Most of us appreciate the need for a governing authority, within a community, to maintain uniform and equitable standards. These standards are meant to assist in providing harmony within the community. While all those reasons sound simple the administration and enforcement of covenants and policies is far from straight forward. One of the main factors that can influence the success of a community is definitely the actions of its board. Homeowners Association boards are volunteer groups voted for and comprised of homeowners. Volunteering at its best can be a thankless job, especially when volunteering means you will be in some part responsible for collecting money from your neighbors or telling them what they can or cannot do with the homes they own. Many boards lack the tactical and personal relations skills to effectively communicate with homeowners in establishing the values of the decisions they make in regards to policy. Even the best of boards can’t circumvent human nature or the unwillingness of home buyers to read their covenants prior to buying a home within a community. With all those pitfalls there are still definitive steps a board can take towards successful communication with the homeowners they represent.
Maintain Transparency. Boards often make the mistake of not having regular meetings involving homeowners. Homeowners have both a right and a need to stay abreast of decisions made by an HOA board. One way to earn the distrust of the homeowners a board represents is to keep them in the dark until they get a notice of a special assessment. While boards do need to make decisions and depending on the bylaws and governing documentation have the authority to do so it does not justify leaving homeowners out of the loop. It’s never a bad idea for boards to communicate with homeowners on a regular basis with newsletters, emails, and regular meetings. Before major decisions in policy or finances are made, it is wise to poll your community. While boards many times must make unpopular decisions in the pursuit of their fiduciary responsibilities, the cooling off period can be significantly reduced by effective communication.
Understand Your Responsibility. Volunteers may not earn a salary for their efforts but that does not diminish the importance of their roles within a community. Many boards are made up of the folks who have the time or the willingness; this does not always mean they are the right individuals for the job. Board members must realize their responsibility to homeowners. Being responsible for placing a lien on a neighbor’s home for delinquent association dues is never fun but an unfortunate reality of the job. Voting board members who shirk their responsibilities invite discord and potentially legal liability upon the Association. Beyond the hard implications, a board that does not take its duties seriously just isn’t being neighborly.
Avoid The Perception of Dictatorship. In many cases board members can become disenchanted by oftentimes unpopular decisions they are forced to make and the less than positive responses they get from their neighbors. It’s quite easy to stop listening to homeowners who are seemingly unreasonable or consume large amounts of time on issues. After a long battle it’s difficult to embrace your adversary and be ready for a new session of combat over whether or not a neighbor can plant a row of Abelia shrubs in their front yard. When boards conduct secret meetings to avoid homeowners or lose their cool when trying to articulate their points they can often be labeled as dictators. Board members have to be mindful of how they communicate agendas that will ultimately benefit homeowners but may not be superficially apparent. The key is to acknowledge that the common goal is to have a successful community. Being a board member isn’t always a fun job, but it’s incredibly important for the ongoing financial solvency, aesthetic appeal, and success of a neighborhood.
Follow the above tips and seriously consider hiring a property manager. Having a middle man between neighbors especially on tough issues is definitely worth the investment.