What to know before you rent your home

If you own a home in a community association and want to rent it out, you can make the leasing experience successful and positive for everyone by understanding your responsibilities. This will help preserve your property value specifically and maintain the association’s property value in general.

Before you make your home available for rentals (short-term or long-term), be sure to check your association rules and local laws. Some communities and municipalities specifically prohibit rentals or may regulate the terms (length, frequency, number of renters, etc.). You also should contact your homeowners insurance carrier to be sure you’re covered for any incidents related to rentals.

Assuming all checks out, follow the simple steps below to ensure you, the tenants, and the association all have a positive experience.

Provide your tenants with copies of association rulesYour tenants may not be familiar with common-interest community living. Take a few minutes to explain to them that living in a community association is very different from living in a rental apartment community.

Ensure that tenants comply with association rules. Your tenants, like all residents, are subject to the rules and regulations of the association. The board and manager can assist you in this area, but the responsibility lies with you.

Advise tenants on the proper use of association facilities. Provide your tenants with written copies of all policies and rules regarding community amenities and common areas. You can obtain copies of these and other useful documents from the board or manager.

Use a written lease agreement, and make sure it requires tenants to comply with all association governing documents. As a landlord of a home in a community association, the lease you use must require tenants to comply with the association’s governing documents.

In the event your tenant fails to comply with these documents, including the bylaws, or its rules and regulations, a representative of the association will first contact your tenants in an attempt to remedy the problem. The association will send you a copy of any notice sent to tenants.

If the tenant doesn’t correct the violation, the association will contact you and expect you to remedy the violation using the recourse available to you through your lease agreement. If you are unable to correct the violation, the association may pursue appropriate legal action against the tenant, and possibly against you.

Provide the association with contact information for your tenants. The association will add your tenants to its mailing list, and they will receive the newsletter, invitations to participate on committees, notices of social activities, and general association-related information. This information also will be used in case of emergency.

If you’re a renter and don’t have a copy of the association rules or if you’d like more information about the association, contact a board member or manager.

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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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‘Twas the Night Before (the HOA’s) Christmas

‘Twas the night before the HOA’s Christmas, and through the community
Not a complaint was heard, there appeared just pure unity;
The thank-you notes were placed by the bulletin board with care,
In hopes that the board and manager would soon see them there;

The homeowners were nestled all snug in their beds,
No worries of paint or roofs bothering their heads,
And the Vice President in her condo, and I in mine too,
Had just settled down for a break from reviewing the dues,

When out in the courtyard there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to my balcony to see what was the matter.
Away to the railing I flew like a flash,
Only to see neighbors with gripes to rehash.

I couldn’t figure out in the dark of the night
Exactly what they thought gave them the right,
But I knew from my time on the homeowners board,
Our meetings these neighbors had always ignored,

Then in a flash I noticed a visitor,
Who tried to join that group of inquisitors
He wore a red fur coat over an ample belly, and
His hearty laugh made it shake as it were jelly,

His smile quickly faded as they all turned away,
They told him that tenants had nothing to say,
The jolly man disappeared as quickly as he came here,
Amid the sound of eight snorting… reindeer?

In a moment came another, without much ado,
He arrived with a viewpoint needed and new,
I knew in a flash it was manager, Nick.
He knew what was needed and he brought it quick,

He exclaimed “Now, Member! now, Neighbor! Now, Bylaws and Covenant,
Please read the rules before bringing your comment.
Now back to your homes, and back to your castles,
Please, just for today, have a cease to the hassles”

He said “you by choice bought in a community,
Which works at its best when all live in unity,
Remember that your board serves you for free,
and consider joining a committee – or three.

“You have no busy elves, and HOAs thrive when all work as a team,
If all think only of selves, a nightmare soon it will seem.
Your association is much like a large but rowed boat,
If each rows as a solo, not for long will it float.”

Amidst headshakes and handshakes the courtyard then cleared,
And I hoped that above still flew a sleigh and eight impatient reindeer.

No reindeer or jolly elf’s labors returned to the site,
But folks reached to their neighbors, and started treating them right.
A different air began to take hold in the complex
As the Golden Rule became our theme and our text.

Manager Nick surveyed the scene, pleased,
Knowing the group a happy future had it seized.
And laying his finger aside of his face,
He ran toward his car as if in a race;

He sprang to his auto, heading home in a dash,
And away he drove as quick as a flash.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!

[Readers: May peace and neighborliness permeate your communities in the coming year!]

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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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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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Smoking Ban Goes Up In … Smoke

A failed smoking ban remains a point of contention between residents at a nearly 40-year-old condominium building in St. Paul, Minn., according to the Star Tribune.

The Gallery Tower board voted to ban smoking in the summer of 2017. The ban, which was due to go into effect this past April, was supposed to apply to units and the balconies outside them, according to reports. However, earlier this year, newly elected board members who smoke took control and voted to rescind the ban before it took effect.

A 19-year resident of the Gallery Tower, Marge Romero, felt she should be able to do what she wants within the confines of her home—and that includes smoking cigarettes.

In January, Romero and two other residents who opposed the smoking ban were elected to the board, and the following month the board voted to rescind the ban, citing it was a big overreach.

Yet that hasn’t stopped other buildings from outright bans.

“I think there has been a definite trend toward banning smoking in condominiums, and I expect that to continue,” says Matt Drewes, president of the CAI Minnesota Chapter. “Efforts at redirecting, controlling, or containing smoke has had mixed results and have often fallen short of making all parties happy, and they come at a certain expense that the owners involved may not be willing or equipped to pay.”

The fight at Gallery Tower may not be over yet. Residents like Jeff Tentinger and his wife, Robin— who spent more than $8,000 on air purifiers—were stunned people needed to vote on a smoking ban in 2018, especially given the health problems related to secondhand smoke.

States, cities, and other local governments have been moving to ban smoking in public places for years. Residents of public housing facilities in the U.S. can no longer smoke in or near the buildings in a new rule that went into effect July 31.

Many community associations have been outlawing the practice in common areas and on amenities but letting owners continue to smoke inside their units. Some condominiums are trending toward full bans, yet as the Gallery Tower situation proves, they may have a fight on their hands.

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Are Our Rules Reasonable?

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.

Association rules and regulations should be reasonable. When board members—along with their community manager, attorney, and other expert advisors—are reviewing association rules or considering establishing new rules, they should follow these guidelines:

  • Develop rules only if they’re necessary
  • Base rules on the proper authority—either governing documents or local/state/federal law
  • Consider how rules will be enforced, taking extra care to be sure they’re enforced uniformly
  • Implement rules that encourage understanding and compliance
  • Write rules that tell owners what they should do instead of what they shouldn’t, and explain why that rule is necessary

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