Master Association Overview

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Master Associations are yet another of the often unheard of bureaucracies in the world of HOAs.  A Master Association is an “uber HOA” that sits on top of other HOAs and Condo Associations.  They are created for various reasons – political, geographical, aesthetic, and sometimes for no understandable reason at all.  It often seems they exist solely to remind Condo Associations what it’s like to have the shoe on the other foot.  In reality, they usually have responsibility to maintain land, easements, roads, or other items, similar to a HOA.  Like all HOAs, Master Associations often bring with them quite a bit of baggage and challenges.  Perhaps karmically, Associations are befuddled by how to deal with Master Associations, which causes drama and confusion.  While not all Master Associations have all of the following characteristics, you can expect some number of them to be true.  This Master Association Overview will help you understand what to expect.

Master Associations are Often Unaccountable and Lack Owner Input

The structure of Master Associations often leads them to be sources of substantial for drama.  Many Associations have challenges with attendance and participation  – and that’s for an Association everyone knows exists.  Because a Master Association is often one layer removed, you’ll see minuscule and possibly even no Owner involvement.  This is compounded by the fact that in some cases, Master Associations don’t even have to answer to Owners, or even given them a chance to speak.  Just as bad Condo Associations won’t foster communication or transparency, nor will Master Associations.  

Master Associations Have Substantial Power

Who’s the boss? Not Tony Danza, unfortunately.

Just as a Condo Association or HOA has the power to charge dues and affect property, so can a Master Association.  Authorities vary substantially based on incorporating documents, as always.  Commonly, Master Associations might control roadways, walkways between properties, landscaping, parking, or aesthetics.  This is a large portfolio, and just as these same types of issues – like parking – drive Owners crazy, they drive subsidiary Associations crazy as well.  

Master Associations May Not Follow Their Own Rules

Perhaps most important to learn from this Master Association overview is that Master Associations often fail to follow their own rules.  This is often due to poor incorporating documents, a lack of accountability, or a lack of professionalism.  This can be maddening and make it difficult for a Condo Association to effectively participate.  

Master Associations Can be Sloppy with Money

A live scene from your local Master Association.

Because a Master Association doesn’t have Owners to directly support, they can get sloppy with money.  They may not have an up-to-date reserve study.  As a result, large expenses – like road repaving or waterway maintenance – might not be properly budgeted for.  This can then result in special assessments for subsidiary Associations, which then can lead to special assessments for Owners, creating a waterfall effect that is extremely unpleasant.  

Condo Boards Must Be Careful When Dealing with Master Associations

Condo Association participation is tough enough.  Board jobs are volunteer jobs, often with long and thankless hours.  When you add in a Master Association, you’re asking the Board to do two things.  First, the representative who serves on the Master Association must essentially pick up a second Board job.  Second, the rest of the Board members now function as “owners” – which means all of the advice of building networks, leading resistance movements, and more must be brought to bear to be effective.  This is often a bridge too far for over-taxed Boards.  An important takeaway from this Master Association overview is that the same advice given to Owners.  Just as Owners need to be involved, Boards can’t settle for mediocrity either.  They must engage and participate to effectively deal with Master Associations.  


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