Red, white, and blue: Tips for displaying the Stars and Stripes

The Star-Spangled Banner. Old Glory. The red, white, and blue. No matter how Americans refer to the U.S. flag, everyone has the right to fly it. Flag Day, held annually on June 14 since 1916, should serve as a good reminder for how all should properly and proudly display the Stars and Stripes.

Thanks to the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act, enacted in 2006, residents in community associations have the right to fly the flag even if there are rules and restrictions that prevent it from being displayed. CAI believes, however, that associations should be able to determine the appropriate size, placement, and installation of the flag and flagpoles.

CAI encourages associations to follow the guidelines for flying Old Glory in the U.S. Flag Code, some of which includes:

  • Display the flag in public from sunrise to sunset. It can be displayed at night if it is illuminated during darkness.
  • Do not display the flag in inclement weather, unless it is an all-weather flag.
  • The flag can fly on all days, especially on national holidays, other days that may be proclaimed by the president, and dates of admission of states into the union.
  • Do not position the flag upside down. This represents a signal of distress in moments of extreme danger to life or property.
  • Do not let the flag touch anything beneath it, including the ground, floor, water, or other objects.
  • No part of the flag should have any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

Need more information about rules and regulations regarding flags, banners, and emblems? Read Everyday Governance: The Community Association’s Guide to Flags, Rentals, Holiday Decorations, Hoops, and Other Headaches, available from CAI Press.

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Homeowner education: Be resourceful with CAI’s HOAResources.com

The best community associations have knowledgeable governing boards, highly-engaged residents, and educated and trained professional managers leading their communities. CAI has believed that since its founding in 1973, and it’s why we offer information, education, and resources to members and the general public. It’s why we recently launched HOAResources.com, a digital news site for the millions of residents living and working in condominium communities and homeowners associations worldwide.

We recognize that the community association model has evolved and grown up over the years, becoming a well-established and increasingly successful form of community governance and an essential component of the U.S. housing market.

There’s an increasing need to educate, train, and provide the latest news and resources to the millions of potential homebuyers, homeowners, and renters living in these communities. After all, 61 percent of all new housing built for sale is in a community association.

The new site lets CAI members and the general public find practical advice on common issues in the community association housing model. The site will address HOA basics, financial planning, rules and governing documents, as well as security and safety. Many time-tested best practices are showcased on the site, often through free, downloadable documents.

Go to www.HOAResources.com, and share the information with homeowners, friends, and colleagues.

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Talent wanted: How to hire and retain skilled community association managers

Recruiting and retaining skilled managers can be challenging for community associations and management companies, especially in a very competitive labor market and with communities limited by tight budgets.

In this reality, it becomes even more important for associations and management companies to highlight their strengths and address organizational shortcomings, says business speaker and author Peter Sheahan.

The founder and CEO of Karrikins Group, a Denver-based business growth strategy consulting firm, Sheahan has been an innovative business thinker for more than 20 years. He has advised leaders at companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Hyundai, IBM, and Wells Fargo. He’s also authored seven books, including the recently released Matter: Move Beyond the Competition, Create More Value, and Become the Obvious Choice and Generation Y, a book about the millennial workforce.

Peter Sheahan

Generation Y came about due to Sheahan’s experience as manager of a hotel in Sydney, Australia. “I noticed there was a very big disconnect between what the young people that I was hiring wanted from their experience of work and what I needed from them at work, as their employer,” he says.

Since that formative experience, Sheahan and his team have strived to help company leaders understand ways to attract talented workers.

“People think that the secret to attracting and retaining talent is little things like, ‘Let’s give them free lunch’ or ‘What perks can we offer?’ or ‘What are our benefits compared to the benefits down the road?’ But at the end of the day, it really comes down to the quality of the organization,” Sheahan says. “Is it successful? Is it high performing? Because good, smart people want to work in those environments.”

