property values will drop if this is allowed to continue unchecked. The HOA could be liable if complaints were not followed up and he ends up hurting someone.
CathyA3
(Ohio)

Posts:1116


01/07/2020 7:15 AM  
Posted By GeorgeS21 on 01/06/2020 6:02 PM
This part seems a bit far-fetched ... “ This includes potentially holding a HOA responsible for a resident it knows is perpetrating harassment of this nature.”

You think an HOA could potentially be responsible for the racism of the property owners?

Perhaps I misread?





Absolutely, as Augustin said. There was a case (in Virginia?) some years ago where the association lost a fair housing dispute, even though the board had attempted to rein in a bad actor who was targeting a black female resident with vile language, insults and the like. The court said that the board had failed to correct a hostile environment.

Also, in 2018 HUD enacted some new rules that affect associations:

https://www.associationalert.biz/2018/03/cant-simply-look-way-new-hud-fha-rules-affect-associations/

Since these laws apply to landlords as well, the other two board members also have a vested interest in addressing the issues - their tenants can sue them.

If I were in the OP's shoes, I would begin to take the steps outlined in your governing documents for addressing violations, including violation notices and escalating fines if possible. I'd also encourage residents to file a complaint with the police if they feel threatened.

You want a paper trail showing that the association has been using every tool at its disposal to deal with this. It's the board's duty to do so, and it may help if you end up in court and the judge is tempted to lay a hefty fine on the association for Fair Housing violations.
GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:2890


01/07/2020 8:17 AM  
An interesting read - thanks for the link, Cathy.

Most of the read points to HOA employee or Board member misbehavior, not owners, but the below excerpt is more interesting:

"The real kicker (and the Rule that we really dislike as Association counsel) is the Third Party Liability Rule, which states that Associations may be held liable as a “third party” if they can exercise control to try and stop the harassment, but fail to do so. With these new Rules, not only is the Association responsible for its own conduct, it is also liable for failing to take prompt action to correct discriminatory practices of employees/agents; and failing to take prompt action to correct discriminatory practices of third parties (could be other owners!), where the Association knew or should have known about the discriminatory practice.

So what does this mean for your Associations? Here are two scary facts you need to know:

Know that THE ASSOCIATION can be in trouble (read: get sued) if a board member, agent, employee, or other owner creates a hostile environment that harasses a resident who is a member of a protected class. AND
The resident doesn’t even have to complain to the Association to put the Association on the hook for liability. Instead, it can fall under the “should have known” category. For example: if the hired lifeguard or a board member observes racial discrimination by the pool of a resident, but takes no action, the Association can be liable."

"...if they CAN exercise control" - not sure how an HOA would do that without stumbling into protected speech discussion or legal action

The two court cases did not relate to a racist neighbor making stupid statements ...

Good read for thought, though.
TimM11


Posts:347


01/07/2020 9:24 AM  
Let the police determine if what he is doing rises to the level of illegal behavior. Document the activity and notify them if it persists.
CathyA3
(Ohio)

Posts:1116


01/07/2020 9:31 AM  
Personally I have real concerns about the third party liability. An association does not *control* homeowners' behavior - at best it can impose consequences for that behavior, and with luck those consequences will be unpleasant enough that the misbehaving person stops whatever he's doing. However, there are people who view fines and such as part of the cost of doing business, and they may even double down on their actions just to prove a point. Laws and rules can be a weapon in the hands of someone who feels free to disregard them, while the board is limited in what they can do or risk getting themselves sued by the bad actor for violating his rights.

Anyway, the article I linked to said specifically that the board needs to be concerned about residents' misbehavior:

"Know that THE ASSOCIATION can be in trouble (read: get sued) if a board member, agent, employee, ** or other owner ** creates a hostile environment that harasses a resident who is a member of a protected class. ..."

Which is why I recommended that the OP follow his governing docs to the letter, take every possible step and document each step. If my association were dealing with a similar situation, we would already have involved our attorney since Fair Housing laws are in play and it's pretty clear that the offending resident is not going to stop unless and until outside resources are brought in.


