Post responsibly: How to avoid legal risks and negative effects on social media in your community

Social media tools are a great way for community associations to increase engagement with their residents, but they can leave communities vulnerable to potential legal risks if managed inappropriately.

Adopting a social media policy can allow communities to assign responsibility over its use and minimize abusive practices, says attorney Katrina Solomatina of Berding & Weil in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor, as well as websites, online newsletters, and email blasts, allow community associations to facilitate communication between homeowners, provide real-time updates, and give members the ability to offer instant feedback to the board.

At the same time, social media can be abused by users through practices such as cyberbullying, defamation, and invasion of privacy, Solomatina notes.

Comments made through social media can have a negative effect on a community. That’s why it’s important for communities to determine who will manage and update social media platforms, who will monitor and respond to comments, who can control or remove content, who can post, and what type of content is prohibited. Community associations should adopt a policy that covers the above.

When an association operates a closed group or discussion board, like Nextdoor, for residents, Solomatina recommends a user policy that includes the following terms:

  1. You must be a resident or property owner in the community association
  2. Anonymity is prohibited
  3. You must use your real name
  4. Be respectful of others at all times
  5. Ranting is prohibited
  6. Personal attacks are not tolerated
  7. Commercial advertisements are prohibited
  8. Violators will be suspended

Solomatina will be presenting a session—Social Media: Community Association Friend or Foe?—at the 2019 CAI Annual Conference and Exposition: Community NOW, May 15-18, in Orlando.

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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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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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Enforce, collect, and hire help: An association board’s biggest responsibilities

A community association board consists of volunteers elected to serve on behalf of residents to execute a wide variety of tasks. It’s a big job, but most board members are happy to serve and make the community a great place to call home.

The board’s biggest responsibilities include enforcing rules, collecting assessments, and hiring help.

Enforcing rules

One of the most important things the board does is enforce the association rules and regulations.

Rules and regulations help community associations maintain property values and protect a quality of life. These standards are typically described in detail in an association’s governing documents, which all homeowners should have an opportunity to review before purchasing a home in a common-interest community.

While some residents may not like being told what they can and can’t do, ultimately the board is looking out for the greater good. By enforcing the rules, the board is doing its best to keep property values up and conflicts down. Of course, the board wants to make sure the rules are beneficial for the majority—and hopefully all—residents.

You are welcome to raise concerns about the rules at open board meetings. Before you do, come prepared to discuss background information, causes, circumstances, desired solutions, and other considerations.

Collecting assessments

Another major responsibility of the board is to collect assessments from homeowners. Collecting this money is important for the financial stability of the association.

The assessments pay for the common elements enjoyed by all residents. Assessments also help to replenish the reserve funds, which pay for any major repairs the association may need.

The board is responsible for the association’s finances, and collecting assessments is how it ensures that the association remains solvent.

Hiring help

Finally, the board acts on behalf of the association by hiring managers, attorneys, contractors, and other professionals who help better the association. Board members also help conceive and lead many of the projects that will improve the community.

Learn more about what these volunteers do by talking to your board members, attending an open board meeting, or even running for a seat on the board during the next election. The more people we have looking out for our associations, the stronger they will be.

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Seven ways to be heard at your next condo or HOA meeting

Residents are encouraged to attend and observe community association board meetings. If you’d like to bring an issue to your community association governing board’s attention, you’re welcome to speak during the homeowner forum—a time set aside just for you.

So that everyone who attends has an opportunity for a meaningful exchange with the board, typically residents are asked to observe the following guidelines:

Act professionally. Although you’re all neighbors, this is a corporate business meeting. Please behave accordingly.

Sign in. If you’d like to address the board, please sign in when you arrive. You will be called in the order you entered. This allows the board to contact you if further information is needed and to report back to you with an answer.

Be productive. The homeowner forum is an exchange of ideas, not a gripe session. If you’re bringing a problem to the board’s attention, share your ideas for a solution too.

Leave emotions aside. To keep the meeting businesslike, please refrain from speaking if you’re particularly upset about an issue. Consider speaking later, speaking privately with a board member, or putting your concerns in writing and emailing them to the board.

Take your turn. Only one person may speak at a time. Please respect others’ opinions by remaining silent when someone else has the floor.

Keep it brief. Each person will be allowed to speak no more than five minutes. Please respect the volunteers’ time by limiting your remarks. If you need more than five minutes, please put your comments in writing. Include background information, causes, circumstances, desired solutions, and other considerations you believe are important. The board will make your written summary an agenda item at the next meeting.

