To achieve effective communications between homeowners and their community association, it is important to understand the authority that belongs to the property management company, the board members individually, and the board as a whole.
Depending on the nature of the issue, the management company may be able to solve a problem quickly wherein the homeowner is pleased. However, at other times, the management firm may not have the authority to swiftly accomplish what the homeowner has in mind. When that occurs, frustration and conflict may ensue. Can this situation be avoided?
The Management Company and the Board
To better understand, let's remind ourselves that the management company serves as the agent of the association's board of directors. As agent, the manager takes direction from the board and follows policies adopted by the board. Neither the individual property management representative nor the management company has the self-governing authority or the power to make or change board decisions. The designated property manager may be unable to do certain things without board approval. While this agent does facilitate communication between the board and members and often makes recommendations for decisions, the board is the deciding body. Similarly, an individual board member does not have the authority to initiate certain measures without the approval of fellow board members. In fact, many crucial decisions that ensure a well-run HOA require a vote by the entire board of directors.
It is not uncommon for a homeowner to ask the property manager to take certain action to assist that homeowner. However, that manager may not have been granted authority to make decisions on behalf of the board. It is typically inappropriate and contrary to contractual limitations for a property manager to assume unrestricted authority to decide certain issues prior to a board meeting addressing these issues. Sometimes, in an effort to obtain immediate service, a homeowner may have difficulty accepting this reality. Respectively, it may be helpful to understand why some homeowners might prefer for the management company to assume the authority and bypass the board's decision making process. Consider the following:
- Mistrust: If a board communicates poorly, or has issued unpopular edicts, homeowners will be leery and suspicious of a board's ability to make the correct decision on their behalf.
- Past failures: If there is a history of problematic board decisions, such as failure to allocate reserve money for maintenance, then resistance and distrust are assured.
- Buyer's remorse: Some homeowners move into a covenant-restricted neighborhood without realizing the requirement to abide by the governing documents and rules. (A recent survey by a leading community association management firm in Florida found that 31 percent of respondents who live in a neighborhood with a homeowners association become aware of the rules prohibiting certain activities only after they moved in.)
- Speed of decisions: In the world that we live in today, people expect timely results. The homeowner doesn't want to wait and often wants the issue addressed now.
How the Association Can Facilitate Communication:
- Adopt policies to handle routine items that the management company can follow without having to go to the board each and every time a routine approval is needed.
- Hold consistent board meetings. If the owner can be told exactly when the meeting will be held and a decision reached, the wait becomes more palatable.
- When you have homeowner items on the agenda, make sure that time is allocated to address them.
- Have a reply sent immediately to the homeowner after the decision is reached and, if possible, state the reason for the decision.
- Promptly give every member an equal opportunity to address the board when requested.
- Provide a newsletter and/or a website that keeps members informed of policies, procedures and current matters of the board.
From a homeowner's standpoint, it is a good idea to get involved in the governance of one's association. Attending board meetings, serving on committees and running for the board are excellent ways to learn how your association really works.
Some homeowners view the level of conformity required of residents in a homeowners association as a sacrificial loss of their rights. However, most people enjoy the stability, structure and self-governance that are part of every community association. They appreciate the rules that protect and maintain the quality and value of their investment. Key to success is a board of directors that works to promote harmony among the owners and does what it can to make swift and fair decisions for the benefit of all.