Looking at my Twitter feed, it often feels like a parade of Association horrors. Embezzlement, corrupt Boards who never hold elections, Associations that have underfunded reserves – it seems like a nightmare. Yet it’s estimated a whopping 20% of people live in either a Condo Association or HOA. How do you avoid being a victim? Why do Association Boards Break bad?
Here’s the number one reason that Associations “break bad” – Owner apathy.
It seems unfair to blame Owners when often Boards and Management are doing the bad things, but at the end of the day, an Association is a democratic government, and in a democracy you get the government you elect and hold responsible.
If Owners don’t show up to meetings, don’t communicate with the Board, and don’t hold the Board accountable, bad things can happen. Boards that aren’t challenged by their Owners to do their best will stagnate. Boards in this situation can become disengaged, and in some cases, stop acting in the Owners’ interest or even become corrupt. They forget what their job is – to uphold the Bylaws and use their best judgment to lead their Association.
One of the crappiest things about Associations is that there aren’t really effective or rapid enforcement measures for behavior that is illegal under the various Condo and HOA legislation. If someone does something criminal – like embezzles – they get caught in the criminal justice system. But when it comes to the petty bullshit that frustrates Owners and gets Associations in the headlines – like not holding open meetings, inappropriate behavior in elections, or inconsistent Bylaws enforcement – the gray area between “inappropriate” and “illegal” is very, very gray.
Board members can generally only be held personally liable when they are willfully ignoring the Bylaws (this protection is actually a good thing, or no one would ever want these jobs) – so the net result is that when a Board is being difficult, you need to lawyer up (which is costly), and then you’re basically suing yourself to sue the Association (since you pay into the Association). The resolution time for Association civil cases, like many things in the legal system, is slow. The bottom line is that to a large extent, you’re on your own in your Association. I don’t say this to scare you, I say it to make a point: proactive involvement is far more effective than being reactive when it comes to Associations, because once you’re dealing with a Board that’s derelict in their duties, you’re in a situation that likely won’t have a speedy resolution. You must be an involved Owner to avoid these situations.
Don’t let your community get to the point where it’s so bad it’s making Owners miserable or making news headlines. Don’t be apathetic. Be engaged, and be an advocate. That’s the secret to countering the apathy that leads to dysfunctional Associations. Show up to meetings. Bring a friend who lives in your Association. Tell them to bring a friend. Email the Board. Interact with the Board. Join a committee. Make sure the Board knows their Owners are involved and expect them to uphold the Bylaws and do the right thing.
Your resolution for 2016, if you’re in an Association, should be to get more involved. My resolution in 2016 is to make sure I’m giving you tips on how to do it effectively.