Associations, whether large or small, depend heavily on money to operate. Every aspect of keeping a community safe and running smoothly has a cost associated with it. Too often, associations make the news for negative financial reasons—fraud, bankruptcy, or other shortfalls that disrupt the community. However, an association that’s being run effectively combined with a strong local economy could have more money than expected. That’s great news for the association, but it creates the question of how that budgetary surplus should be used.
If the board of directors of the community association you manage has the authority to approve or deny proposed leasing and sales transactions, you might be wondering whether, if there is a denial, you should disclose the reasons behind it. And, if so, what is the best way.
One of the major draws of association living is the aesthetics of the community—specifically, the ability to compel owners to keep their properties well maintained. But, unfortunately, in your management of a planned community, you’ll have to deal with owners who don’t follow architectural review board guidelines or don’t keep up their properties with proper maintenance. There may be pressure from the board or homeowners to crack down on violations.
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.