Category Archives: Government Affairs

What do community associations look like in China?

Shanghai urban skyline, China

Picture this: A place where community associations aren’t legally able to have their own bank accounts, property management companies can retain ownership of common areas and rent them out without homeowners’ consent, and developers interfere with board elections because they are opposed to the formation of community associations. While this might seem improbable, situations like these occur frequently in China.

In the U.S., the community association housing model has become commonplace. According to the latest figures from the Foundation for Community Association Research, there are roughly 344,500 common-interest communities across the country. CAI has chapters throughout the world, including Canada, the Middle East, and South Africa, and relationships with housing officials in Australia, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. But how prevalent are community associations elsewhere in the world?

They’re a recent development in China, emerging shortly after housing reforms in the 1990s. Previously, urban housing was mainly provided by danwei, or place of employment. Danwei were organized by occupation and were both a physical space where people lived and a system whereby the government could regulate residents’ decisions and actions. With economic and political reform, this system largely became obsolete, leading to significant housing changes.

In response to property rights violations by developers and property management companies, community associations began to emerge. Developers have been faulted for failing to give homeowners their deeds and using them as collateral for loans, understating the area of the home, or not providing promised amenities. Unlike in the U.S., where community associations are usually formed by developers and membership occurs upon purchase of a home, associations in China are a grassroots effort spearheaded by residents to preserve their rights.

From a cultural and political perspective, community associations are novel in the single-party authoritarian regime that is the People’s Republic of China. In a 2008 dissertation by Feng Wang, at the time a Doctorate of Philosophy candidate at the University of Southern California, local governments often looked down upon associations as “an unstable social force that interrupts the establishment of a harmonious society.”

In China, a community association needs to form a preparatory group before it can officially establish—a difficult process. Residents need a representative from their developer and management company. Without their participation, local governments easily strike down the burgeoning association. The group also must meet a voting threshold for approval, and appeal to the management company or developer for a list of residents’ names and contact information to generate participation. Causing further complications, the initial vote is determined by property percentage. This gives developers an opportunity to vote to block its formation if they still own unsold units.

Despite the difficulty in forming and managing community associations, some have achieved commendable success in the country. In 1998 (before some important reforms), residents in one housing complex in China staged a coup and successfully disbanded their HOA after discovering that their management company had falsified a neighborhood mandate giving them permission to form the group. New leadership was voted in, and an HOA with community approved leadership was formed. The group was even able to successfully negotiate lower fees with the management company.

The residential conflict commonly reported in the media in community associations across the U.S. seems trivial compared to the conflict between developers, property managers, and homeowners in China. One might even wonder at the seeming lack of internal disputes among Chinese residents. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Wang, 92 percent of homeowners rate conflict among themselves as a serious issue, but only 25 percent of community associations focus efforts on addressing these issues. It is precisely because of the focus on exterior challenges, rather than internal conflict, that many community associations in China have flourished despite an unfavorable environment.

Through transparency, inclusion, and mobilization of homeowners in China, associations have made huge gains for the rights of residents. Whether in China or the U.S., community associations cannot lose sight of their goals: to elevate residents’ standard of living and protect property values.

Read more about homeowners association in China in the following:

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Why are common-interest communities so uncommon in the U.K.?

Big Ben, London

Community association living is widely popular in many areas of the world. In the U.S., for example, there are 70 million people living in 344,500 common-interest communities, one in eight live in a condominium in Canada, and three million Australians live in strata communities. Condominiums have taken off in Europe too, especially in France and Germany. However, one country remains a laggard in this trend: The United Kingdom. Despite legislation introduced in 2004 to jump-start condominiums— or commonholds as they are referred in the U.K—less than 20 have been developed.

The commonhold system was introduced to phase out the most popular form of housing in the UK: leasehold. In a leasehold arrangement, the buyer rents a flat from the freeholder, or landlord, for a specified number of years. The freeholder is responsible for managing and maintaining the common areas of the building, such as hallways, roofs, and facades. The lease is typically long-term—often as many as 120 years—but begins to decrease in value as the lease nears its end. Many individuals have taken issue with the leasehold system. Complaints range from burdensome fees imposed by landlords to the costliness of extending a lease and the fundamental nature of a leasehold as a wasting asset.