Sheahan recommends a few best practices for community associations and management companies for recruiting and retaining talent:

    1. Stop thinking about tactics, and start thinking about the performance of the organization. The focus should be on building an organization that is robust and resilient. “Great organizations have no trouble attracting and retaining talent,” says Sheahan.
    2. Build a culture that people want to work in. The perks and benefits can’t be the only lure for bringing in talented workers. Sheahan warns that if the culture doesn’t reflect what was promised to the manager when hired, “You’ll find yourself in bigger trouble.”
    3. Be courageous. It’s important to brave a tight labor market to find talented people, says Sheahan. It’s also about having the courage to build a high-performing team. “A team is only as strong as its weakest link, so we need to be capable of managing the performance of the underperformers or, at times, even having the courage to move people on,” he says.

Sheahan will be one of the keynote speakers at the 2019 CAI Annual Conference and Exposition: Community NOW, May 15-18, in Orlando.

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A nice approach: Finding success in your community and in business

Disputes and disagreements between board members, residents, community managers, staff members, and business partners are an inevitable part of living in a community association. While generating an atmosphere of kindness and respect might seem easier said than done, it can make for a more collaborative and positive environment for all, says advertising leader and best-selling author Linda Kaplan Thaler.

Thaler, who is CEO and president of Kaplan Thaler Productions, has carried the belief throughout her professional career that being nice pays off. Thaler’s advertising agency became famous for developing the Kodak Moments campaign, catapulting Clairol Herbal Essences into notoriety with a series of ads inspired by the iconic deli scene from “When Harry Met Sally,” and turning “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid” into one of the most recognizable jingles in the world.

Linda Kaplan Thaler

She says that her parents, especially her father, instilled the importance of being mindful and respectful of others. While working on a book that demonstrates this philosophy, The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness, she interviewed leaders and CEOs who noted their key to higher productivity and profit margins was practicing kindness.

“We don’t have enough people out there, enough leaders out there, who are really espousing this belief that being nice is really a tool for success. You are not filling people’s champagne glass. You are not a doormat,” Thaler emphasizes. “It is a fine strength when you can allow people in to collaborate. At the end of the day, people will work much harder if they feel acknowledged and if they feel like part of the process.”

The same applies to community associations. Thaler believes that codes of civility are a great way to get people toward a path of being nice to one another. “You can’t have a culture, or an association, or a group of homeowners who will feel comfortable with each other if incivility is allowed, if disrespect is allowed,” she explains.

But actions always go beyond words, and community associations can practice what they preach in simple ways. “Listening is such a huge part of creating a culture where people are nice to each other, where people are kind to each other, because they feel like they are being heard,” Thaler says, adding that listening is also critical to creating empathy and connecting with people.

“The other thing is that you can deflect a lot of tension with humor. When we make another person laugh, we are basically creating a bond,” she notes, saying that humor can be a tool before communicating decisions that may not sit well with many people. “I think it’s very important to use humor in a way that says, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ ”

Thaler will be one of the keynote speakers at the 2019 CAI Annual Conference and Exposition: Community NOW, May 15-18, in Orlando.

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A community’s last resort: Foreclosing on a home

Nobody wants to foreclose on a home—not a mortgage banker and certainly not a community association. Countless Americans lose their homes when lending institutions are unable to collect mortgage payments. In a perfect world, no one would ever face foreclosure—for any reason.

That’s why foreclosure should always be used as a last resort, applied only when a community association has exhausted all other collection options and only when a homeowner refuses to remedy a significant debt to the association.

CAI does not support people losing their homes to foreclosure for insignificant sums of money. Even when the debt is significant, foreclosure should be considered only after other approaches have failed. In all cases, homeowners facing foreclosure deserve reasonable opportunity to appeal the issue to the leadership of the association.

There is no universal threshold that should trigger a foreclosure. The decision should be based on many factors, including the amount of the debt, the financial health of the association, the reason for the debt, and the homeowner’s willingness and ability to bring the account up to date. The magnitude of this decision requires an approach that is fair, reasonable, and consistent with practices and procedures established by the association’s governing documents.

