How to Stay Neutral as an HOA During Election Time

Election season is in full swing, and it’s usually expected to see people supporting their political views publicly, often in the form of yard signs, flags, or car stickers. And while it’s of course fine to have members in your HOA with passionate and opposing views, you also want to make sure everyone sticks to your HOA’s rules related to this.

Know Your CC&Rs

So, are members in your HOA allowed to post political signs in their yards? That can depend on your state and your rules. In some states, HOAs have to allow political signs, but they have to be restricted to a certain size. Others prohibit them completely. Encourage each owner to understand your state’s and HOA’s specific rules before putting up anything about the election outside their home.

And of course, make sure you as a board understand the rules so you can relay them to any owners who ask. And always be sure that the board and HOA as a whole sustains a completely neutral bias during each campaign election. You can, however, encourage homeowners to go out and vote.

And remember that if your CC&Rs conflict with the law, the law does take priority. If you have any questions or doubt about what to follow, speak with your attorney and call on your HOA manager to help you deal with any conflicts of interest among members.

Remain Unbiased Online Too

Remember that there shouldn’t be any leanings towards one political view or another on anything related to HOA business, including the HOA website, social media accounts, and (online and offline) newsletters.

Finally, send out reminders to owners during each election season about what is and isn’t allowed, and encourage everyone to remain respectful of their neighbors’ opinions. We all know politics can get heated, and it’s important to maintain the sense of community among HOA neighbors despite any conflicting views.

What to Do When Board Members Turn Against Your HOA

Those part of a homeowners association must put a lot of trust in the HOA’s board members for holding up the success of the association and being good leaders. But what do you do if things don’t go so smoothly behind the scenes? What if some of your board members don’t see eye-to-eye — or worse yet, what if they start to rebel against the association?

Board Responsibilities

As an HOA board member, you’re responsibilities to the association are vast. Taking on the board position means you have a fiduciary duty to make choices that positively affect the association those who are members of it. It also means setting personal interests aside, protecting the confidentiality of owners, and always make decisions on the board within the law and for the betterment of the association in every aspect.

First and foremost, it’s important for each board member to understand their duties at all times so there’s no confusion about what’s expected. The problem happens when board members understand their duties and responsibilities yet choose to not fulfill them.

Examples of Board Member Problems

It might start with a board member wanting to hire contractors for the HOA just because they know them — even if the workers aren’t the properly insured or aren’t the best price for the association. Or maybe another member complains about every decision made that wasn’t his or her suggestion until the rest of the board members are worn down. Or, heaven forbid, sometimes several board members have even banded together to rebel against the association. For example, they might decide not to pay their monthly maintenance fee.

What You Can Do

If you have board members who have gone to the dark side and just aren’t serving their duties anymore, it’s time to take action. Talk to your HOA manager, and if the problem is just with one board member, they can consult with your other directors and come to a decision that best serves the association’s interest. Sometimes the other board members will just need a reminder that the offending board member doesn’t hold the full authority to act as they are. Ultimately, you can come to a vote to remove the member who isn’t upholding their duties.

As an HOA board member, you’ve hopefully experienced mostly great fellow board members who care about their association. But if that’s not the case, know that you can take action if needed. And hiring a homeowners association management company can help too.

3 Common Communication Problems for HOAs Without a Manager

One of the biggest challenges faced by an HOA can be communication with members, and board members will often turn to an HOA management company to help. Since most HOA board members are volunteers using their free time for running the association, it’s easy to feel like the work is not appreciated if members aren’t involved in community meetings and events. And usually, board members are having to focus on bigger issues than member involvement.

HOA CommunicationIf your association is having some of these problems too, here are some ways to handle them and make sure communication remains effective:

1. Members Not Attending Meetings

Members are less likely to show up to a meeting if they aren’t specifically told about it and invited. It’s easy to feel like you aren’t welcome to something if you don’t receive notice or “get permission” to show up.

