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Snipers & Terrorists

Out of the blue, an irate homeowner launches a smear campaign aimed directly at the board. It’s relentless and focused. The motivation may be some personal grievance, hatred of a board policy, disagreement on how the board does business in general or loathing for the whole HOA concept. Rather than seeking redress in an orderly and open way, however, often it takes the form of poison pen letters, back alley rumor mills or a terrorist-like assault at a board meeting.

Board meeting terrorism is designed to hold the board hostage to relentless rants and demands. This form of HOA terrorism is designed to directly challenge board authority and to disrupt the orderly process. As with any terrorist attack, the board’s initial reaction is usually disbelief. But, the cold reality of the assault soon becomes clear and the need to act urgent.

How should the board deal with this kind of attack? When presented a list of demands, should the items be discussed point by point? Should they be recorded in the minutes? What should be done?

Rule #1: Never negotiate with terrorists. The board is not obligated to discuss anything off the agenda. And it’s unreasonable to expect informed answers to firing line questions. The response should be, “Thanks for making your points. We’ll review them and give you a response in writing or consider them at the next board meeting.”

Rule #2: Don’t record a list of demands.

Minutes are intended to discuss in broad terms the business accomplished by the board. Specific motions should have enough detail to describe them and the outcome of the vote. It is not a forum for soap boxing, editorializing or where items are entered into “evidence”. It’s enough

for the minutes to state, “Mr. Sniper asked that the board consider issues relating to (general description).”

Rule #3: Control the Owner Forum. To encourage owner input, an Owner Forum before the meeting should give each speaker owner up to, say, 5 minutes to speak, so the board can get on with its business. Letting someone hold the board hostage should never be allowed and it’s up to the president to control such actions. An abusive person should not be allowed to continue for any length of time.

Rule #4: When attacked, respond quickly and firmly. When the attack becomes apparent, it’s the president’s job to interrupt and, if necessary, ask the attacker to leave the meeting. If the attacker refuses to comply, the president should adjourn the meeting and advise that such conduct will not be allowed at future meetings.

HOA terrorist attacks are designed to fan the flames of emotion and to promote rash response. The board needs to walk the high road and refuse to “dance”. While this isn’t easy when the attack is intense, the directors outnumber the attacker and with a unified response, should be able to defeat the challenge and even help point the terrorist toward a better way.

Used with permission from Richard Thompson of www.Regenesis.net. From Regenesis Aug. 2017 newsletter.

Expected Upkeep Enforced by our Community Association Management Firms

The staff or volunteers you occasionally see walking around your community with clipboards or tablets are your association’s covenant enforcement officers. They’re inspecting the property to ensure that everything is working properly, that conditions are safe and that nothing is reducing property values or the quality of life in your Carolina community.

In short, they’re making sure policies and rules are being followed—from pet behavior, parking and unkempt lawns to improper exterior modifications and more. They field complaints from fellow homeowners and, if necessary, remind you (or your neighbor) when a rule has been overlooked.

The officers report their findings to the Carolina Home Association board with photos and detailed notes. Most violations are easily resolved without board action. If not, the next step is a hearing before the board—we want to hear your side of the story. Those who continue to ignore rules may be fined, or taken to more extreme measures. The most serious cases may end up in court, though we try very hard to never get to that point.

Your association’s covenant enforcement officers perform a vital function; please treat them with courtesy and respect. If you have any questions about the rules, the officers can explain them to you. Your association manager and board members are happy to listen and respond to any concerns.

When you purchased your home in one of our common-interest communities in the Carolinas, you became contractually bound to abide by the covenants that protect your association. Please review them and ensure that you are in compliance. You can find them on our website.

The Responsibility of the HOA Board

Community associations are more than just a neighborhood. In many ways, it’s a lot like a business. Collectively, regular annual assessments amount to tens of thousands of dollars that need to be budgeted carefully and spent wisely. And neighbors who have volunteered and been elected to serve on the association’s board are responsible for making critical decisions—on the homeowner’s behalf—about managing the community and money.

