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Are gaslighters getting your goat

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Jul 15, 2021

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Up until a few weeks ago I was blissfully unaware of the meaning of the term ‘Gaslighter’. This state is quite contrary to the norm actually, as I feel that I am mostly au fait with the English language. When, by chance, I came across the word in an overseas article, I felt momentarily slighted thinking that it meant ‘some sort of lamp utilising gas to illuminate the surroundings’.

A Gaslighter, I learnt, is in fact an individual who bullies and manipulates a targeted individual or a targeted group of individuals. He sows a seed of doubt in others, who start questioning themselves or their abilities. He is overly confident and manages to railroad ideas through by blatantly lying, misdirecting ideas, and issuing vehement denials. This conduct happens over a period of time and, in between, a Gaslighter will also praise others so as not to seem overtly disingenuous.  Many people only realise that they have been subjected to this type of personality once they have become completely eroded.

In the Community Schemes environment, I have come across too many Gaslighters (“GL’s”) to mention, both male and female. You have Trustee GL’s, disenfranchised Owner GL’s, Owners with no interest in leading, but every intention of criticising-the-system GL’s. They tend to try to manipulate others into interpreting the Law their own way, inevitably for their own agendas, and notably become terribly vindictive when others disagree with them. They surround themselves with a merry band of sycophantic followers and utilise power in different ways. Thus, when they manifest in the form of Trustees, they will use their position to lay down the Law and will issue out “keyboard warrior” type letters through the Managing Agents, remaining faceless and protected. A recent example I can cite goes as follows:  The Trustees in a complex made a rule to say that, prior to a prospective purchaser taking transfer, and prior to that Seller receiving a clearance certificate, the Trustees would need to interview the purchaser.  I mean, really? An interview? This type of clause would never be allowed in a set of rules checked by the Community Schemes Ombud Service. The Trustees in this case persuaded the owners that this clause was allowed, and even lied to them by telling them that they checked it with the Ombud Service. They clearly exceeded their powers, and could never be allowed to hold a buyer and seller to ransom in this manner. In the true style of a GL, they justified their stance by ignoring legal opinions and insisting, in writing, that they were acting in the best interests of the Body Corporate. All through the Managing Agent, of course.

Disenfranchised owners are generally the worst GL’s, in my view. They held positions as Trustees at one stage or another. I met one the other day who told me in no uncertain terms that he singlehandedly ran the Body Corporate for twenty-seven successful years. When he was finally ousted by a younger more dynamic Chairman, he spent his days plotting and planning, waiting for the right moment to launch regular attacks on the incumbent committee. This owner needs to cast doubt on the performance of the newcomers in order to lift himself up in the eyes of the members of the Body Corporate who made the mistake of voting him out.

Owners who want nothing to do with extra work at no pay, but who enjoy criticising Trustees fall into the category of GL’s too. They appear to have time to write long, detailed letters to the committee pointing out that committee’s shortcomings. The letters get copied to owners for good measure. Take the example of an owner who happened to be an Advocate. He constantly reminded the Chairman that he was a busy man, and had no spare time to contribute to the complex, nor the inclination to take on any fiduciary responsibilities. Nonetheless, what became apparent was the fact that he spent hours compiling bundles of documents setting out how the Body Corporate passed special resolutions incorrectly and has erred in their treatment of an employee in terms of Labour Law regulations. He flew just far enough under the radar to avoid defamation proceedings, however, every owner in the 151-unit complex received the bundles whether they liked it or not. His confidence and threats to take Trustees to the High Court intimidated everyone in the scheme, bar one Polish gentleman who with one magnificent punch, knocked the wind out of the GL Advocate at a special general meeting. It is said that he has since moved to the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

Of course, one cannot go around punching owners in one’s scheme. There are alternative ways of dealing with difficult, obstructive individuals. Alliances need to be formed with like minded people, knowledge of the Law is imperative. Nobody can pull the wool over your eyes if you can apply the Law to the facts. Being prepared prior to going up against a GL is crucial. If you are anxious going into a meeting, write down what you want to say and read it out. Just as in any relationship, setting boundaries will be the best strategy for anyone faced with a pushy, petulant person. As they say, you teach people how to treat you, so do not be the victim of a GL in your own haven.

Marina Constas

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