To ensure owners know they are welcome at meetings, you can create flyers to put on the doors of all members or deliver the invites by hand. Also, send out a mass email letting everyone know you’d love to see them at the meetings and get their input. You can even make phone calls to members.

And make the meetings a welcoming and enjoyable experience by having food and beverages. You can also set up an incentive for attendance, such as giveaways or contest drawings.

2. Members Not Reading Rules

Sadly, the majority of residents will not fully read the governing documents when they move into the community. Therefore, it’s important to remind them. Attached your HOA’s rules and regulations to emails sent to members, and reference them in each correspondence.

3. Members Not Staying Involved

Residents will be more apathetic and feel less connected to the neighborhood if they aren’t involved. Help encourage involvement by creating compelling communication, such as a well-made newsletter that discusses positive aspects of the community. Mention the day-to-day processes of the community and make them aware of ways they can be involved with the HOA and other residents. Make sure you are being as open and honest as possible about the workings of the community.

Also, make an effort to engage with members briefly when you see them in the community. This will help those in the community know they are heard and care about for their role as a resident and HOA member.

Communication is an aspect of homeowners association management that is too-often overlooked—and can easily become a problem if not realized soon enough. If you feel your HOA is struggling with communication, an HOA management company can help you get back on track.

6 Ways to Improve Your HOA Board Meetings

By: Barrera and Company

1. Select a mutually convenient location. Your community club house is ideal but a nearby restaurant, school or church might work also. Keep in mind, you’ll need table space and a semi-quite environment. Keep it close to home for a better turn out.

2. Always be prepared. Never wing it. Help others do the same by creating and dispersing the agenda well before the meeting. Keep in mind – meetings are for making decisions. Everything else should be kept to a minimum.

3. Bring your association documents – especially the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). Any other supporting documentation such as Bylaws or additional Rules and Regulations may prove useful as well. It’s best to keep all these documents together and never leave home without them. You can never be too prepared.

4. All for questions. When allowing association members to attend meetings, be sure to set clear expectations that all comments / questions will be held until the end of the meeting. You want to be inclusive but don’t lose control of your board meeting. Remember – the goal is to make decisions, not argue.

5. End each meeting with a wrap-up – it should include action items and meeting minutes so everyone is prepared for the next meeting. Always share both items with the entire association within 2-3 weeks of the meeting.

6. Never allow alcohol, small children, or pets at the meeting. We love parties, kids and pets as much as the next guy but they have no place in a board meeting. Again, making decisions efficiently and effectively is the name of the game.

Developing The Annual Calendar

iStock_000022164657XSmall-400-x-380-300x285One of the most important roles of the Board of Directors for a community association is to establish the direction of the association and allocate the necessary resources.  Most of this work is done through the approval of your annual budget, which many of you just completed for 2013. The resources you have available to allocate in this process include both dollars and human resources.  Dollars take the form of the assessments you collect for operations and reserves, and human resources are the time required of your community management team, the board and other volunteers.  One way to assure that you use these resources wisely is to create an annual plan also referred to as an Annual Calendar.

Used effectively, Annual Calendars become the road map for management to control operations and for volunteers to manage deadlines for community functions.  It becomes the single-source of all of the critical events, activities, compliance and renewal dates for the year.

Following is a sample listing of items found in an Annual Calendar:

  • Meeting Dates (Board Meetings, Committee Meetings and the Annual Members meeting)
  • Routine Preventative Maintenance (gutter cleaning, equipment service, carpet cleaning)
  • Reserve Projects  (replacement of common area components)
  • Facilities Open and Closing Dates (swimming pools)
  • Election milestones (call for candidates, mailing of election materials, meeting  plan)
  • Budget Preparation Cycle
  • Insurance Policy Renewal Dates & Milestones
  • Common Area Inspection Schedule
  • Social Events
  • Newsletter Publication Dates

The intent is to note key dates and events, however the details will generally be found in other documents.

In addition to the operational benefits of having all of the community priorities noted in one location it can also serve as an effective communication tool.  Think about the time you spend at board meetings explaining to members the current priorities or defending a scheduled expense.  If you publish the calendar, and have it available on the association’s website, everyone in the community will know what they can expect during the year and they’ll know that the funds for all the activities published in the calendar have been included in the approved budget.