An HOA board also develops long-range plans—like when the parking lot will need to be repaved and when the elevators will need to be replaced—about the parts of the community that are shared property. The board must set aside funds so that these kinds of projects can be accomplished on schedule or even ahead of schedule in the event there’s an unexpected breakdown.

The board also sends out requests for bids and contracts with vendors to do the work necessary to maintain our shared amenities. Board members decide who will do the best job of replacing the roof at the best price or who will be the most reliable company to hire to mow the grass and remove dead tree limbs.

The board’s decisions can have a significant impact on the community’s appearance and, consequently, on our property values. Regardless of our professional manager, the board ultimately is responsible for overseeing community association operations. Be sure to communicate with the board regularly, observe board meetings, and attend annual meetings to elect responsible board members and to participate in the conversations about significant community issues.

What Is Alternative Dispute Resolution? (And Why Does the Association Use It?)

Homeowners associations and their members have conflicting opinions from time to time. When they do, the association board attempts to resolve problems by using a three-step, problem-solving approach called alternative dispute resolution (ADR). It’s an effective and money-saving alternative to the traditional justice system; the three steps are negotiation, mediation and arbitration.

In negotiation, we identify the issues, educate each other about our needs and interests, brainstorm settlement options and hammer out our final terms. It’s an informal, cooperative process in which we can focus objectively on our interests.

Because negotiation is informal, it requires the least amount of time and expense. The board believes that when reasonable people engage in honest negotiation, this is the only step needed. But, in those unfortunate situations where we can’t find a solution, we take the second step—mediation.

In mediation, a neutral, trained mediator resolves conflict between two or more parties. Mediation is collaborative, but it does require a little more time and money. It tends to preserve relationships because the people involved create their own settlement agreements, which are not legally binding unless everyone agrees to formalize them. If mediation doesn’t work, there’s still one more step to take before we all head off to court—arbitration.

Arbitration is a formal process that can require considerable time and money—but usually less than lawsuits, which motivates the board to resolve disputes before we reach this final step.

Arbitrators are usually highly trained legal experts who render final, legal decisions based on evidence and testimony. Only under limited circumstances can the arbitrator’s decision be appealed to the courts.

The board subscribes to ADR to conserve your resources. Clearly, the more steps we take, the more we have to pay. Fees for negotiators, mediators or arbitrators would be paid out of your pocket—in the form of assessments—and we’d rather avoid that whenever possible.

 

Governing by Representation

Homeowners associations are a representative form of government founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people. Our country is based on the principles of representative democracy. It starts with organizations like homeowner associations and progresses through our schools boards, city governments, county governments, state governments—all the way to the federal government. We vote for a person, or persons, who will act on our behalf.

Some might advocate that a homeowners association board should not take action without the vote of the members to find out what the people want. That would be counter-productive. If HOA members were to vote on every issue before a decision was made, there would be no need for a board, but simply someone to send out ballots and tally results. However, boards find out what the people in our community want in other ways. Many make time to hear from residents at each board meeting. But, it’s up to you to attend meetings, voice your opinions and participate in the exchange of ideas with the board. We also encourage all community members to be involved and participate. Consider joining a committee that has direct communication with the management board – we want your input, ideas, thoughts and opinions.

When the season for community association annual meetings and annual board elections approaches, consider carefully which candidates you select—including yourself. Consider running for the board to help shape the future of your community.

 

What is a Board Resolution?

An easy definition for a board resolution is that it is a motion that follows a set format and is formally adopted by the community board. Resolutions may achieve updated rules and regulations or formalize other types of board decisions. There are four types of resolutions for a homeowners association:

  1. Policy Resolutions affect owners’ rights and obligations such as rules for the use of common areas and recreational facilities, architectural guidelines and enforcement procedures.
  2. Administrative Resolutions address the internal operations of the community association. Examples include operating procedures, collection procedures and where board meetings will be held.
  3. Special Resolutions document board decisions that apply a policy or rule to an individual situation, such as a decision about an alleged rule violation.
  4. General Resolutions involve routine events, such as adopting the annual budget and approving a contract.

