Everything Your HOA Board Needs To Know About D&O Insurance

It is likely that your board has adequately prepared your homeowners association for fires, flood, severe weather, or other similar emergencies by obtaining proper insurance coverage. However, many associations overlook an important facet of insurance called D&O Insurance, or Directors and Officers Insurance. Here is everything your board needs to know about D&O insurance so that you and your fellow board members can be protected.

 

What is D&O Insurance?

Directors and Officers insurance is a type of policy that is in place to protect the officers and trustees on your board from liability in the case of an accusation from a homeowner. It is very difficult to please everyone, and when a homeowner becomes upset, individuals as well as the board may be at risk.

 

Why is D&O Insurance Important?

If an the name of an individual on your board is dragged into a legal battle between the HOA and a homeowner, that individual can find themselves responsible for legal fees, or even a large settlement. Many HOAs obtain insurance for the association as a whole while forgetting to insure individual board members, leaving them exposed to personal liability and large fees.

 

What Does D&O Insurance Cover?

D&O insurance typically covers everyone who is currently on the board, without covering anyone who is no longer serving as part of the board. Coverage typically includes fees associated with legal defense, and in most cases will cover the settlement amount in the event of a judgement.

Most policies will not cover the board member in the case of willful negligence of fiduciary duty, or intentional breach of laws or of the governing documents. The policies also typically do not cover fraud, and will not cover any lawsuits that existed before the D&O policy was purchased.

 

Knowing Your Insurance Coverage

Some insurance policies come with a D&O policy attached. However, just because your HOA is adequately covered does not mean individual board members are likewise covered. It is important to look closely at your current coverage plan to find out if D&O is included as part of the package. If not, the policy will need to be purchased separately. Be sure to do thorough research before choosing a plan to make sure that it will protect your board members when the time comes.

Although it may seem difficult to add another policy premium to your yearly budget, the cost of not having D&O insurance is much higher. The plans are usually flexible, allowing your HOA to purchase the amount of coverage that you need for the size of your HOA.

If your HOA has overlooked D&O insurance in the past, now is the time to start researching and find a plan that works for you. Protecting board members from incurring expensive fees and fines will benefit everyone on the board as well as the whole community.

Helping Homeowners Follow the Rules in Your HOA

It can be difficult to strike a balance between making sure homeowners follow the rules, and breeding ill will in the community because the board is seen as controlling and harsh. Whenever you have a problem with homeowners consistently breaking the association rules and regulations, it may be time to examine yourself and see what you could be doing better to help homeowners follow the rules in your HOA. Here are a few things that you can improve in your community to make it as easy as possible for everyone to follow the rules.

 

Keep the Rules Consistent

If the rules in your association have been changing on a regular basis lately, this may be the reason that residents are having a hard time following them. If changes to the rules are necessary, it is best to make the changes slowly to give everyone the chance to adjust.

 

Keep the Rules Simple

Rules that are too complex will be hard for the community to follow. Try looking through the rules and regulations to see if there are any that are especially complicated and see if you can simplify them to help out the homeowners.

 

Improve Enforcement

If you have been lax with the rules in the past, it is too much to expect everyone in the community to start following the rules. The change will have to start with the board. Focus on consistently enforcing the rules. After a time, your consistency will cause greater compliance. Making sure everyone’s house is up to date, including their decor. You can find affordable shades here if a homeowner is making the neighborhood looks bad.

 

Practice Good Communication

Homeowners who do not know the rules will have a hard time following them. Be sure to communicate effectively by sending emails, posting notices, and sending out the newsletter. The governing documents should also be made easily available through the website, and you can keep a copy of them in the office.

 

Enforce Impartially

Nothing is more frustrating to a community than rules that are irregularly or unfairly enforced. If one person experiences consequences for breaking a community rule, then everyone should be treated likewise. Treat everyone in the community the same, and you will see a rise in overall compliance.

 

Reexamine Problem Rules

It may be that a particular rule is unreasonable, written poorly in the governing documents, or altogether unnecessary. If you find that one of your rules is consistently broken by multiple residents, it may be time to examine the rule and either change it or get rid of it.