So, with the approval of the budget fresh in your mind, and the beginning of a new year less than a month away, now is the time to get that annual calendar completed.  Not only will it help you track your accomplishments, but it will improve communication between the board and the members of the association.

The Role of an HOA Board Member

It’s that time of year again… new members have just been elected to serve on their Board of Directors. With this comes the election of officers and thus a new tone is set for the Association.

Each new Board member brings a dynamic to the meeting that sets the tone for the operation of the Association. These new volunteers are, most of the time, homeowners who have a vested interest in the protection of their property values and the direction the community takes into the future. Each of them can make their role as important as they choose and become as involved in the Association operations as they desire.

The President obviously presides over the meetings and typically works closely with the Association’s manager. This role is an important one and usually the one that is most clearly defined. We all know that the President “runs the ship” at the Board meetings and takes a prominent lead with the attitude of the Board of Directors, which at times, can be a reflection upon the rest of the Community. It is primarily the President’s role to be the liaison with the management agent and this person can often be called upon in an emergency to make a quick decision. The President should be the solid voice of reason for the Community and extend a neighborly hand when tragedy or the unexpected strike the Community. Sometimes it is the President who leads by example and gets involved with the “Community Clean Up” day, for example. Clearly, this role is the most well established and easily determined role for the Board to recognize and respect.

The Vice President serves the role as President in the event the President is not available. However, other responsibilities for this position remain up to the person holding it. It could be the easy thing to do to sit and wait for something to happen and to jump up when called upon – – but as leaders of the community, it is important to set an example. So while the Vice President may not take center stage at the Board meetings, this role as well as the others can be equally as important as that of the President.

The Secretary and Treasurer are sometimes combined into one position or separated depending upon the requirement in the governing documents as well as the preference of the Board. The Secretary holds the responsibility of ensuring adequate notice is provided for meetings, quorum requirements have been met and the minutes of the meeting are adequately taken and maintained. The responsibility that comes with this role is not something to be taken lightly as the records of the Association are precious. It is a necessity to ensure that notices are sent in compliance with not only the governing documents of the Association but also the state requirements as well.

The Treasurer reviews the Association’s financial records, ensures timely payment of invoices, and makes necessary investments of the Association’s funds. The Treasurer also takes a lead role in the development of the financial budget. Clearly the importance of this role should not be overlooked. However, Treasurers may not become as involved with the financial operations of an Association if they don’t feel comfortable in this arena. On the other hand, the complete opposite may occur wherein the Treasurer becomes too involved or advises management of certain practices that could be completely out of line with appropriate business practices. Selecting a treasurer with an accounting background and good business judgment is essential.

In all cases, it is necessary for management to play an active role in the direction the Board takes and to help guide and direct the Association along the best path. Usually, Boards recognize the value of having professionals handle their day to day operations and of being in a position to offer their community the very best in experience and wisdom.

Each of the above roles can be as prevalent and responsive as the amount of effort one puts into them. The newly elected board member can take the position and run with it or not, but in all cases, the expertise of the management staff should be fully utilized. Such guidance is invaluable and a professional manager recognizes that there is nothing more important to an association member than protecting one’s home.

Heather Graham, CMCA, PCAM

President & CEO
Community Management Corporation

Helpful Tips When Preparing To Attend Board Meetings

Every association has board meetings, and every resident of that association is allowed and welcome to attend these meetings, if there has been public notice (usually with a postcard or noted on the HOA’s website). All residents are not only encouraged to read the prior meeting’s approved minutes once available, they also should observe and actively participate. All meetings of the association board are open and residents who wish to address the board are welcome to do so during the homeowner forum conducted at the beginning of each business meeting. Here are few tips for participating in your association’s meetings:

1. Put it in writing

You will get the best response if you put your questions or opinions in writing prior to the meeting. This isn’t mandatory, but it helps you and the board. Some issues may require a little research by the manager. Also, the board can serve you better if members havetime to consider your concern.