SheilaJ1
(South Carolina)

Posts:176


01/07/2020 9:53 AM  
Great read, thank you.

AugustinD


Posts:3647


01/07/2020 10:00 AM  
Posted By CathyA3 on 01/07/2020 9:31 AM
Personally I have real concerns about the third party liability. An association does not *control* homeowners' behavior - at best it can impose consequences for that behavior, and with luck those consequences will be unpleasant enough that the misbehaving person stops whatever he's doing.
The article you linked comments that "... Associations may be held liable as a 'third party' if they can exercise control to try and stop the harassment, but fail to do so." I believe I have seen similar at other web sites discussing Fair Housing law. To me, the qualifier "if they can exercise control" is key. For example, if the governing documents say nothing prohibiting one resident from harassing another, then a HOA may not have the power to "control" the behavior. Also the courts seem to be clear that the occasional stray racist remark appears to be never sufficient to qualify as a severe pervasive hostile environment. The courts hearing these fair housing "hostile environment" cases do draw on employment law. The standard appears to me to be either a high frequency of racist (or sexist yada) remarks and acts, or if there is a single act, it has to be hugely egregious and intimidating. I think it's clear that employers typically have way more control over the behavior of their employees compared to HOAs having control over residents. Whence I can understand CathyA3's concerns over a HOA's third party liability for residents' unlawfully hostile behavior. Anecdotally and for what it is worth: At a former HOA of mine, the Board was pretty much encouraging residents to yell at kids playing on the HOA grounds. The HOA, certain board members, the HOA attorney and the manager all were specifically singled out by HUD. The hostility towards kids was clear. With an attorney for the victim prodding, a huge settlement resulted. It included HUD-ordered letters of apology from board members, the HOA attorney and the manager, and a large cash pay-out, including having to pay the victims' attorney's fees.
GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:2890


01/07/2020 11:18 AM  
Augustin,

I’d like to read some of that case and settlement. Can you link us up?
AugustinD


Posts:3647


01/07/2020 11:49 AM  
George, I do not think it is online. Nor do I have a copy of the settlement any longer. The settlement document was required to be available to all members and prospective buyers. If memory serves, I believe the cost to the HOA was around $80,000 to $100,000, with most of that going to the victims and the victims' attorneys (per order of HUD). The HOA attorney dug in and, for some months, did things that encouraged the membership to vilify the parents and grandparents of the kids involved. Under Fair Housing law, this is unlawful retaliation.
TimM11


Posts:347


01/07/2020 12:56 PM  
There was a HUD settlement similar to the one Augustin described (with a very similar outcome) that involved an HOA in my area. Here's the decision and there are some articles about it too if you Google it:

https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2015/03/31/greenbriersettle.pdf

The moral of the story is don't mess around when the Fair Housing Act is involved.
CathyA3
(Ohio)

Posts:1116


01/07/2020 1:54 PM  
Here is the case I mentioned earlier that is similar to what the OP is dealing with:

DC Condo Associaiton Pays $550,000 in Race/Sex Case

https://fairhousing.com/news-archive/advocate/1998/dc-condo-association-pays-550000-racesex-case

One quote from the article:
"According to the Washington Post, Reeves' attorneys saw this case as a way to hold condo associations to the same set of rules that apartment complex owners must follow."

My comment: Apartment owners have an option that COAs and HOAs do not, namely the ability to evict a problem tenant. This gives landlords an element of "control" since they can put a permanent stop to the behavior. COAs and HOAs are mostly limited to Nastygrams and fines, which are basically slaps on the wrist when you're dealing with egregious behavior. Unless the association can issue unlimited fines and foreclose based on said fines, it does not have the ability to stop the behavior - and even if it does, an eviction happens much more quickly than letting fines and foreclosures play out.
AugustinD


Posts:3647


01/07/2020 2:19 PM  
Posted By CathyA3 on 01/07/2020 1:54 PM
COAs and HOAs are mostly limited to Nastygrams and fines,
I wonder if a HOA could seek a restraining order against the offender.

