boxing glovesTips for improving relations between community association boards and their communities.

Volunteering as an HOA or Community Association board member is a thankless job at best. The basic goal of effectively operating the business of the community means that board members have to collect money from neighbors and tell them what they can and can’t do. This creates an inherent conflict that can quickly escalate unless board members and neighbors figure out how to work together to do what’s best for the community.

In addition to helping community associations with tax and audit work for the past 15 years, I also served on my own community’s board (including president) for 8 years. I’ve definitely seen my share of scuffles.

Things can quickly get out of control

I was approached by a person representing a group of homeowners in a neighborhood controlled by a homeowners’ association. The group felt that money was being misappropriated, and requested that the HOA board of directors conduct an audit or similar financial procedure. The board declined the request, stating that it didn’t want to spend money. The group of residents is now trying to override the board, and attorneys are involved. This is going to be a mess.

Everyone tries to avoid these confrontations, but they can and will mostly likely happen at some point. Money is often the root of the issue, either the amount collected or how it is used. Here are some ideas for how board members and neighbors can maintain some degree of harmony.

In the red corner – board members

Transparency is key for the board, including open and honest communications. You can never over-communicate:

  • Post board meeting dates and minutes. No one may show up to meeting, but at least they can see the discussion topics, including financial updates. Consider posting financial summaries as well.
  • Hold town hall meetings for major decisions. Help neighbors understand the rationale behind a special assessment or dues increase.
  • Seek feedback. While this isn’t always possible, you may find that the feedback helps improve the final decision.
  • Understand your role. Although you don’t get paid, you still have a fiduciary responsibility to your neighbors and community. Take your responsibilities seriously.

Also understand that, unless you only have one home in your community, there will always be residents who don’t agree with decisions for one reason or another.

In the blue corner – neighbors

Your board members have volunteered to give back to your community, and are most likely juggling a number of personal and professional responsibilities in addition to their board roles.

  • Be nice. Put yourself in their shoes, and be respectful in your communications.
  • Show up. Attend board and annual meetings to see how tough decisions are identified, discussed, and made.
  • Stand up. When you have an idea, question, or concern, proactively bring it to the board’s attention rather than talking with your friends about how things “should” be done.
  • Get involved. Volunteer for a board or committee position. Then you can play a more prominent role in important neighborhood decisions.

The board often has to make unpopular decisions, as well as some decisions that serve the overall community even though you personally disagree.

Let’s all get along!

Communities are made of residents with diverse personal and professional backgrounds. Understanding that diversity is the key to maintaining a good relationship between the board and residents. Please share your own neighborhood experiences, positive and negative, and I’ll publish an update to this article.

Neal Bach, CPA