Although some infractions may be the result of unruly residents, most breaches of the governing documents can be solved by first looking at the behavior of the board. It is the boards responsibility to set a good example for the rest of the community, and to ensure that it is encouraging correct actions through the way that it enforces rules, the way that it communicates with homeowners, and the way the rules are written. If you are having problems with dissenters, it is time to take a closer look at the board!

The Pros & Cons of an HOA Accepting a Cell Tower

Cell phone usage has skyrocketed to the point of near saturation in the US. According to Pew Research Center, 95% of adults have a cell phone & a growing share of Americans now use smartphones as their primary means of online access at home. In 2016, wireless subscribers’ connections hit 377.9 million, with over $1.4 trillion (yep, trillion with a “t”) having been invested globally in the last 18 years. This is BIG business & there are opportunities for landowners to capitalize.

Companies like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint continue to explore options to meet their wireless customer demands, and part of this search includes the construction of new cell sites across the United States. Cell sites come many sizes, from a traditional tower that is big enough to climb, to an antenna that sits hidden on a rooftop, only seen by those flying over.

The opportunity an HOA can capitalize on is negotiating a cell tower lease agreement that ensures consistent rent for years, often decades, to come. There are certain pros and cons that an HOA or Condo Association must ponder if a cell tower company or wireless carrier approaches them about putting a tower on their property.

 

PROS

  • Additional Income: If an HOA/Condo Board can properly structure a cell site agreement, it can not only see immediate rent revenue, but can also see additional upside revenue based upon the utility/value actually being derived by the wireless carrier or cell tower company’s use of their property.
  • Improved Cell Service: A new cell site in a community will not only serve the needs of wireless customers in the area, but can also be promoted by an HOA or Condo Association as an amenity that can be used by their residents either by way of those in their community that work from a home office, or those who have made their homes “Smart Homes” with the installation of smart technology (sound, lighting and even appliances) that rely on wireless connectivity.  
  • Lump Sum Cash/Capital: If an HOA/Condo Association elects to do so, it can actually sell its cell tower or rooftop antenna lease for a one-time lump sum payment that can be used by a community for various projects. Many third-party companies presently exist that will pay a lump sum payment for the revenues generated from the cell site lease. If negotiated correctly, the community can retake control of the lease once the existing lease term expires.

 

CONS

  • Health Issues: Many people have raised concerns about the health risks of a cell tower on their property, or, even more troubling, cell site equipment on their rooftop. Even with the American Cancer Society providing several reports that they have found no direct links between cell towers and the development of cancer, many still protest cell towers in their communities. Providing information to its residents and structuring a cell tower lease that protects is a priority.
  • Aesthetic Concerns: Residents of any community always have valid concerns about the aesthetic impact on their property. Wireless carriers do often try to “stealth” their equipment by way of an installation that looks like a tree, clock tower, flagpole or other similar facility. However, many times these installations rarely blend into the community as expected. As a result, a community must determine if the financial benefits of a cell tower lease outweigh the atheistic impact.
  • Tenant Management: Management of a cell site lease is vastly different from the normal requests and issues that a HOA/Condo Association may presently handle. The community management team (either internal or external) could see request that they are unfamiliar with. For example, the site owner is often hit with a surge of access requests due to ever-growing operational/modification needs of wireless carriers and cell tower companies to stay current with technology standards in the wireless industry.

 

With the right deal in place, a cell tower could benefit your neighborhood now and for years to come. However, the pros and cons must be weighed against each other based on your particular situation. As with any long term contract, we advise getting the best information and counsel you can before making a commitment.

About the Author

Hugh Odom is the President & Founder of Vertical Consultants, a cell tower lease-consulting firm. Before founding Vertical Consultants, Mr. Odom worked for ten years as an attorney for AT&T, negotiating cell tower lease agreements. He now brings his experience and expertise to help landowners and property managers secure the best deal possible for their properties. Learn more at https://www.celltowerleaseexperts.com/

Condo Association Good Will

If a condo association is to survive and thrive, it needs a good strategy that makes the most out of available resources, takes assessments into account and keeps a proper budget. But when it comes to condo association resources, there’s one that is often neglected, yet is highly important: good will.

