Upon Reflection…

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It has been more than a month since I resigned as president of my neighborhood’s homeowner’s association. Throughout the month, I took some time to reflect upon my experience. Overall, the experience was a good one for me. I learned a lot about homeowner’s associations, how they operate, and areas for improvement.

In the last seven years, I held this leadership position; we accomplished a great deal for our community. In particular, I am proud of the purchase and installation of a new playground for neighborhood children.

However, with the successes, some glaring challenges could not be overcome during my tenure. Those challenges are driving the suggestions I’ve developed for improving the efficiency of our homeowner’s association.

Challenges

To begin with, our homeowner’s association serves a small community of homes. The association does not engage the services of a management company, and the board of directors is an all-volunteer board. In our neighborhood, you can visibly see the impact of a homeowner’s association, more so than a community with a significant association of several thousand homes.

However, a double-edged sword exists with a smaller community. When you have a homeowner’s association operating in a small neighborhood, there is the potential where residents become complacent. This complacency leads to residents who do not wish to be involved with volunteering to serve on the association’s board of directors. That lack of interest was one of the most significant challenges I faced during my tenure as president.

Folks were not interested in serving on the board of directors for a variety of reasons. During my tenure, I asked neighbors to volunteer for a position on our board of directors. Our neighbors responded with either “Not interested” or “I do not have time.”

At an annual board meeting, I was informed by one homeowner that “The lack of volunteers is an indication of a well-managed association.” While this sentiment is appreciated, it does not resolve the issue the association has with residents lacking the interest to serve on the association’s board of directors.

Additionally, this lack of interest in serving does not favor those who continue to serve for an extended time on our association’s board of directors. For example, there is one member of the association’s board that has served for most of the last twenty-five years. Additionally, there is another member that has served off and on the previous twelve. Before my resignation, I served on the association’s board for nine years.

This reality is not fair to those who continue to serve for long periods. The burden must be carried equally among all residents of our community for our association to be healthy and grow. It can only evolve when the entire neighborhood is involved.

The lack of interest in serving is not a failure of mine, nor on the board of directors. This challenge continues to impact the association’s board of directors and does not have an easy solution. A long-term vigorous recruitment effort needs to be pursued to close this gap.

An additional challenge that was present with our board of directors was the time to get tasks accomplished. Even I was not immune to this challenge. I freely admit that there were times when I did not get things accomplished as quickly as they could have been. So there was enough criticism to go around, for sure. Below are some items that took a significant amount of time to get accomplished:

  • Ordering new parking permits – 2 years
  • Revising parking regulations – 1 year
  • Replacing community sign – 6 months

A volunteer only board of directors significantly impacted these timelines. However, there is no excuse for taking two years to order new parking permits, nor a year to revise the community’s parking regulations. As I was the president during this period, I take full responsibility for these timelines. Additionally, a sense of urgency to resolve these issues was not present. However, when other board members do not commit to completing tasks, difficulties arise since the board president cannot unilaterally act.

The final challenge I experienced during my tenure is the fair enforcement of all community bylaws, covenants, and parking regulations. Persistently, I told my fellow board members that all rules must be applied equally and fairly across the board. For a homeowner’s association, it is essential rules are enforced equally and fairly to all who reside within our community.  

In all fairness, there were days where I was not as driven to enforce the rules as well. As mentioned above, it is difficult where there is only one, maybe two, people who show an interest in rules enforcement. However, more often than not, there was one person actively enforcing the rules when it should be a group effort. Without a group effort, it is challenging for one responsible person to bear the burden of enforcement every day for months, if not years.

There were days where I received text messages for hours at a time about various violations of the rules. These text messages indicated the importance of either towing a vehicle or citing someone for a covenant violation. Additionally, if the rule enforcement did not occur immediately, without any warning or discussion, the rules must be abolished. Interestingly enough, this particular board member sending these texts is only concerned with rules enforcement on some but not others.

I still am frustrated with this all or nothing enforcement of our association’s rules and regulations. Unfortunately, my warnings about equal and fair rules enforcement have gone through one ear and out the other. Some vehicles have violated community visitor parking rules for a month, and rules enforcement has not occurred.  

Recently, newly installed guest parking enforcement signs are helpful; however, those signs are meaningless unless you are committed to enforcing the rules.

Since my resignation, why has the board shirked their responsibility? It begs me to ask, “Is enforcement only acceptable when you can point the finger at someone who has assumed responsibility for any enforcement action?” Better yet, “Are we afraid to exhibit any leadership and enforce the community rules and regulations out of fear of being disliked?”

Due to their inaction, it is clear our board of directors cannot, or refuses to enforce our community’s parking regulations. As a result, I am forced to believe they do not have the stomach to enforce the rules. An association’s board of directors should not shirk their responsibilities out of pure laziness, or even fear of dealing with community backlash. Because if you cherry-pick which rules to enforce, you open yourselves up for legal action, as one fellow board member was apt to say to me regularly.

I am disappointed with the importance of rules enforcement as a priority when I was president, appears not to be a concern since my departure. I wish I could say I am surprised by this hypocrisy, but I am sadly not.

Recommendations

Based on my experience, I have formulated a set of recommendations that can improve the effectiveness of our community’s homeowner’s association.