While there are isolated instances of inappropriate foreclosure, this action is viewed as a last and unavoidable step by the overwhelming majority of community associations. Knowing that people occasionally face financial hardship—a lost job, for instance—many community associations do work with homeowners to develop deferred or special payment plans.

Elected by their neighbors, volunteer community leaders are responsible for ensuring financial stability and the continued delivery of services to residents in the community. An association’s budgetary obligations do not change when assessments aren’t paid. Common areas must still be maintained. Garbage must be collected. Insurance coverage must continue. The pool remains open in the summer. Snow is plowed in the winter.

Homeowners who simply refuse to pay their assessments—as they contractually agreed to do when they purchased their homes in an association—are cheating their neighbors, their community, and themselves. When homeowners are delinquent on their assessments, either their neighbors must make up the difference or services and amenities must be curtailed. That affects everyone in the community, perhaps even leading to a decline in property values.

Used as a last resort, the lien and foreclosure process gives community associations a mechanism to ensure the resources necessary to provide services, protect property values, and meet the expectations of the community as a whole. Placing a lien on property, with the ability to foreclose, is typically enough impetus to get delinquent residents to meet their financial obligations to the community.

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Condominium assessments and bankruptcy: What can associations collect?

Courts across the nation are split on whether post-petition community association assessments constitute dischargeable debts under Chapter 13 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. To make matters worse, in November, the Supreme Court denied a petition to review the issue, leaving the community association industry wondering if the existing dispute among the courts will ever have a concise national remedy.

This past July, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which comprise several Western states, had held in Goudelock v. Sixty-01 Ass’n of Apartment Owners, No. 16-35385 (9th Cir. July 10, 2018), that an individual’s pre-petition debt or claim for assessments—created when a property owner takes title to property and which contractually obligates the owner/debtor to pay assessments—is dischargeable when the owner/debtor successfully completes a confirmed Chapter 13 plan. In November, CAI attorneys drafted and submitted an amicus brief in tandem with the (now denied) petition to the U.S. Supreme Court appealing the Ninth Circuit case.

CAI’s amicus brief made it clear to the Supreme Court that the rationale employed by the Ninth Circuit in Goudelock has far-reaching implications for community associations throughout the U.S., as it threatens the lifeblood of community associations—the continued ability to levy and collect assessments and dues for the maintenance and preservation of community property. Due to the Supreme Court denying the association’s petition, the Goudelock decision stands. This decision is already negatively impacting community associations in the Ninth Circuit, as courts have cited the Goudelock decision in their reasoning for denying community associations the ability to collect debts in Chapter 13 bankruptcies.

Yet not all courts across the country agree with this decision. In February, the U.S. District Court in New Jersey handed down a decision that positively impacts the amount of money a condominium association with a properly recorded lien is entitled to receive when a unit owner files for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

In an appeal filed by the Oaks at North Brunswick Condominium Association, the New Jersey court reinforced that a condominium association lien that is recorded in accordance with the New Jersey Condominium Act is given elevated priority over other claims and that said lien is partially secured and no amount of the lien can be stripped because of the Anti-Modification Clause. This means that condominium associations should receive the full amount of their lien claim when a unit owner files a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

For now, these conflicting rulings leave our community association attorneys confused and frustrated. Outcomes such as the Oaks at North Brunswick case provide hope for dischargeable debts in our industry. However, Goudelock provides that pre-petition condominium assessments are dischargeable in Chapter 13 proceedings but leaves some critical questions unanswered. This being the first circuit court case on the issue, chances are the other circuits may weigh in. At the end of the day, attorneys need to be aware of Goudelock and its possible application to every Chapter 13 case where the debtor owes community association assessments.

This post also is running on CAI’s Advocacy blog, where you can read about the latest court cases, state and federal advocacy efforts, public policies, and more.