With all the complaints surrounding leaseholds, one might wonder why there’s a lack of enthusiasm for commonholds? In theory, self-management of commonholds removes conflict with the landlord, and ownership alleviates the ticking time bomb worry of a lease. The Law Commission, an entity responsible for reforming laws in the U.K., has a few ideas as to why commonholds remain so sparse.

Some potential issues affect homeowners. When changing from a leasehold to a commonhold, the law requires unanimous consent from every inhabitant 21 years or older, the freeholder, and every lender with a mortgage. Naturally, getting this many people informed, let alone on board with such a big change, is difficult. In addition, the commonhold association, the U.K. equivalent of a community association board, is a company under the current law. As such, leaseholders could face criminal penalties for violating the law. This standard is much too risky for any homeowner. Regulations also might be too stringent in some areas and overly flexible in others. For example, maintenance obligations are unchangeable regardless of age and price of the building, but on the other hand, fire insurance is the only type of insurance buildings are required to have, whereas other types of buildings require flooding and theft insurance.

Overall, commonhold’s failure to launch might simply be due to lack of a financial incentive for developers and a gap in public awareness over this type of housing. These types of large-scale transitions can be difficult and require public backing. However, the U.K.’s housing reform endeavors are an admirable effort to jump-start conversation between potential homebuyers, legislators, commonhold owners, and developers.

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Hurricane Florence: Will FEMA help your community?

Photo credit: Mark Hiebert

As community association managers and boards of directors prepare their residents for Hurricane Florence, they are burdened with the knowledge that the Federal Emergency Management Agency likely will not be there to support disaster recovery in their community.

That’s because FEMA classifies community association streets as private and won’t remove debris without prior approval.

What’s not understood by FEMA and many members of Congress is that the local municipality may have mandated the developer privatize streets in the community, resulting in association residents bearing the financial, legal, and operational responsibility for maintaining and insuring the streets. The residents have to pay for the streets when their neighboring community may not. These residents pay the same local property and federal taxes as everyone else, but they are being penalized because their streets are “private.”

So when CAI’s government affairs team hears a monster hurricane is heading toward the coast with a dangerous storm surge, damaging winds, and catastrophic rainfall, we step into high gear contacting members of Congress, governors, and FEMA officials. We plead with them to consider providing explicit guidance to first responders to remove debris from private property following the storm because it will likely be an immediate threat to public health and safety. We followed the same routine preparing for and recovering from hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Understandably, FEMA usually waits until after the storm wreaks havoc to give guidance to first responders. Yet it becomes very difficult for managers and board members to appeal to their governor, FEMA, and Congressional representatives to authorize debris removal on private property while trying to navigate the destruction and loss that tends to follow a hurricane. It is preposterous to ask residents who are trying to deal with the devastation of loss following a disaster to call their Congressional representatives to get help.

The Disaster Assistance Equity Act will solve this inequality. If you aren’t facing Hurricane Florence, you can prepare your community for a future disaster by contacting your Congressional representative and urging them to co-sponsor the legislation.

For more perspective from CAI’s government affairs team and tips for requesting assistance from FEMA, visit the CAI Advocacy Blog.

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CAI Honors Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Mark Sanford

 Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) were honored today with CAI’s 2018 Hero of Associations Award for their leadership and support for the millions of residents living in community associations. In recognizing the two congressional leaders for their work on behalf of community association homeowners and residents, CAI effectively designated Nelson as the organization’s senator of the year and Sanford as representative of the year.

The presentation was held at CAI’s 2018 Advocacy Summit, where more than 100 community association leaders met with congressional representatives to discuss regulations and laws that impact Americans who reside in community associations.

CAI honored Sen. Nelson for his work to ensure that residents living in homeowners associations and condominiums have the ability to protect private contracts and self-govern their neighborhoods. With nearly 10 million residents in 50,000 community associations, Florida has more community associations than any other state in the U.S.

Rep. Sanford was recognized for his work to provide residents in homeowners and condominium associations with access to federal funds in the wake of a presidentially declared natural disaster. Sanford witnessed first-hand the inequity of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s allocation of federal funds in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. As a result, he introduced the Disaster Assistance Equity Act of 2017 to help homeowners associations qualify for funding for disaster recovery. If it becomes law, this legislation will help community associations in all states impacted by any presidentially declared natural disaster, including hurricanes, floods, wildfires, mudslides, and other calamities.

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