For an association, its board of directors, or manager, there is never a good time for a lawsuit. If the association has been forced to sue a member due to chronic rule violations or unpaid assessments, it can lead to expensive and protracted litigation. And if the association is being sued, it faces those same problems. But in the case of a discrimination claim by a member, statutory fines and governmental involvement also pile on. A discrimination lawsuit additionally carries with it the potential to damage your community’s reputation.
Regardless of how well you manage a condominium building or planned community, inevitably, some homeowners will complain. Not everyone will agree on decisions that are made. And the way in which associations operate—homeowners live essentially under the rule of elected leaders—can breed resentment. Sometimes, complaints are well founded, but it’s not surprising that others are mean-spirited or have no basis in fact.
If your community is like most, you rely on a variety of outside contractors or vendors to perform services. For example, landscaping, plumbing, or electrical work are commonly farmed out to vendors who send their own choice of workers. This means that individuals will be in your community whom you don’t know anything about—and who potentially don’t respect the association’s members or rules.
For many members, the upside of community association living is the ability to have some control over their lifestyle by agreeing to comply with rules aimed at creating a pleasant environment. Governing documents and bylaws that set rules and expectations for peaceful living and provide mechanisms to enforce compliance—like fines—go a long way toward keeping things in check. But unlike cut-and-dried infractions, such as painting a home in a color that isn’t in the association’s color palette, “noise” is highly subjective.
Although members on an association’s board of directors are volunteers, their roles in the operation of the community are important. Mistakes by board members can lead to liability for the association. But sometimes, especially if they are roped into serving on the board, members don’t understand the functions of their positions and the best way to carry out their responsibilities.
Whether you manage a planned community or a condominium building, issues with the board can take up your time and create frustration among owners who just want things to run smoothly. One of those issues could be assembling a board to begin with. In some scenarios, owners may be clamoring to serve on the board. That’s good news: It indicates that members of the community are invested in and want to be involved in the successful operation of the association.
Association living requires a collaborative effort to ensure safety, uniform aesthetics, shared common amenities and activities, and maintenance that make the community a desirable place to call home. The day-to-day focus of homeowners, the community association manager, and the board might center on their roles in keeping the community running smoothly—abiding by the governing documents, quickly dealing with problems that pop up, and making decisions that affect the community, respectively.
A selling point of association living is that the community’s or condominium building’s appearance will be maintained and uniform. While control over uniformity and aesthetics plays a large role in the attraction to this type of homeownership, from time to time, a member will ask for a variance from the architectural and design rules.
Many associations allow their members to rent out their units, provided they follow association guidelines regarding how this is done. Renters can help a community by taking care of units that would otherwise sit empty, and by financially relieving a member who’s having trouble paying her mortgage or assessments and fees. But the transient nature of renters creates risks for the association. It’s hard to make renters have the same vested interest in the well-being of the community that members have.
Associations and their management companies have the same overall goal: Keep the community running smoothly so homeowners enjoy living in it. That’s easier said than done, however. Fulfilling that goal involves numerous coordinated efforts between the manager and association. The first effort is negotiating a management contract that fits the needs of both sides, which means making decisions about what items each side wants to demand or is willing to concede.