Communications and Community Governance

“That government is best which governs least” – Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and dubbed “Father of the American Revolution” by historians. He was born in 1737 and lived a remarkable life that spanned the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and life in France under Napoleon’s rule. His communication skills were legendary and he largely influenced many Americans to take up the cause that became the American Revolution. So important were his writings, we still talk about him today.

Community Association Volunteer Leaders (CAVLs as they are designated by CAI) would do well to heed the words of Thomas Paine. In too many community associations, the cry for revolution can be heard. Has your community ever faced a massive turnover or group resignation from its Board of Directors? Does your Board of Directors govern too little or too much?

Community Association Volunteer Leaders are the lifeblood of community association governance. They serve on the Board, they serve on the Committees, and they participate in their communities. But as volunteers, they are not necessarily skilled in politics or communications which can lead to big problems in communities.

Thomas Paine went on to say: “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”

In his day, Paine had the power of the printing press on his side. None of today’s communication marvels were available to him. Can you imagine how many friends he would have on his Facebook page or how many Twitter fans would be following him? Facetiousness aside, it is fair to say that most Community Association Volunteer Leaders can communicate far better with their community members today than Thomas Paine could back in his day. Is your association using its communication tools to govern best? Have you created a government that is a necessary evil or have you created an intolerable one? In other words, is your community a better place for your leadership?

I have long held that a community that sheds as much light as possible on its governance is a community that is far more likely to thrive than one that operates in secrecy. Lack of transparency in how their association is being run is the chief complaint I hear from disgruntled residents of associations from around the country. Communities that fail to communicate fail to create harmonious, prosperous living conditions for their residents. The lack of effective communications has made the very people that elected them to see their leaders as an intolerable evil. The irony is that in most cases, those who are governing the association are doing their level best to serve their members.

I hope you will take the words of Thomas Paine to heart when you consider how you will govern your community. The promise of America was little more than a dream when he was a young man. He understood that the challenges facing the fledgling country around him would be met by men and women of great conviction and virtue. He was a master at rallying support for his ideas and building a consensus upon which to proceed. He wrote “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph” in describing what lie ahead for the Colonies as they prepared to declare their independence from England. While governing our associations may not be as great a challenge, we can certainly draw inspiration from his heroic words. Combine your communication skills with well-intentioned community governance and create a successful community.

 

Originally written by Bob Gourley on MyEZCondo

Fair Housing, Rental Payments and Disability: One Size Does Not Fit All

Rent is due on the first and late on the second. And we don’t make any exceptions because of the Fair Housing Act, correct? Well, not exactly. The Fair Housing Act actually requires us to consider requests for exceptions based on the protected class of Disability.

Must we consider and approve a request for a different rent due date based on someone’s disability? In certain situations, yes!

The most common situation is when a person with a disability (PWD) requests a due date other than the first of the month because their only source of income is from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which arrive later than the first of the month. Does this meet the test?

The Fair Housing Act requires us to approve any request that meets the definition of “reasonable”, and if the request does not meet the definition, we are required to offer any reasonable alternative that exists. So the first question we must answer is, “How does the Fair Housing Act define reasonable”?

HUD defines “reasonable” as anything that would not impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider or would not fundamentally alter the nature of the provider’s operations. HUD also requires the housing provider to make the determination about a request being reasonable on a case-by-case basis; in other words, no “one size fits all” rules here!

The next question we must answer is whether setting a rental due date other than the first of the month will create an undue financial and administrative burden or fundamentally alter the nature of our operations? For most of us, the answer is “No”.

So, consider this typical scenario: A resident becomes disabled during the term of their lease, is unable to work and applies for SSDI benefits. The resident is approved to receive benefits, which will be paid on the 15th of each month. The resident asks you to change their rental payment due date from the first of the month, as specified in their current lease, to the 15th of the month, since that’s when the resident’s SSDI check arrives. Do you approve the request?

For most of us, the answer is “yes” since allowing this resident to pay on the 15th will not create a burden or change our operations. But remember, we can’t create a “blanket” policy about this (or any other disability-related) request – each one must be considered on its specific facts and unique circumstances.

Since I’m not an attorney, I can only offer industry best practices, not legal advice. For more information about reasonable accommodations, speak to your fair housing attorney or visit the HUD website at http://1.usa.gov/1AFNP0W. Hope this helps!

Are you attending the NAA Education Conference? Join me and two of my favorite fair housing attorneys, Terry Kitay and Kathi Williams on Friday, June 26 at 2:15 for our session, “Fair Housing CSI: Deconstructing Disability Disasters to Avoid Repeating Them!”.

Originally written by Doug Chasick on PayLease.com

FHA certification and your community!

Did your condominium make the list? Take a minute right now and find out!

