Four Must-Know Tips for Effective Homeowners Association Board Conduct
Chances are you live, or have lived in, a neighborhood that is part of a homeowners' association. These kinds of neighborhoods have become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades as a means of increasing access to recreational assets, like swimming pools and playgrounds for groups of homeowners, as well as decreasing development costs for cities while increasing tax bases. They are often characterized by smaller yards, clustered homes, and large open areas. Homeowners in these neighborhoods, as you may or may not know, are bound by special rules over and above common neighbor etiquette or city law, called Covenants, Codes, and Restrictions, or "C,C, & R's." Some people move into these neighborhoods specifically for the advantages they offer; some people move in despite them, or avoid them altogether. They can be tricky to live in as neighbors who may have nothing in common besides close proximity are forced to come together on issues of importance to the community. They can be trickier still to manage, as a member of an association board, when personalities and opinions conflict. However, there are some rules of thumb that can make that role easier.
Having lived in homeowners' associations for more than 13 years, and having served for three years on the board of our current homeowners' association, my perspective is both as a governed and governor:
How to Effectively Serve on a Homeowners Association Board
- Make sure you have a good property manager, one that is in no way connected to the developer. They need to be professional and able to handle the demands of monthly dues billing and collection, and of imposing legal consequences appropriately, so that you don't have to do the dirty work. Make sure that that property manager has a good understanding of your particular CC&R's, and is willing to arbitrate calls from residents about landscaping issues, etc.
- View your association as a democracy, and you as its temporary governor. Whether you're serving on the board to add something to your resume or because you have strong opinions about the look of your neighborhood, do not forget that your primary role is to encourage the feeling of "community" amongst your neighbors. Money spent on an annual picnic to encourage neighborhood bonding is not wasted money.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Communication also helps encourage neighborhood bonding. More importantly, it increases transparency and trust in what you're doing. Annual meetings and quarterly newsletters are a necessity in my book.
- Know the facts. Although it may seem like it goes without saying that a member of the board should know the CC&R's which they are bound to enforce, it is not uncommon for them not to have read them and to overstep them. It is even more common for homeowners not to have read the covenants to which they are bound, and to be surprised and upset when caught violating a rule they didn't know existed. So much strife could be eliminated if everyone read their CC&R's, which they are typically given when they close on their house. Even better, if you're considering moving into a neighborhood with a homeowners' association, consider asking your agent or a homeowner in that neighborhood for a copy of the CC&R's before sealing the deal.
At their best, homeowners' associations are microcosms of what makes America great: democracy. By extension, when people do not function well in these associations, either out of apathy or over-zealousness, it does not bode well for the future of our country as a whole. Effective HOA management inspires effective HOA participation, and provides practice for all in being good citizens.
Do you live in a neighborhood with an HOA? Do you like it? Why or why not?
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr.