By: Roy Helsing
Anne W. requested: “an article about how to both ensure that one’s HOA makes sure to invite members to meetings or otherwise informs them a meeting is to be held, then makes the member feel like their participation would be valuable to the association, and then how a member can benefit from participating in meetings. But this may not be a good topic, since I have never felt like my HOA really cares about what I think or whether or not I get to a meeting, a meeting that is (when I know about it, which it has been quite a while since I had awareness of a meeting) often at an inconvenient time for someone who works out of the area and who not-surprisingly has a long commute to the super-suburban community I live in. I don’t have a lot of extra time, but if I thought my participation in my HOA was of value, I would participate. Right now, frankly, the only tangible benefit I access is the dog-poop bags and trash cans provided on the walking path in my neighborhoods – which is fabulous, but I often wonder what happens to the rest of my 40 bucks each month (I do not use the pool).”
These are all good questions, Anne. One of the biggest concerns for most associations is apathy, so when a homeowner really wants to get involved it is important for both Board members and Managers to listen and to try to help that homeowner get involved. Your suggestions comprise several components and I will address each one separately.
Invitation to Meetings – All Board meetings need to be noticed at least four days in advance. Minimum legal notice is a posting in the common area. Some associations will also e-mail or mail notices in addition to posting in the common area. You should contact your management company to find out where in the common area they post, and also if you can get notices by mail or e-mail.
Participation in Meetings – and more importantly, “making the member feel like their participation would be valuable”. The first part of this is easy. By law, the association must set time aside for members to comment, so if you show up and want to speak, you get to speak. The next part, however, is more difficult because the same parts of the law that ensure you are noticed of the meeting and get a right to speak also make it almost impossible for your association to answer you or take any action at that meeting on matters you may bring forward.
So, participation in the meetings is good for homeowners who want to say things like “I would like to suggest the Board consider adopting a rule to ban go-carts in the streets for safety reasons.” While the board can take no action at that particular meeting, if it is a good suggestion they can schedule that item for discussion and action at a later meeting.
However, the member comment period during the meeting is not a good time to get dialog going on “How can we beautify the common area and let’s talk about why you planted the plants that are there now.” The Board should not be responding to those questions – although it could tell you how you can join the landscape committee if there is one.
Other ways to get involved – You can always write the Board a letter (or send them an e-mail) with your suggestions. Letters addressed to the Board are always sent to the Board. You can also ask what committees exist and ask to be part of one. If your interest does not have a committee, you could volunteer to chair one. Some committees have great authority in some associations, and some only advise the Board; but in any case serving on a committee will allow you to become involved – and communities work best when there is homeowner involvement. All too often the membership, and the Board, forgets that the community is the homeowners – not some other entity outside of the homeowners.
Boards that don’t want homeowner involvement – These are Boards you should elect out of office. It is hard enough being on a Board when there is involvement by volunteers, but thankless when you get no support from the community. Boards should encourage volunteers and others that simply want to get involved. After all, the association is its membership. Keep in mind, however, that the Board you elect has a fiduciary duty and some legal risk, so it is not simply a “majority rule” situation. It is easy to volunteer and take strong positions if you have no personal liability. The Board needs to weigh its duties and risk into the decision making process. Well-meaning volunteers do not.
What happens to your $40 a month? – I can’t be of much help here. I would recommend you look at the budget and you should see it called out by line item. Homeowners often forget that the association’s mere existence has a huge cost to it, including liability insurance, property insurance, directors and officers insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, fidelity insurance, bookkeeping costs, taxes, and civil code compliance. On a 200 unit association, this is the better part of $50 per unit per month alone, and even on larger communities may equal $20 to $25 per unit per month. Often the actual costs to fulfill the responsibility for which an association exists (do the landscaping, maintain a pool, etc.) are far less than the costs of the legal requirements that must be met just to exist in this state.
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