 

Why Good Will Is So Important

Social interactions of all kinds go much better when good will is noticeable. When it comes to condos, it is responsible for promoting trust, willingness to help neighbors and pride in live in a certain property. It’s also crucial in enabling progress. While good will isn’t something that can be easily measured in numbers, anyone with even minimal emotional intelligence can spot its presence or absence. It manifests itself when people show energy, enthusiasm and the right body language.

Those who work with your community should maintain a positive attitude and act like they live there. If there is no good will in your condo association, this creates a negative work atmosphere, where people who work in your community are likely to give little value to their job, show limited enthusiasm and do just the minimum amount of work they can get away with.

 

Good Will With Vendors, Management and Owners

Many people associate the word “business” with money. While profits are indeed an important part of what the business world is all about, relationships are what drive any kind of business venture. In your relationships with vendors, you have to remember that you’re dealing with people above all. By treating them with fairness, compassion and respect, you create good will. Don’t forget that people are a lot more likely to be helpful towards those who treat them well. In the context of a condo association, this could mean a vendor not charging for some extra work or charging a lower price on a large project.

Good will with the management is also important. A condo’s board and management need to be happy to work together if you want your community to be successful. It would be a mistake for a board to treat the management company as inferior to them just because they’re the ones paying them. Instead, create a climate of mutual respect and cooperation.

The owners are a very important group of people you’ll be dealing with. However, most condo associations only have direct interactions with less than ten percent of owners. You will need to approach them the right way. Doing so is actually a lot simpler than you may have thought at first. You will need to be responsive to their needs and communicate clearly and effectively. Be transparent and ensure that you’re always available to discuss their concerns.

Do your best to treat owners with the respect they deserve every time you interact with them. While there may be a few owners with a very unpleasant attitude that never seem to be satisfied with anything and are just a pain to deal with, the majority of condo owners are reasonable people that just want a happy condo life.

Prepare Your Association for Hurricane Season

Prepare Your Association for Hurricane Season

Help Your Community through the Storm

When hurricane season rolls around, it’s a frightening and busy time for many different areas of the country. Homeowners need to make sure that their properties are safe from any potential storm and hurricane damage. This is also important for homeowner’s associations. Hurricane season for an HOA presents specific challenges. To make sure the property and the residents are safe, having a policy that details hurricane season readiness is important. Creating a policy that covers what will happen before, during, and after the hurricane is essential, and it’s relatively easy to do.

Each HOA is different and will have different regulations in place for dealing with hurricane season. It often depends on their location, as well as the size of the complex and HOA. You can’t wait until you hear about an impending hurricane before you try to get the HOA to take action. It has to happen now, when there are no threats. This is the best time to put the policy together and to roll it out to everyone in the community. Those who already have a plan in place should periodically look at it and make any necessary updates.

Involve the Community

Those who are a part of the community need to know about your checklist for pre, during, and post storm activities. People need to know what they should be doing during a hurricane, what type of precautions they need to take, and what parts of the building might be off limits during those times. For example, in extreme weather, people may not be able to use the elevators in the building.

Notify the Residents

Make sure the residents are aware of any potential storms that are coming through the area and that could cause problems and displacement. Place the information on bulletin boards in the community, as well as on the HOA’s website. Also provide procedures for evacuation and what they should do before, during, and after the storm.

In addition, talk with the residents before the storm arrives to learn who will be staying and who will be leaving. This information will come in handy after the storm when trying to locate residents to make sure they are safe. You can look for volunteers as well. They can help you fill sandbags and get the complex ready for the storm.

Consider Digitizing Documents

If you have any records onsite, make sure that they are out of the danger area well before the storm arrives. A good way to eliminate this problem is to digitize the majority of your documents and keep them in the cloud. This ensures their safety.

Get the Common Areas Ready

Consider installing shutters on the windows of the common area. Also remove any furniture and items that are outside and that could blow away in the event of a storm. Find indoor areas for these items. Having fewer potential projectiles outside can help to reduce the damage to the surrounding buildings.

Test the Generator

If you have a generator on the property, make sure you test it to make sure it is in good working order before the storm hits. If the power were to go out, you don’t want to suddenly find out that your generator doesn’t work.

These are some of the simplest and best tips for helping to get an HOA ready for hurricane season so it can come through safely. If you want to know more about ways to improve your HOA, get in touch with us today.

By: PeytonBolin, PL

Responsibilities of a Board Member

Responsibilities of a Board Member

Members of a community association board face many challenges in the execution of their general responsibilities. It’s a hard and sometimes thankless job with many complications:

  • The board members themselves are often volunteers, with plenty of other demands on their time
  • Their “bosses” are their friends and neighbors, living in the same community, creating an environment that can be too casual to be productive
  • And sometimes, these friends and neighbors may have their own assumptions of the roles and responsibilities of a board member, pressuring board members to act outside of their area of authority

That’s why it’s essential to set clear expectations from the outset, in the association’s governing documents. But governance can seem overwhelming to the new board member. So WPM Real Estate Management has developed the following outline of board responsibilities as a guide for all community association boards.

Responsibility #1: Complying with governing documents and state law

It is the board’s responsibility to know, understand and adhere to both the bylaws of the association’s governing documents, as well as the state laws that pertain to association authority. The board must enforce the rules of the governing documents. They often have leeway in determining how fines and other punitive actions are applied.

Responsibility #2: Maintaining shared spaces

General upkeep, repairs and beautification of common areas are all responsibilities of the board. Successful boards work hard to control the costs of maintaining these spaces through strategic planning. One way fiscally responsible boards manage cost is by securing multiple bids for maintenance services. They also conduct periodic inspections in order to catch maintenance issues before they become a more expensive problem. And truly savvy boards map out a plan for replacing aging structures without putting unnecessary last-minute strains on the association’s budget.

Because this is the board’s most visible area of responsibility, board members often find themselves receiving unsolicited advice and a steady stream of requests pertaining to the upkeep of common areas. It can be tempting to cave to the demands of the loudest voices of the membership. However, a good board is careful to prioritize repair and maintenance work based on what is in the best interest of the entire community, and what makes prudent sense from a financial perspective.

Responsibility #3: Creating the budget and collecting homeowners’ fees

Budgeting is obviously imperative. Board members must meet and review past actual costs and reconcile anticipated expenses with the anticipated income from homeowners’ fees.

The board must also be certain to allocate a reasonable cash reserve. These funds are available to cover emergencies, unscheduled repairs and replacements, and revenue lost due to members who fail to pay their obligations.

Finally, it is the board’s responsibility to collect homeowners’ fees. Failure of one member to pay negatively affects the entire association. Therefore, boards are permitted to pursue delinquent members via the means outlined in the bylaw provisions (e.g., liens, personal lawsuits which could include garnishing wages or bank accounts), or in court.

Responsibility #4: Serving the owners in a fiscally responsible manner according to sound business principles

Board members have a fiduciary duty to their homeowners in the same way directors of a publically traded company do to their shareholders. The board has been entrusted with the community’s funds and is expected to manage these funds using sound business judgment. This means that board members will make rational, informed decisions in good faith that provide the maximum benefit to the entire association. Good business judgment is not motivated by personal gain, revenge or other negative intentions.

Responsibility #5: Electing members and recording board business

The board must keep owners aware of its actions which may include posting meeting minutes.  The owners are invited them to participate in the process of electing board members and typically the Board elects their officers.

The responsibilities of board membership can seem daunting to new board member. But making an investment in your community and having an active voice in its success and sustainability offers rewards that more than offset the investment.

By: WPM Real Estate Management

Isn’t the Association a Business, too?