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Pothole Patrol: What community associations can do to maintain pavement

It’s that time of year again, when rain, snow, and changing temperatures cause potholes to form, wreaking havoc on roadways, parking lots, and driveways. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), pothole damages cost U.S. motorists roughly $3 billion per year. On a per-pothole-incident basis that comes out to about $300 per driver. Additionally, AAA reports two-thirds of U.S. drivers are concerned about potholes on local roadways.

No asphalt or concrete surface will last forever, but it is easy to prolong the life of your association’s pavement. Community association managers and boards of directors have several pavement maintenance and repair options from which to choose.

Crack Filling
Cracks in the asphalt should be cleaned of dirt and vegetation and allowed to dry completely before filling. Cracks should be filled with emulsified asphalt slurry or a light grade of liquid asphalt mixed with fine sand.

Asphalt Patching
Patching is done in areas with severe alligator cracks and/or potholes. When the patch is cut out, the sub-base material should be examined and compacted thoroughly before patching. The patch should be tack coated, to ensure firm bonding between the old and new surfaces. Base course material is laid and compacted first, and new surface asphalt is laid and compacted on top of that. The patch should be rolled to a smooth finish, and all edges should be coated to minimize water penetration.

Overlays
Overlays are placed over existing asphalt to create a new surface. In recent years paving fabric, placed on the existing asphalt prior to the overlay, has gained popularity as an effective agent to bond the new asphalt to the existing asphalt surface. Once the existing asphalt has been prepared, the paving fabric is laid down and a new surface quality asphalt is laid over it. It is then rolled to a smooth finish to match existing grades of asphalt.

Sealcoating
Sealcoating is a controversial aspect of asphalt maintenance. Generally, sealcoating provides an additional 2-3 years of protection against the elements and use by providing an additional layer of protection. It is also cosmetic, in that it covers old and new asphalt to create a uniform look in the community and increases curb appeal. Sealcoating is best done approximately one year after a new surface has been laid. It should be applied by the squeegee method if possible to ensure the sealing of cracks too small to fill by the traditional method.

For more information on repair road and paving, check out The Road Repair Handbook, available for purchase at CAI Press.

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Hanging the stockings with care: Developing a holiday decoration policy that doesn’t turn into a lump of coal

With their celebrations, gifts, and good wishes, the holidays are a time to be thankful and festive. Often that means decorating your home, office, and even car. But in some community associations, a resident’s seemingly innocent act of holiday cheer can be interpreted as a malicious disregard for association rules.

How can your association avoid a dispute over holiday decorating? By considering both your residents’ rights to celebrate and your association’s ability to institute architectural guidelines that protect and enhance its aesthetic characteristics. Developing a policy doesn’t have to be a complicated or controversial process.

“Rather than adopt a rule under pressure, why not take the time to think it through before the need arises?” attorney Lucia Anna “Pia” Trigiani writes in her book, Reinventing the Rules: A Step-by-Step Guide for Being Reasonable. “Anticipating your association’s future needs and establishing rules for them now puts you in a proactive rather than reactive position.”

The rulemaking process should involve the entire community:

Committees. The responsibility of researching and drafting the initial policy may fall on the architectural or rules committee, which should poll the board as well as residents to discover their preferences.

Professionals. Consult with your community manager and attorney. These experts might know of other associations that have dealt with the same problem, and they also can help make sure your policy is consistent with your association’s governing documents as well as state and local laws.

Residents. After the committee has drafted the initial policy and the board has reviewed it, it’s time to go back to your residents for feedback. Distribute copies of the proposed language for everyone to review. If applicable, incorporate resident concerns and suggestions into the final policy.

As for how your association handles decorations on common areas, amenities, or community buildings, you might consider the following:

  • If your decorations include religious symbols, make sure that every religion is represented, so as not to alienate or upset anyone.
  • You don’t need to overdo the tinsel and plastic figurines. Sometimes less is more. It’s hard to pull off loads of decorations tastefully.
  • If your decorating plan includes draping outdoor trees with lights, be sure the lights don’t shine in anyone’s windows. Consult with your residents before you start stringing.

