I recently had a Twitter exchange with the folks over at Independent American Communities about this article. The article in question blamed two things: local laws for lack of enforcement and the Community Associations Institute (CAI) for advocating for “authoritarian” powers for Associations. While these are worth discussing as possible causes, I strongly believe that apathy is one of the greatest causes of HOA issues, and must be put out there for discussion. Fighting apathy is an important topic for me, as I believe it is the fundamental cause of issues in HOAs and Condos. The bottom line is if people aren’t willing to spend minutes a month on their Association, you’re creating a recipe for disaster. At the end of the day, you get the Condo Association you deserve.
What Causes Out of Control Associations?
That’s not to trivialize any of the points made by Independent American Communities, even if I don’t agree with all of them. There needs to be more practical oversight and transparency in HOAs. It is clear there is corruption in Associations. Most critically, Boards must have open and transparent rules and awards of contracts and conflicts of interest must be disclosed. I also think that fiduciary duty training like many jurisdictions offer is a good first step. Ultimately forcing Associations to be transparent and open with how they spend their money is most important as it gives the Owners in their Associations the tools to easily understand what’s going on.
As far as the critiques of CAI, I disagree with those. CAI has advocated hard for HOAs and Condo Associations to have the authorities they need to govern effectively and efficiently. They fight a very strong real estate and development lobby for basic authorities communities need to govern. I can see the perspective of those who live in poorly governed HOAs that these authorities are abused. But for the vast majority of communities that are governing well or at least adequately, they are a necessity.
Without Engagement – Nothing Else Matters
Ultimately while transparency and governance are important, they’re not as important as engagement. Because at the end of the day, you can have all the transparency in the world, and all the governance in the world, but if 95% of the Owners in a community are disengaged, it doesn’t matter. If no one bothers to read conflict of interest disclosures and show up to fight corruption, you get the Condo Association you deserve.
This is why I view apathy as the number one enemy of Owners and Associations. Reform may or may not happen, but in the end HOAs and Condo Associations are democratic bodies. First of all, you need to know the Association you’re buying into by making sure you are asking your realtor the right questions and watching out for common issues.
You Must Protect Fight for Your Association
If things degrade in your Association, you need to rally the troops and start a movement. If you and your fellow Owners aren’t willing to build a network of like-minded individuals, you’ve got a problem. French philosopher Joseph de Maistre wrote (translated): “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” I’ve watched Condo Associations – both mine and those of my friends – go through tough times. Rarely do people step up. If you’re willing to complain, but not act – you get the Condo Association you deserve.
Low turnout is common in Association voting. It’s your job to challenge that and do better. If your board has broken bad, replace them with people who will do better. Don’t give in to apathy. Don’t expect someone else to ride in and save you – there are hundreds of thousands of Associations across America. All politics are local. Fight apathy, and save yourself – and get the great Condo Association you deserve.