Condominium Attorney: Your honor, this person, John White, has done ____, _____, and ____ against Chinese-American residents at the condo. He admits to hating people of color, and especially those descending ultimately from ancestry based in Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and nearby countries. Residents are threatening suit under the Fair Housing Act against us. Here are their attorneys' letters of demand. If the condo does not try to stop this, then it is likely it will be sued. Here is the case law showing where such suits have happened. Your honor, please issue a restraining order against John White. This condo is being victimized by him.

Judge: I am not sure you have standing. How is the corporation being harmed by John White's behavior?

Condo Attorney: It's costing us a fortune to address again and again his acts of racism. Here are the hours expended to date on addressing this (as the Fair Housing Act requires) [hands judge a detailed breakdown with times, dates and actions]. It's cost a total of $1,500+ to date in employee time alone. Letters to John White from me (the HOA attorney) have added up to $3,000 to date.

Judge: I cannot censor his speech. That's protected.

Condo Attorney: Your honor, I believe this is settled law, for the most part. Speech is protected only to the extent it is not harming others. Here, John White is screaming epithets at these good folks in the parking lot. He has left large signs on their patios saying, "Ch--ks go home!" Here is the proof [hands judge dossier of documentation]. John White has made these people's lives miserable through persistent harassment. I believe they have a right to enjoy the peace of their homes. They are not able to.

Judge: So you want me to order him not to yell at these folks? Not to put up signs on their patios?

Condo Attorney: ... and order him to stay 50 feet away at all times and have no other communications with them. No email. No snail mail. No talking to them or shouting at them.

Judge: Or else the condo will just keep accumulating costs to try to ensure the environment at the condo is not hostile to anyone who is Asian in background?

Condo Attorney: Yes your honor.

Judge: It is so ordered. Draft the order, have John White review it, and I will sign it.

GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:2890


01/07/2020 2:37 PM  
Not sure I’m following.
SheilaJ1
(South Carolina)

Posts:176


01/07/2020 2:44 PM  
From what the author describes, I don't think there is enough other than bad behavior to get a restraining order. The author admits this as well. Just because someone moves out that doesn't mean that is because of this person, lets see if they can actually prove that. Too many other assumptions in the authors post. Its just bad behavior nothing illegal.

The author should seek out an attorney but like others have stated if the HOA goes too far with letters, the owner could sue the HOA. I say have the owners file the reports.

I suggest trying to solve whatever is making them act this way. That is, if its a HOA issue.
PaulM30
(B)

Posts:41


01/08/2020 10:27 AM  
Posted By SheilaJ1 on 01/07/2020 2:44 PM
From what the author describes, I don't think there is enough other than bad behavior to get a restraining order. The author admits this as well. Just because someone moves out that doesn't mean that is because of this person, lets see if they can actually prove that. Too many other assumptions in the authors post. Its just bad behavior nothing illegal.

The author should seek out an attorney but like others have stated if the HOA goes too far with letters, the owner could sue the HOA. I say have the owners file the reports.

I suggest trying to solve whatever is making them act this way. That is, if its a HOA issue.




Yes, that's the most frustrating thing. It's very hard to prove anything. The woman that moved out specifically said she was moving out because she couldn't stand living across the hall from him, it's not something I'm assuming, but obviously turning that into a legal argument is very hard. I'm not making assumptions about anything, I specifically said I don't think anything really reaches the level of illegality, but I still want to investigate if there is anything we can do.

His behavior is an HOA issue insofar as we have to put up with constant abusive emails, and everyone in the building despises him and will often ask us if it's possible to do anything. I'm not a doctor, but he clearly has some kind of personality disorder, or he's just very lonely so lashes out all the time in lieu of real human contact. It's not a case of him simply having a few problems with the HOA. Even the mail carrier threatened to stop delivering to our building due to his behavior.
GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:2890


01/08/2020 10:49 AM  
Paul,

Continue to record all HOA business interactions - call the police if you feel threatened.

Continue to record owner to owner, or resident to resident, interactions - recommend to anyone who feels threatened to call the police.