The board may not be able to solve your concerns on the spot, and it’s not a good practice to argue or debate an issue with you during the homeowner forum. The board usually needs to discuss and vote on the issue first. But every good board should answer you before—or at—the next board meeting.

For more information about managing your community association’s homeowner forum, find the latest on-demand webinars and publications on community association governance.

Don’t miss out on valuable information like this from CAI. Subscribe and receive CAI’s Ungated blog directly to your inbox. Check the subscription box at the right on your screen.

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What does a community association manager do?

Community associations today employ highly-qualified professional community association managers, and we think residents should know what the manager has—and has not—been hired to do.

Some residents expect the manager to perform certain tasks that just aren’t part of the job. When the manager doesn’t meet those expectations, residents are unhappy. In short, the manager has two primary responsibilities: Carry out policies set by the board and manage the association’s daily operations.

In practice, what does that mean for some common resident questions and concerns?

  • The manager is trained to deal with conflict, but he or she typically will not get involved in quarrels you might be having with your neighbor. However, if association rules are being violated, the manager is the right person to notify.
  • While the manager works closely with the board, he or she is an advisor—not a member of the board. Also, the manager is not your advocate with or conduit to the board. If you have a concern, send a letter or e-mail directly to the board.
  • Although the manager works for the board, he or she is available to residents. That doesn’t mean the manager will drop everything to take your call. If you need to see the manager, call and arrange a meeting.
  • The manager is always happy to answer questions, but he or she is not the information officer. For routine inquiries, like the date of the next meeting, read the newsletter or check the association website or bulletin board.
  • The manager is responsible for monitoring contractors’ performance but not supervising them. Contractors are responsible for supervising their own personnel. If you have a problem with a contractor, notify the manager, who will forward your concerns to the board. The board will decide how to proceed under the terms of the contract.
  • The manager inspects the community regularly but even an experienced manager won’t catch everything. Your help is essential. If you know about a potential maintenance issue, report it to the manager.
  • The manager does not set policy. If you disagree with a policy or rule, you’ll get better results sending a letter or e-mail to the board than arguing with the manager.
  • The manager has a broad range of expertise, but he or she is not a consultant to the residents. Neither is he or she typically an engineer, architect, attorney, or accountant. The manager may offer opinions but don’t expect technical advice in areas where he or she is not qualified.
  • Although the manager is a great resource to the association, he or she is not available 24 hours per day—except for emergencies. Getting locked out of your home may be an emergency to you, but it isn’t an association emergency. An association emergency is defined as a threat to life or property.

For more information on the community association manager’s role, visit www.caionline.org and search “community managers.”

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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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HOAs, BOTs, CC&Rs, and more: Defining community association terms

Today, 70 million Americans live in 344,500 common-interest communities. Even if you haven’t lived in a condo, co-op, or HOA, chances are you’ve at least heard of these communities. Admittedly, those who live in, volunteer in, and work for common-interest communities tend to throw around terms like “ARC,” “CC&Rs,” “D&O” or “CMCA” that make things sound more complicated than they really are. So let’s pull back the curtain on some important terms related to living in and working in community associations.

Types of communities

CA: Community Association

CID: Common-Interest Development

Co-op: Cooperative

Condo: Condominium

HOA: Homeowners Association

PD: Planned Development

POA: Property Owners Association

PUD: Planned Unit Development

TOA: Townhouse Owners Association

Community leadership, governance and operations

ARC: Architectural Review Committee

BOD: Board of Directors

BOT: Board of Trustees

CC&Rs: Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions

D&O: Directors & Officers liability insurance

E&O: Errors & Omissions insurance

RFP: Request for Proposal

SOP: Standard Operating Procedures

General CAI terms

CAI: Community Associations Institute

CAMICB: Community Association Manager International Certification Board, a sister organization to CAI.

FCAR: Foundation for Community Association Research, also a CAI affiliate

CCAL: College of Community Association Lawyers

LAC: Legislative Action Committee

PMDP: Professional Management Development Program

Designations, Certifications, and Accreditations
AAMC: Accredited Association Management Company

AMS: Association Management Specialist

CIRMS: Community Insurance & Risk Management Specialist

CMCA: Certified Manager of Community Associations

LSM: Large-Scale Manager

PCAM: Professional Community Association Manager

RS: Reserve Specialist

Whatever the acronym, all community associations—CA, condo, HOA, POA, TOA, etc.—share a few essential goals: preserving the nature and character of the community, providing services and amenities to residents, protecting property values and meeting the established expectations of owners.

Stumped by other acronyms or industry terms? Ask a question in the comments below.

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