Category Archives: hoa

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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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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Thank you, neighbor! How communities grow and thrive

Buying a home in a community where you are surrounded by courteous and considerate neighbors enhances your well-being and living experience.

Since 1978, Good Neighbor Day has been an annual reminder to communities nationwide that good neighbors help communities grow and thrive. From cleaning up local parks to picking up after your pet, these simple tasks can go a long way to creating stronger, safer communities.

That’s no surprise to residents of the Forest Edge Cluster in Reston, Va., which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Sept. 22. Named for the buffer of trees and creeks surrounding the neighborhood, Forest Edge has evolved from 11 flat-roof homes in 1968 into 96 additional composite-design homes, according to Reston Now.

The community celebrated its anniversary by inviting current and former residents from the past 50 years to reunite and reminisce alongside neighbors. Nearly 100 residents attended the celebration, where they talked about their experiences living in the association. A resident who owns a nearby bake shop donated a cake, which was cut by the community’s first homeowner, Jeanne Rich.

“When I decided to run for the board, I wanted to bring back a sense of community, and now we have achieved that,” says Kathy Oris, Forest Edge board president. “We have folks who volunteer to help in numerous ways—from pulling weeds at the home of an elderly neighbor to dragging and spreading mulch at tot lots. Nobody receives a salary or compensation, besides a thank you and a smile.”

Community associations would not be a success without good neighbors. Come to think of it: We should be celebrating Good Neighbor Day every day.

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How one CAI member helped clients during and after Hurricane Maria

San Juan, Puerto Rico: A work crew clears brush created by Hurricane Maria from a city park more than three months after the storm struck. 

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm on Sept. 20, 2017, bringing devastating winds and flooding and leaving much of the island in the dark. More than 70,000 homes were destroyed and the official damage tally in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands totaled $90 billion.

The effects continue to linger on the island one year later. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reported last month that power has been restored, though some residents deny that claim and say they must still rely on generators.

CAI member Robert MacKay, president of community management software company Manage My Nest, has helped his clients in Puerto Rico communicate with one another during and after Maria.

The company, which is headquartered in San Juan, did whatever it could on behalf of clients. This included using the platform to send out communications on clients’ behalves while landlines were down, working with suppliers to send necessary resources, facilitating and executing email blasts, and more. “There was no set menu—just whatever we could do to help,” says MacKay.

One community manager at a high-rise condominium used the platform at 6:00 a.m. during the hurricane to advise residents to stay away from windows and remain in hallways, he recalls. Nearly an hour later, they were able to alert residents that the windows were breaking and to go to stairwells.

MacKay is confident that the island will return to normal despite the widespread devastation. “The people of Puerto Rico represent a resilient culture. You could see people outside working together with FEMA to salvage what they could. People rationed diesel fuel with generators between communities. Residents in the community used a shovel and a wheelbarrow to clean the beach. It was amazing to see. They love their island,” says MacKay.

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How to Be an Effective Community Manager

Managing people is no easy task. Whether you manage a small team of professionals or an entire organization, the following tips will help you break down barriers and foster great relationships.

Establish trust. Your employees and clients look to you for guidance, so be consistent with your approach to communication and problem-solving. Set and manage expectations—for yourself and for those you manage—to earn trust and respect. Good, consistent habits like organization, a positive attitude, and strong follow-through set an example for your team.

Learn & leverage behavioral styles. Pay attention to your team members’ individual work styles and your clients’ behaviors to determine how best to communicate with them. Different personalities require different approaches to achieve a shared goal, so learn how to spot strengths and weaknesses and leverage them to your team’s advantage.

Drive motivation. Set short- and long-term goals for yourself and your employees. Check in with your employees regularly to provide support and guidance, and to provide clear and direct feedback on what’s working and what’s not.

Manage your time. Learn how to let go and delegate tasks. Training techniques that use visual, hands-on, and auditory teaching methods help ensure a task is done properly. Set priority levels for assigned tasks and communicate them with your team.

Control conflict. The best way to handle conflict is by collaborating—instead of compromising—with everyone involved to resolve a problem. This way, team members work toward a resolution together instead of conceding to one side or the other.

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Doggy DNA Testing Forcing Residents to Pick up after Their Pets

People love their pets. Regardless if you live in a community association, there is nothing worse than waking up to a pile of pet poop in your front yard. But the problem isn’t that the pets are out of control, it’s that residents don’t take accountability for their pets.

With a surge of residents disregarding signs and choosing not to follow mandated rules, communities now are turning to “doggy DNA” testing.

Dog owners provide the community association with a DNA sample of their pet, typically a cheek swab, which is then sent to a lab where it is registered. If the dog goes in the neighborhood and it isn’t disposed of, the community association can send the sample to the lab for testing. If there is a match, the pet owner is fined.

CAI’s Chief Executive Officer Tom Skiba, CAE, recently spoke to the Capital Gazette about this problem.

A “very small minority” of community associations have started taking these steps in the past five years to curb poop problems, especially as DNA testing has become more cost-effective and accessible, says Skiba.

“It’s not about not liking pets, it’s not about the dogs. It’s about pet owners acting disrespectfully to their neighbors,” explains Skiba. “The boards have already tried all that they can, and they have an obligation to address this for an aesthetic and health reasons. They finally will run out of options, and this DNA testing is the last technologically enabled high-tech option you can find.”

Community associations typically won’t dish out funds for DNA testing methods unless they’ve tried everything else, including putting up notices, posting pet rules on a website, mentioning it in board meetings, and more.

Should community associations have to take these extreme measures to solve this pet problem?

Think about it, and make sure to carry an extra bag with you on your walk.

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Hurricane Harvey: Many Texans’ lives still far from normal one year later

One year ago today, Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm in Texas, dumping as much as 51 inches of rain in some parts of the state—a U.S. record for rainfall from a single storm. Harvey caused an estimated $125 billion in damage and at least 68 deaths in Texas, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Houston-based Episcopal Health Foundation, in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation, recently released a survey that found that many Texans’ lives are still far from normal despite the long-term recovery across the region moving forward.

Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said their financial situation is worse, and one in six reported that their overall quality of life has declined, according to the survey. Even more alarming, four in 10 also said they aren’t getting the help they need to recover and rebuild their lives.

In Harris County, 154,000 homes flooded, and only 36 percent had flood insurance, says Jeff Lindner, director of the hydrological operations division and a meteorologist with Harris County Flood Control District. “A year later, there are nearly 20,000 residences still recovering in different stages of the process because of contactor labor challenges and flood insurance issues.”

If there’s a silver lining from the storm, Harris County residents have become well-versed in flood measures to protect their homes when the next natural disaster strikes, explains Lindner.

“Residents now know what bayou or water shed they live next to and that water tends to run from West to East,” he says.

They also know what happens if flood gates reach critical levels. “In some cases, they know they don’t have to worry until it reaches 58 feet,” says Lindner.

Jeff Lindner, director of the hydrological operations division and a meteorologist with Harris County Flood Control District.

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