2. Call ahead

As a courtesy, the association asks that you phone and let the manager know that you wish to address the board. This also allows them to notify you if a meeting is cancelled for any reason.

3. Plan your remarks to last no longer than five minutes

Board members enjoy visiting with residents; however, the meeting agenda is always very full, and the five-minute limit ensures that all business gets conducted. This doesn’t mean big issues can’t be presented. If your concern requires more time, please summarize it in five minutes, and the board will add it to the agenda for the next meeting.

4. Don’t expect an immediate response

Board members don’t act independently. All issues require discussion and sometimes a vote. Sometimes an immediate answer is possible, but it’s just as likely that you won’t get a response until after the meeting.

5. If you need information, call the manager

The purpose of the Homeowner Forum is for residents to share opinions and concerns with the board. Residents seeking general information (like a status report on a project or the board’s position on an issue) can get a more immediate answer from the manager.

The HOA Election is Over, So What’s Next?

The ballots have been counted and the new board has been chosen.  Immediately following the board member acceptance of their new Board of Directors positions, it’s time for business.

Immediate Decisions

The first step is immediate – the community manager officially opens the organizational meeting, allowing the board members an opportunity to choose who will serve as officers of the association.  In most cases, there are only four officer positions: president, vice-president, treasurer and secretary. But in some cases the governing documents allow for an assistant treasurer or assistant secretary to fill in the position if the officer is unavailable.  These additional roles play an important part, but as assistants, they do not have voting power and will not count toward quorum of the board.

The next important piece of business is to determine the signors on the bank accounts. The manager should provide a new set of signature cards with a Corporate Resolution to be signed at that meeting. Most banks require copies of driver’s licenses with the submission of the new signatures as well as a copy of the minutes from the Annual and the Organization meeting.

Review and Communication

During the first week of the new board of directors, many items should be reviewed, including existing contracts, delinquencies, financials and any immediate problems for the association.  It’s also important to take advantage of the momentum of the election and begin communicating with homeowners.  An introduction letter announcing the names of the board should be sent out either by the board president or the association manager. This letter is a great opportunity to relate the board’s goals for the association in the short term and in the future.

To make sure everyone is on the same page and of singular focus, the new board president and other board members, if they chose, should schedule appointments with their association management company (if they have one), the association attorney, accountant and insurance agent and any contract vendors they may have. It’s also imperative for board liaisons to standing association committees meet with their committees and discuss the future of the committee.

One of the most important aspects of serving on a board is the opportunity to communicate. When an association has communication, rumors and complaints are few. Newsletters, websites, unit owners education seminars, small get-togethers and other events are all ways to increase communication.

Serving on a board of directors in an association is a volunteer position, a selfless task.  You can either be treated as royalty or as an employee but either way you have accepted a fiduciary responsibility to protect the association, ensure wise spending, and maintain the value of the property by regular maintenance and no “Band-Aid” repairs.

What it Takes

Be prepared to make all types of decisions. You have an obligation to act in the best interest of all owners in your association, who elected you to represent them.  It is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses in your community, to work within the parameters of the budget, to know your governing documents, and to be consistent in your actions and decisions. Board members are humans; they may make a mistake, but should always practice full disclosure.

An ideal Board Member:

  • Has a general interest in the community as a whole;
  • Is able to look at the big picture;
  • Can differentiate between pet peeves and major problems;
  • Is not interested in actually managing the community, but allows the Manager and staff to do their jobs and works as a team with fellow board members;
  • Never makes a decision based on their own likes or dislikes but rather on what is best for the community;
  • Must be willing to give a reasonable amount of time to devote to being a director;
  • Understands that majority rules and no one board member can make decisions alone.

A good mission statement, for any board of directors:  Practice justice in governing, be prudent in business decisions and search for harmony in the community.

Joanne L. Willoughby, CMCA, AMS, PCAM
Vice President
Association Services of Florida, AAMC