Is your Community Association a business? In many respects, the answer is yes. Most Homeowner Associations (HOAs) and Condominiums are founded as a corporation formed by the property developer as a State requirement of marketing and selling the homes in the subdivision. Once a pre-determined number of HOA lots or Condo units have been sold and a community of Owners has been established, the legal responsibilities of managing the Association are transferred to the Homeowners.

Regardless of who is in control, the legal entity of the Association operates as a not for profit, non-revenue generating business although often with sizeable budgets. Its governance is overseen by a Board of Directors, whose members are elected by the Owners and each Board member holds a fiduciary responsibility to look out for the welfare of the entire community. Further, its goal is to operate according to sound business principles that make the best use of the revenues contributed as fees by homeowners. In many cases, an outside professional firm, such as WPM Real Estate Management, assists the Association with its responsibilities.

At the same time, Community Associations differ from a for-profit business in several important ways. First, their boards are often all-volunteer and comprised of owners who are peers with the other property owners they govern. While not required to, many Board members live within the community, side-by-side with the neighbors about whose affairs they make decisions. And so, Board members need to be especially diligent to make decisions based on sound business principles, not clouded by personal relationships. Further, a Board’s goal is not to create revenue, but to maximize the value of its existing assets: to preserve, protect, and enhance the properties it oversees.

So what is the best way to govern this hybrid organization? Despite the obvious ways that the association differs from a business, it still behooves board members and owners to operate the HOA/Condo according to sound business principles. And according to WPM’s President of Association Management, Barry Yatovitz, that starts with the budget which is approved by the board at the beginning of each fiscal year. Careful attention to monthly and yearly financial statements and their variances from the budget is imperative. Understanding the funds under management is the first step for strategizing current and future planning. And it is precisely that planning (e.g., anticipating the need for upgrades to amenities, replacement of structures, payments to vendors and for professional services) that maintains and adds value to the Association-managed properties.

By: WPM Real Estate Management

Knowing When to File 1099’s for HOA Contractors

During this busy time of year, HOA Boards and management company employees are scrambling to get next year’s budgets in place, billing statements mailed, and other tasks completed. It can be easy to overlook certain items that are not at the top of the “end of year” list . One task that you will want to ensure you remember this time of year is providing HOA vendors with a 1099 form and filing these forms with the IRS.

If a community association, such as a condominium or homeowners association, hires an independent contractor and pays the contractor over $600.00 during the course of the year, the association is required to file a 1099-MISC form with the Internal Revenue Service. The association must also provide the contractor with the form.  These independent contractors often include HOA attorneys and landscapers, among other vendors. In addition to the $600.00 cutoff amount, three other conditions must be met:

  • The payments must be for services performed (not for goods purchased).
  • The contractor must not be an employee of the association.
  • The payments must be made to an estate, an individual, a partnership, or (in some cases) a corporation. Corporations only fall under this rule if they are providing services to the association, rather than selling products.

As long as these conditions are met, the payments are considered non-employment compensation by the IRS. This means that the association is required to send a 1099-MISC to the contractor and to file a copy with the IRS. If you are unsure on whether or not your association needs to provide a 1099-MICS to a particular vendor, the safest bet is to ask the HOA’s accountant. The deadline for providing the form to contractors is January 31st of the year after services were provided. The deadline for filing the 1099 with the IRS is:

  • March 31 if filing electronically (E-filing is recommended by the IRS)
  • February 28 if filing via paper forms

While this time of year is a demanding one for those in the association management industry, be sure that your condo, HOA, or management company remembers to file 1099’s before the deadline is up. It may not be the first task on your mind, but skipping out on vendor 1099’s could mean serious consequences for your community.

Reduce Your HOA Budget in 5 Areas

By Wise Property Solutions

Unforeseen expenses can crop up anytime throughout the year, and these can make you start looking for ways to tighten your homeowners association’s belt. You need to stay on budget to keep the community running smoothly, but you must make changes to do that. If your Board is looking for ways to stretch the budget, there are several areas to look at closely. Here are a few ideas.