RECORD everything possible - I'm using record in this instance as a "record" of the interaction. If you are able to record the interaction via video/audio, even better.

However, what I've heard so far is that your condo has let him slide - tighten up and see what happens. Once you have several instances, write him a receipt required dry, factual letter outlining his behavior, noting it is unacceptable, note a few of the Federal guidelines - see what happens.

Build the archive - if the collective archive is scary enough, take it to the police.
HansE
(California)

Posts:9


01/08/2020 11:29 AM  
Hello,

It sounds like the guy is an absolute troll, but may have legitimate complaints that he feels are not taken seriously. It also sounds like the gentlemen in question is not a young(er) person, this may be all he has right now and not in a good place (probably because his poor attitude alienated everyone around him).

I would suggest a few things
Contact the MGMT company and get all of his complaints and take them to a board meeting (or have a special meeting to just address those). Review the complaints seriously and evaluate which ones are legitimate and those that are not. Take care of those that are you have a fiduciary responsibility to all member not just the nice ones.

Let him know that via e-mail that you (the president) take his complaints seriously and are reviewing them.

Get the legitimate complaints handled PERIOD; it does no one any good to not do what you are actually obligated to do.

In specific regards to his ugly character I would say treat him like a tree. Walk past him; video him if he tries to stop you from moving on your way; take all his complaints (no matter how small to the board and MGMT) and deal with them with a strict business attitude remember he is just a tree (just there). The more people that do this will result in one of two things, he will stop as he is not getting a reaction most likely (he sounds like a TON of the bullies that pushed me around in school) or two it will get physical. Ones it gets to assault and or battery then you can get the police the restraining order ect.

Best of luck
PaulM30
(B)

Posts:41


01/08/2020 12:27 PM  
Posted By HansE on 01/08/2020 11:29 AM
Hello,

It sounds like the guy is an absolute troll, but may have legitimate complaints that he feels are not taken seriously. It also sounds like the gentlemen in question is not a young(er) person, this may be all he has right now and not in a good place (probably because his poor attitude alienated everyone around him).

I would suggest a few things
Contact the MGMT company and get all of his complaints and take them to a board meeting (or have a special meeting to just address those). Review the complaints seriously and evaluate which ones are legitimate and those that are not. Take care of those that are you have a fiduciary responsibility to all member not just the nice ones.

Let him know that via e-mail that you (the president) take his complaints seriously and are reviewing them.

Get the legitimate complaints handled PERIOD; it does no one any good to not do what you are actually obligated to do.

In specific regards to his ugly character I would say treat him like a tree. Walk past him; video him if he tries to stop you from moving on your way; take all his complaints (no matter how small to the board and MGMT) and deal with them with a strict business attitude remember he is just a tree (just there). The more people that do this will result in one of two things, he will stop as he is not getting a reaction most likely (he sounds like a TON of the bullies that pushed me around in school) or two it will get physical. Ones it gets to assault and or battery then you can get the police the restraining order ect.

Best of luck




I forgot to mention, the management company responded within 45 mins and had someone out the same day for the leak that I mentioned.

He does not often have legitimate complaints, and when he does, they have been addressed. It's more a case of him building grievances for the sake of it, as he has nothing else to do. He complained recently that our building cleaner, who visits once per week, was disturbing his 'quiet enjoyment' of his property, by vacuuming the hallway at 3pm on a Friday. He purchased cheap soundproofing pads for the hallway and asked for the HOA to reimburse him and he would install them, which was obviously denied, which set off months of bad behavior after a relative calm period. He once emailed me because the house across the street was having a loud party and he thought that in my role as HOA president I should take the lead in asking them to turn it down. Oh, I forgot the other one...our board used to be comprised of two women and a man who happens to be gay. He would routinely send emails, often copying in the other owners, complaining of the 'all female board' and the 'ladies running the HOA'.

On the topic of age, the man is in his mid 50's. I genuinely don't care what place he is in or how old he is.Thanks for the advice though, I'm going to encourage everyone to make a record, and perhaps even record, all interactions with him.

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