The manager maintains all adopted resolutions. They are available to association members for review in the manager’s office.

Eyeing a Vision Statement

Our homeowners association is revisiting its vision statement, which is an integral part of our strategic plan. We’d like your input.

About Vision Statements in General

A good community vision (or mission) statement is a straight foward description of what is important to the community. The statement should highlight major attributes. It increases the amount of HOA volunteers as homeowners becoming engaged in carrying out objectives; this strengthens relationships among residents, community board members and staff as they work toward common goals.

About Our Vision Statement Specifically

Developing a proper vision statement takes time. A draft goes through a committee and the board before the statement is finalized. Then we revisit it periodically and, if necessary, revise accordingly.

Successful vision statements aren’t developed in a small group—we need involvement and ownership from as many HOA members as possible. So, please take a look at our current vision statement. In your opinion, does it do a good job of describing what is important to the community? Does it highlight our major attributes? Think about what our community means to you and what makes you want to live here. If you have ideas or suggestions we should consider, let us know. We want all homeowners to be included in our vision.

 

 

 

What Gives the Association the Right to Tell Me What to Do?

In a nutshell: the association declaration and state law.

Homeowners associations have a governmental component. Like a city or county government, a homeowners association has a charter—called the declaration. The declaration encompasses bylaws, covenants and other documents that give community associations their legal foundation.

These governing documents obligate the HOA to preserve and protect the assets of the community and each family’s home. To enable the board to meet this obligation, association governing documents also empower the board to make rules and define the process for adopting and enforcing them—within limits. Governing documents also establish parameters for the nature and type of rules the board can make.

State law gives community associations the authority to make rules. These are called common interest community statutes, and they apply to condominiums, cooperatives and property owners associations.

Remember that the board can’t make or enforce any rule that is contrary to the governing documents, local ordinances, state law or federal regulations. Remember also that the board makes rules on your behalf—to protect your investment, your home.

 

What is this Thing Called Fiduciary Duty?

From time to time you may hear that the board of the homeowners association operates in a fiduciary capacity for the homeowners. Or you may read about the board’s fiduciary responsibility in the governing documents. Just exactly what does this mean?

Fiduciary duty simply means the board has an ethical and legal obligation to make decisions that are in the best interests of the entire HOA. That’s a small explanation for a very big responsibility.

Fiduciary duty includes a duty of loyalty to the homeowners association, which means that board members should never use their position to take advantage of the association. They should never make decisions for the association that benefit themselves at the expense of the association and its members.

Fiduciary duty also includes the duty to exercise ordinary care. This means board members must perform their duties in good faith and in a manner they believe to be in the best interest of the association, with such care as an ordinary prudent person in a similar position under similar circumstances would use.

In short, boards must act in the best interests of the association and act reasonably.

Board members fulfill their fiduciary duty by:

  •  Developing and using a formal budgeting process.
  •  Establishing and adhering to budgetary guidelines.
  •  Making sure the budgeting process reflects the wishes of the association members.
  •  Promoting understanding and acceptance of the reserve accounts among the members.
  •  Collecting sufficient fees to adequately operate the association.
  •  Soliciting bids and negotiating appropriate contracts.
  •  Authorizing expenditures.

 

 

 

 

How Are We Doing?

As board member volunteers, your HOA board works hard to make sure residents feel at home. To be more effective, it’s important to seek out other perspectives to learn about our perceived strengths and weaknesses. Feedback is imperative in making your community the best it can be.

Do you feel that the board is successfully handling issues pertaining to the homeowners association community, or are there some important matters we’re neglecting? Has the board been clear with residents about the actions we take, and have residents been given a fair opportunity to contribute to these decisions? Does the board listen to what you have to say when you disagree with the HOA or when you have suggestions to better the community?

Your opinions can help shape our community association, so please don’t hesitate to give honest feedback. Get in touch with your board today to let them know what areas they can improve on, as well as any other suggestions that would benefit your community and homeowners.