1. Discuss Options with Your Insurance Agent. Insurance is usually a Community’s largest expense, and it’s important that you have the right coverage in place. But, there are a lot of changes in the insurance world, so it makes sense to keep the lines of communication open with your insurance agent. Do at least an annual review of your insurance to make sure that the Association has the right coverage at the right price.

2. Examine your utilities. Water and electricity are usually the second largest expense. Is your Board watching for major hikes that can indicate a problem? Have you switched to light bulbs that use less electricity in all your commons areas. The savings you can realize from catching routine problems is worth a little research time.

3. Negotiate lower contract rates. If your Board oversees contract workers, ask about lower prices. There’s a lot to be said for staying with the same vendor because you know the quality of their work. But, don’t forget that competition can impact pricing, so explore bids from multiple companies.

4. Reduce contractors/staff. Analyze where you are using staff and contractors in common areas such as clubhouse, pool, or grounds. Can you reduce operational hours to save money? Are there automation products that can offer a savings to the Association such as motion sensors instead of guards? Look to balance your cost with what’s best for the community as a whole.

5. Focus on necessities. The board can find ways to cut back such as less landscaping or refurbishing the clubhouse. However, you have to separate the wants from the necessities. While you may not have to renovate some of the commons areas, you need to continue regular maintenance. Some Associations cut back on funding reserves when faced with tightening the budget. However, we don’t suggest doing that because it isn’t good for fiscal responsibility, current owners or for potential buyers who will pay for this decision in the future.

There’s a lot more to budgeting that just these few tips. Your property management company is familiar with your budget, so discuss your options with them. They know how to keep your assessment fees low while maintaining the quality of your services and properties.

HOA Attorneys – Why They Are Important and How To Find One

shutterstock_179548553Retaining the services of an attorney is important for every homeowners association. Many aspects of the community’s management are dictated by the association governing documents and federal, state, and local laws must be followed. Having a good attorney who specializes in community associations can assist in ensuring compliance and in turn, preventing lawsuits. Attorneys can also aid in everything from amending CC&Rs to collections, and also provide legal representation should the HOA need it.

Why HOA attorneys are important

Retaining the services of an attorney is beneficial to homeowners associations in many ways. As legal corporations, community associations are bound by their governing documents and federal, state, and local laws. These governing documents may be difficult to understand and lawyers can assist with more difficult terms, as well as assisting in interpretation. For instance, an attorney could help a condominium association determine the maintenance responsibilities of the association, and those of the individual unit owners. A law firm can also help with making changes to the governing documents to modify everything from architectural guidelines to increasing the number of board members.

Unfortunately for many community associations, there are always homeowners who do not pay their assessments. The collections process can be handled by an attorney at the direction of the board of directors, staying within the parameters of the governing documents.

The HOA’s governing documents also list the fiduciary responsibilities of the board of directors. If a board is found to not be upholding these responsibilities or acting neglectfully, homeowners within the association may take legal action. The board of directors would then need legal representation, and in many cases a lawyer they have already retained will be able to assist.

How to find an HOA attorney

Finding an attorney who specializes in community associations may prove difficult as it is not a very popular specialty, nor is it one that is usually categorized on law firm directories. If your association utilizes a management firm, they will most likely have a relationship with one or more law firms in the area and be able to give a recommendation. Another good place to look is the service directory of your local chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI). All of the lawyers listed will be a member of the organization and have experience in community association law. Word of mouth is also a great way to find an experienced lawyer. Talk with friends and family members who have served on the Boards of other local HOAs as they may have had good experiences with a particular firm.

If there aren’t any HOA law firms in your area or you’re unable to find an attorney in these manners, there are two types of attorneys that can be of assistance. Many board members think they need to select an attorney who specializes in real estate law, however real estate law pertains to home ownership and disputes, not necessarily the same matters an HOA deals with. HOA governing documents function more as contracts, an attorney who specializes in business or contractual law is a better option for matters involving governing documents.

By retaining an attorney, homeowners associations not only protect themselves, but all of their members now and in the future.