Recommendation 1 – Vigorous Recruitment

Increasing community involvement in the community’s homeowner’s association is paramount. We need a dedicated effort to recruit residents to serve on our board of directors. Getting new members brings a fresh perspective as I firmly believe our board is suffering from tunnel vision. This recruitment needs to come in the form of actively promoting board meetings. What do I mean by actively promoting board meetings? What I mean is doing more than merely posting the meeting on the association’s website and Facebook page. That means:

  1. Community Sign. Procuring a community message sign for residents exiting the community where you can announce when the next meeting is. With the appropriate messaging, it would be challenging to miss as residents leave the neighborhood. It could also serve as much more than advertising board meetings.
  2. Leafing the neighborhood. Print out leaflets and stick them on doors. Yes, leafing a community seems awfully like a twentieth-century thing to do to announce meetings. Residents do not view the association’s Facebook page. Additionally, they do not even bother to log onto the community’s website, which leads to the final thing.
  3. Constructing a new robust community website. The current website reminds me of the days of Geocities back in the late nineties. There is no excuse for the community to have such an old website. Unfortunately, I was hoping to develop such a site before my resignation, but I did run out of time.

Recommendation 2 – Term limits for Board Members

We must impose term limits for board members. There is no reason for three members of the community serving the majority of the last two decades on our association’s board of directors. Out of fairness, we must encourage more participation, so the same members are not always required to serve.

I recommend staggered term limits for board members. What do I mean by staggered term limits? I mean something similar to what we have in the U.S. Senate. Staggered term limits promote conveyance of lessons learned to new board members. Additionally, this approach facilitates the continuity of an experienced board of directors managing the association’s business. A secondary benefit of staggered term limits drives an active recruitment drive of new board members.

Recommendation 3 – Enforce Equally

The fair and vigorous enforcement of a homeowner’s bylaws and regulations is a requirement. There is no room for ambiguity here. Rules enforcement must be applied fairly and equally across the board, or they do not apply at all. My common refrain was to enforce equally and fairly, not enforce sometimes, nor only toward those we do not like. Equally and fairly can mean a couple of different things.

  1. Strict, no holds barred enforcement. This approach enforces the rules with an iron fist without any warnings. The issue with this approach is alienating residents and building a sense of fear within the community.
  2. A personal touch toward enforcement. This approach allows for building a sense of community and trust with residents. This approach is one that I preferred to take while enforcing the community’s bylaws and regulations. Treating our residents like adults could lead to corrective action by our residents, and would prevent any misunderstandings about the rules and could result in the prevention of extreme enforcement actions, such as towing or fining.

I fully realize there are board members that believe a homeowner association’s rules and regulations should be black and white and enforced with an iron fist. This approach is acceptable if the board chooses this course of action. However, that approach must be implemented equally at all times. Residents cannot be confused if enforcement is carried out. If inconsistencies present themselves, residents will question why the enforced rules apply to them, but not to others.

Adopting a personal touch for rules enforcement can lead to the establishment of a sense of community. That sense of community could encourage more residents to volunteer to serve if they feel their board addresses their interests and concerns.

Recommendation 4 – Hire a Management Company

If the first three recommendations are not successful, nor adopted, our board of directors should go the route of hiring a management company to perform the day-to-day operation of our homeowner’s association. Years before I purchased my home, our association employed the services of a management company. It was not a successful relationship. The board of directors was complacent and did not perform any oversight of the management company’s actions. This recommendation is vehemently opposed by the board and with good reason, and I fully understand their logic.

I believe this recommendation is the one our board should pursue as I do not think our board, as currently constructed, can efficiently manage our association’s affairs. I do not take this position lightly, as I believe, with the right mindset, the management of the association’s affairs can successfully be managed with a volunteer board. My personal history dictates this mindset does not currently exist.

This recommendation is only successful with aggressive oversight of the selected management company’s actions. What am I saying here? I am saying that the board writes into its agreement with a management company that the board has the right to review and overturn any significant action the management company pursues. I consider the following items significant actions:

  • Annual budgets and assessments
  • Major contracts, such as:
    • Landscaping
    • Tree removal
    • Trash collection
    • Community improvements like the parking surface, playground equipment, etc
  • Revisions/additions to community parking regulations
  • Revisions/additions to community architectural covenants

This recommendation provides benefits to our currently constructed board. Firstly, a management company can work to increase the overall involvement of the community. They can use their resources to market board meetings and provide newsletters regularly. An informed community drives interest and could very well increase interest in serving.

Secondly, the management company will enforce our community bylaws and regulations equally and without favoritism toward any resident. Removal of any bias will relieve the board of any discomfort from the result of rules enforcement. An additional benefit is our board mitigates the risk of being sued due to inconsistent rules enforcement.

Conclusion

Overall, I have benefitted from serving as president of our homeowner’s association. I learned a lot about managing homeowner’s associations, and what goes into keeping a community up and running. I have also learned that politics engulfs homeowner’s associations, and feelings, even among board members, can easily be hurt, and results in fractured relationships.

I am honored to have served my community, but I am grateful that my time has come to an end. My stress level has decreased now that I do not have to worry about the ins and outs of managing community issues. I also now have even more time to spend with my family. It has definitely been a rewarding experience, but now, I am glad to be a resident and let others manage things.

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