Homeowners association politics can be a confusing subject. But, it is necessary to familiarize yourself with the different board member roles, the process of conflict resolution, how to make decisions wisely, and how to deal with resignations or removals. Whether you are considering running for a position on the board or already are a board member, you must know how to navigate the HOA politics encompassing the role.
In a lot of ways, homeowners associations are like states or countries. Instead of a single individual holding most of the power, though, associations are governed by an HOA board of directors. But, what authority does an HOA have?
Every homeowners association has a set of governing documents that lay down what the HOA can and can’t do. These documents also state what obligations and limitations both the association and its members have toward each other. The HOA board is responsible for making sure these documents are followed, all in the name of the community’s best interest.
But, what positions make up the HOA board? It can vary from association to association, though it generally consists of four central roles. And, managing HOA politics requires an understanding of the duties of each of these roles.
The President leads the board and the community in all matters. Some HOA President duties include running meetings, executing contracts, and acting as the main point of contact between the board and the HOA management company.
The Vice President assumes the role of President when the latter is, for any reason, unavailable. As such, the Vice President must know how to handle the responsibilities of the President.
When the President is present, though, the role of the Vice President can vary depending on the association. Some HOAs put the VP in charge of handling committees. Others have more specific duties outlined within their bylaws.
The Secretary fulfills many HOA responsibilities, including setting meeting agendas (with the President), recording meeting minutes, and sending notices to homeowners. In addition, the Secretary maintains the association’s records and co-signs important documents with the President.
The Treasurer is in charge of all things financial. They oversee HOA finances, prepare budgets, and lead finance committees. Because the role involves specialized work, it is best to have a member with knowledge or experience in financial management fill the position. Accountants and business professionals are usually good choices.
It is important to remember that the exact duties and responsibilities of each role can change depending on the association. But, what remains consistent is the HOA board’s fiduciary duties to the community. If you don’t know what your fiduciary obligations are, here is a crash course on all three:
As with any other organization, homeowners associations are not impervious to conflict. Whether it is between board members, homeowners, or a combination of the two, conflicts can arise on a regular basis. When faced with such a challenge, you, as a board member, must know how to resolve it.
The first step towards effective conflict or dispute resolution is to recognize the other person’s concerns and opinions. Let them explain their side of the story and make sure they know that you understand what they are saying.
The next step is to apologize, even if that apology is not necessarily because you are admitting you are at fault. Oftentimes, people just need to hear “I’m sorry” from the other person to calm them down. Apologize for the misunderstanding or for the way they are feeling right now. Make sure to listen to what the other person has to say and really try to empathize with them.
If a homeowner is complaining to you about something, let them know that you have noted their concern. Tell them you will discuss the issue with your fellow board members at the soonest. Thank them for bringing the matter to your attention so that you can end the interaction on a positive note.
Then, include the concern in your agenda for the next board meeting. If the issue is urgent, perhaps you can meet earlier. Before coming to a decision, make sure to look at the matter from all sides. Think about the long-term effects of your decision.
Ideally, you should reach a decision that works for all parties involved but is still within the community’s best interest. That may not always happen, though, so you should also be prepared to make tough decisions that might not make you popular.
Most of the conflicts that arise in a community have to do with the decisions that HOA boards pass. Making tough decisions for the betterment of the HOA is one thing, but making unpopular decisions as a result of poor judgment is outright despicable for an HOA board to do. Here are some tips to make sure you practice good decision-making at board meetings:
First of all, you should always check your state laws and governing documents. Not only will this help you stick to the proper procedures, but it will also ensure your board stays out of legal trouble.
Your state laws and governing documents should consist of guidelines telling you how to do certain things such as giving appropriate notice of board meetings and establishing quorums. For instance, California law requires HOAs to provide notices of the time and place of board meetings at least four days prior (unless governing documents say longer). If you fail to uphold such guidelines, homeowners may have the ability to challenge the decisions you make at these meetings.
A meeting agenda outlines the different topics you must talk about during the meeting itself. Make sure to create an agenda ahead of time so that homeowners will know what topics will be discussed. Many associations also need to include the agenda when sending out meeting notices.
During the meeting proper, see to it that you stick to the agenda as closely as you can. This will establish a sense of order and control so that none of your meetings fall victim to chaos. Agendas also ensure your meetings are kept short and streamlined.
Committees can help lighten the load that board members must carry. They can handle smaller tasks and, since they usually have a more hands-on take on issues, offer more in-depth ideas as well. Of course, committees should not have the final say. The board will still need to make the final call on all association matters.
Aside from committee members, it is worth setting aside time for homeowners to speak their minds. Make sure to include a time for an open forum so that residents can voice their opinions on various agenda items. In doing so, you can open the floor to fresh ideas or perspectives that you would have otherwise neglected.
Open forums can sometimes be risky, though, since they take up time and give homeowners an opportunity to rant. To counteract this, provide each resident with a time limit and have rules that prohibit aggressive behavior.
You may feel tempted to schedule meetings at a board member’s house, but this is a slippery slope. HOA boards must conduct meetings in a professional way, so it is best to avoid places that might turn them into social gatherings where the focus is divided. You should also avoid serving alcohol at meetings as that can impair your judgment.
If you find that you need to remove yourself from the HOA board for whatever reason, you must follow the proper steps. You can’t just drop everything and leave without a word.
Some board members resign, but others need to be removed. This usually happens when there is a problem member on your HOA board and is a natural part of HOA politics.
Your governing documents should tell you everything you need to know about the removal process. Usually, this will involve a vote from the membership.
Most bylaws don’t require HOAs to have a cause for removal. That means residents can just vote on the removal of a board member as they please. Your bylaws will also dictate whether or not you need to hold a special meeting for the vote to take place.
If your bylaws require a special meeting, you will typically need to petition for it. Make sure to let homeowners know that the special meeting is for the removal of a board member. Your bylaws should also state how many signatures you need for the petition to carry.
After securing the signatures you need, you will then need to inform all homeowners of the special meeting. This notice should include the time and place of the special meeting. Remember to follow your bylaws on the notice requirements such as how many days prior you should send the notice and the method of notice distribution.
Don’t forget to let the board member in question know about the upcoming vote. Inform them of the special meeting taking place to decide on their removal. You may find it difficult to write this letter, but it is a necessary step.
Finally, at the special meeting, make sure to give the problem board member an opportunity to defend themselves. The membership will then take a vote.
Being a board member is certainly hard because of the HOA politics involved. But, the board remains a crucial component of any homeowners association and, thus, plays an integral role in its success.
Do you need an HOA management company to make your job as a board member easier? Start with our online directory to help you find the right company in your area.