Enter the following web address into your computer’s web browser:

https://entp.hud.gov/idapp/html/condlook.cfm

The web page you see before you allows you to sort through the thousands of FHA-approved condominium communities across the nation. You can leave most of the fields blank except for Zip Code. Enter your zip code and click on the Send button. The list you are now looking at is the list of FHA-approved condominiums within your zip code. Is your condominium on the list? You can breathe a little easier if it is. If it isn’t, it may be time for you to take action. Either way, I have some ideas on how to explain the impact of FHA approval on your condominium’s economic viability and the ability of unit buyers, sellers, and owners who choose to refinance to obtain future mortgages.

I can’t imagine anyone not being aware of our nation’s banking crisis. How could anyone have missed the headlines about questionable lending processes that lead to risky mortgages that ultimately failed and threatened to take down our country’s largest financial institutions? Fallout from these failures and bailouts continue to be front page news. But there is a local element to this story that can be easily overlooked. Forgetting to tell this story can mean big trouble for your condominium association. Here’s why.

Congress created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in 1934. The FHA became a part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Housing in 1965. The best source of FHA information is the official HUD website which you will find at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD. This is an official government site and, after spending an hour or so on the site, I can report it is a typical government website with lots of facts and statistics. It is a good resource, albeit a not very exciting one.

So, where should you go for useful information for your condominium association? I may be bit partial to the Community Association Institution as I am a member but I find their “Mortgage Matters” section of their website particularly useful in keeping up with the changes and how they affect my community. The website address ishttp://www.caionline.org/govt/MortgageMatters/FHA/Pages/default.aspx. Here you will find an array of useful articles that can help you explain the importance of making and keeping your condominium association eligible for FHA-approved mortgages as well as other relevant and timely articles on FHA and its impact on condominiums. Be the first to know important news that affects your community!

Like it or not, FHA approval for mortgages to buyers and owners of condominium units is likely here to stay. What’s worse is that the rules of qualification are likely to get tougher for condominium associations. Should you decide to dismiss this important information, don’t be surprised when you find unit owners asking why FHA approval was never sought. You can imagine the anger that will be caused when mortgages are denied based on the property’s lack of qualification, not the person seeking the mortgage.

This story will be told in your community, one way or the other. My advice is to get in front of it and get your condominium on the FHA approval list now, before you find yourself defending your lack of approval, or worse, defending the fact that the condominium never even sought approval.

 

Originally written by Bob Gourley on MyEZCondo.com

Informing Unit Owners About Painting Projects: A Colorful Story!

Five years ago, my HOA decided to take on the project of changing colors and painting all 20 units in the association. We are a modest community consisting of four buildings built back in the late 1970’s. Brown on brown was the original color palette and the board decided that those colors were not truly reflective of the nautical nature of our Long Island Sound shore side community. The challenge of changing color palettes was tricky but with a proper action plan to aid us, we were able to win over most residents and pull off a smooth transition.

The first order of business was involving the unit owners. Over the years, owners had seen their buildings painted several times. For a brief time, before I was a member of this community, the buildings were painted a shade of brown and grey that I can only describe as the color of an army barracks. Apparently, the painting contractor “got a deal” on some surplus paint that the sitting board agreed to let him apply for a discounted price. That was a bad idea that cost a few board members their seats and a mistake the current board would not repeat. We set out an action plan to assure success. Here’s what it looked like:

  • Announce the building painting project
  • Inform unit owners
  • Select colors
  • Inform unit owners
  • Send out bids for work
  • Inform unit owners
  • Hire contractor
  • Inform unit owners
  • Plan the work with the contractor
  • Inform unit owners
  • Get status reports from contractor
  • Inform unit owners
  • Finish job and Celebrate!
  • Inform unit owners

You may have noticed a step that was repeated throughout the project. Informing the unit owners is the single most important step to assuring a successful painting project. While the contractor was only on property three days applying the paint, more than 12 months went into the plan and execution of the painting project.

Thrusting a painting project upon owners without their consent and involvement is a sure way to thwart your painting project’s success. Even if every other aspect of the project goes smoothly and as planned, if you fail to inform and involve unit owners, you will very likely have freshly painted buildings and freshly minted animosity towards the board and manager for not properly communicating all aspects of the project.

I should point out that this painting project was a major financial undertaking for the community, as I expect a project of this scope would be for any community. We took a potentially divisive issue and used it to unite the unit owners. We also purchased a new entry way sign to reflect the new colors and nautical theme of the buildings. Painting buildings gave us better curb appeal; communication and involvement between board and unit owners gave us a better community.

Bob Gourley is founder of MyEZCondo, a communications firm that produces newsletter and website content material for condominiums and homeowner associations throughout the USA. He also serves as board president of his local HOA.

As originally appeared in CondoManagement Magazine