The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) was amended in 1988 to add protections for individuals with disabilities. But despite the length of time that these laws have been around, there’s still misinformation and confusion about how they apply to associations and their members, versus public spaces or private spaces that are accessible by members of the public. In general, the ADA applies to public spaces, and the Fair Housing Act applies to private spaces, such the interiors of members’ units.
Although one of the draws to community association living for many owners is the uniform aesthetic of homes and the ability to control fairly tightly changes that could be unsightly, sometimes homeowners want to make changes. Even if the architectural review board has approved certain changes, an owner might be tempted to stray from this if she thinks that the substitution for what has been approved is only slightly different. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a small variation would preclude the association from taking action.
Despite the fact that board member positions within a community association are voluntary, many members take them seriously—and sometimes become personally invested. That could create controversy when, as sometimes happens to comply with the law, association boards must be restructured. If you find yourself in the position of having to deliver the news and help with the restructure, you could be faced with accusations by board members that you’re improperly trying to oust them for your own motives.
Inevitably, in any homeowners association or condominium, there will be community-related conflicts. The bad news for associations when a dispute arises is that going to court can be extremely expensive, and the association might end up paying for litigation costs in the end. The good news when a homeowners association is asked to resolve conflicts is that there are ways to avoid costly legal battles: Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) can address issues that don’t truly require a trip to court.
As the manager of a homeowners association, you’ll inevitably have to evaluate requests for accommodation from members. A common request is for support animals—that is, animals that provide support for all types of disabilities, including emotional support. Unfortunately, there may be claims of discrimination if requests are denied. In some cases, associations that have been scared by these claims have ultimately tried to avoid litigation by giving in and granting the request after a drawn-out process.
A white man who challenged a black family’s use of a gated pool in a North Carolina planned community resigned from the homeowner’s association board. After the board member, who also was the community pool chairman, asked a mother and her son to produce identification verifying that they were residents of the community, a verbal altercation began. The board member called the police, who diffused the situation.
Proper and timely maintenance of every feature in a planned community or condominium is key to keeping things running smoothly. But members will inevitably have a wide range of attitudes toward their own maintenance obligations. On one end of the spectrum will be members who understand that, depending on the governing documents, they have maintenance obligations that are not the responsibility of the association. On the other end, you’ll encounter members who either don’t understand their obligations or don’t take them seriously.
Q: The board of the association I manage is trying to reduce costs for operating the community. One way to do this would be to drop an insurance policy for specific risks, like flooding. What is the risk for the association of not providing this type of insurance?
A New York community association is facing a discrimination lawsuit brought in federal court by Jewish members of the community who say that the association is hostile to their religious practices. According to the members, the association has adopted rules that are “expressly designed to harass Hasidic Jews.”
Reducing the waste that a community association and its residents create is one of the most important aspects of responsible and sustainable property management.