3 Headaches Plaguing Associations Today

Managing community associations means dealing with a nonstop carousel of complaints — those that are novel, those that are evergreen and never seem to go away, and those that pop up in new or unexpected ways. Here are some of the issues currently beleaguering association managers across the country.

1. Smoking

This classic has gained new life due to a couple of recent developments. The first is the expanding legalization of marijuana. Illinois, for example, began allowing adult recreational marijuana use on Jan. 1, 2020.

“After cannabis became legal, we had a lot more complaints about smoking,” says Ken Bertolucci, president of NS Management in Skokie, Ill. “People just kind of forgot that smoking rules apply to everything, not just cigarettes. We’ve had to remind them that it applies to cannabis, cigars, pipes, etc.

“Most weren’t cigarette smokers, so they didn’t really think about it.”

Smoking complaints have also increased as a result of — wait for it — the COVID-19 pandemic. “More people are home, and they’re smoking in their units and annoying each other,” says Kevin Hirzel, managing member of Hirzel Law, a Michigan law firm the works with associations.

2. COVID-related issues

Smoking is just one example of a common issue getting a new twist because of the pandemic and the way it has changed daily life. Plumbing is another.

“We’ve had a lot more plumbing problems,” Bertolucci says. “Plumbing that isn’t usually used much during the day is really getting a workout. In many properties, we’ve had to send a notice about being careful about what they flush, especially the disinfectant wipes that people are using more, and how sensitive the plumbing is in these older buildings.”

Bertolucci also cites a problem many boards and managers have had to wrestle with already or are just tackling now in light of recent surges: mask mandates.

“Every lobby now has a sign about wearing masks in common areas, and we’ve had complaints about residents not complying. We’ve had to send reminders and be vigilant about posting notices because people tend to forget.”

Of course, some people don’t forget. They just don’t care, which leads us to the biggest frustration currently confronting Brad van Rooyen, president of HomeRiver Group-Florida, the management company for about 120 associations in the state.

3. Apathy

“My top nuisance is the apathy of owners,” he says. Persuading them to serve on the board is especially difficult. This is a nuisance, van Rooyen says, that sometimes people don’t want to admit is a problem.

“You get a board that does a really good job, and we do a good job supporting them, so there’s no real need for anybody else to get involved,” he says. “But that leaves the power for the whole community in the hands of a few people, and they forget they’re making decisions for the whole community.

“And, if something happens to one of them, either the position remains vacant because nobody wants to take it, or you get somebody off the wall, which switches the flip from apathy to division.”

Worse yet may be those who have lots of opinions but refuse to step up when given the opportunity. “They come to meetings and beat up the board and the manager,” van Rooyen says. “These are armchair quarterbacks who think they know the answer to everything.

“But when the coaching position is open and we invite them to join the board, they say they don’t want to do it.”

This is one area where the pandemic actually might help provide some relief. Many managers have reported increased attendance at meetings now that they’re held via Zoom or a similar virtual platform. Managers and boards should take advantage of the heightened participation to recruit additional or future volunteers.

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