Whatever your community decides, don’t lose sight of what’s really important: celebrating the holiday season. This time of year offers great opportunities for your residents to get to know one another and become involved in association operations. It may seem like a lot of work for a bunch of lights and some tinsel, but developing and communicating a reasonable decorations policy can help avoid disputes and keep everyone in the holiday spirit.

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What to know before you buy in a community association

People choose to live in community associations for numerous reasons. Many owners value the inherent benefits of community associations, which are designed to manage common areas of the property, manage the property interests of owners, provide services for owners, and develop a sense of community through social activities and amenities. Yet community association living isn’t for everyone.

Do your due diligence by learning all you can about a community before you buy or rent a home in it.

First, ask your real estate agent to see copies of the governing documents, including the bylaws or Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (sometimes referred to as CC&Rs).

Next, take the time to talk to people who live in the community. Find out how they feel not only about the neighborhood, but also about how the community is governed and managed. Ask to talk to the president of the association, members of the elected board, or the professional who manages the community.

Don’t forget to check out the common areas. Are the amenities—pools, tennis courts, and playgrounds—well-maintained? Is there ample parking?

You should be able to answer the following questions before you buy or rent:

  • How much are the assessments? When are payments due? How much are they likely to increase? What do they cover? What don’t they cover?
  • Does the community have a viable reserve fund for major projects in the future?
  • Are there renting restrictions?
  • Do the architectural guidelines suit your preferences?
  • What are the rules with respect to pets, flags, outside antennas, satellite dishes, clotheslines, fences, patios, and home-based businesses?

While assessments, rules, and regulations are important, don’t overlook other fundamental questions: Is it the right kind of community for you and your family? Does it fit your lifestyle and sense of community? Does it provide the amenities you want? Is it a good investment? The more you know in advance, the more likely you’ll enjoy your new home and community association.

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An unbiased, unfiltered guide to 2018 midterm election signs

Getty Images/Alexeys

The 2018 midterm elections are less than two weeks away, which means, of course, campaign signs are popping up like dandelions in yards and along roads.

These signs become a particular pain point for community associations every election season. Without fail, some communities end up on the evening news or in the local newspaper for attempting to enforce their covenants on signs.

We asked James A. Gustino, a community association attorney in Winter Garden, Fla., to provide some guidance on the subject. What should associations do about the signs? This is what he had to say:

Strict enforcement of association sign prohibitions, particularly as they relate to political signs on an owner’s property during the election season, is almost always unwise.

Check your state’s highest court rulings and the specific “freedom of speech” verbiage in your state’s constitution. Most federal and state courts currently don’t protect political signs from association enforcement. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a pair of decisions in 2012 and 2014 protecting political speech. These opinions could influence other state courts considering similar legal issues in the future.

Covenants restricting signs often incorporate exceptions for security, developer, “for sale” and other board-approved signs. Under such circumstances, an association actively enforcing bans against political signs is unnecessarily exposing itself to charges of selective or arbitrary enforcement. When a ban on signs is universal but an association permits residents’ holiday decorations—another kind of speech—it also exposes itself to claims of selective or arbitrary enforcement. This nuance is often overlooked.

Practically speaking, political signs usually are posted for just a few weeks. By the time the typical association cycles through its standard three noncompliance notifications, the signs will likely have been removed.

Lastly, political beliefs and affiliations—like religious beliefs—tend to produce strong feelings that lead to costly and time-consuming litigation. Even if litigation isn’t the end result, is it sensible to pursue actions that invite unnecessary friction?

I recommend that my clients permit political signs but enact reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. For example:

  • They can only be placed on the property for 45 days prior to an election
  • They must be removed within three days after the election
  • They cannot contain any profanity
  • They must be limited in number
  • They cannot create a sight obstruction or other safety concern.

I also advocate involving community members to help craft the association’s specific restrictions and then prominently posting (via email blasts, special notices on your website and at entry signs) the rules to encourage compliance.

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