2011 New Year’s Resolutions for Community Associations

New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be limited to just individuals. In the spirit of ushering out the old and welcoming in the new year, I suggest community associations consider adopting New Year’s resolutions for 2011. The timing of these resolutions also coincides with the time that many shared ownership communities conduct their annual meetings and board elections, the first quarter of the calendar year. What better opportunity to adopt and implement a platform of New Year’s resolutions than when an association Board turns over or reconvenes for the year?

A Board may consider one or more of the following resolutions (in no particular order):

1. Adopt and follow strict collections policies. Due to the continued downturn in the economy, most every community association in the United States has experienced some level of foreclosures or owners who are past due on their assessment accounts. In less critical times, Boards may have relaxed their collections policies and allowed their “neighbors” time to catch up. But such leniency is no longer feasible in today’s economic climate. Instead, Boards must adopt and uniformly follow strict collections policies, or risk heightened delinquencies and claims of selective enforcement.

2. Review governing documents. Board members should be intimately familiar with their governing documents (i.e., Articles of Incorporation, Declaration, Bylaws and House Rules and Resolutions). Boards should resolve to review their documents at the start of each year, at a minimum, to ensure familiarity and compliance. Though sometimes containing “legalese,” even non-attorney Board members should understand the provisions of each governing document. If not, a Board should have an attorney or other professional explain any confusing or technical portions of the documents.

3. Amend governing documents, if necessary. Along with reviewing and fully understanding their governing documents, a Board should resolve to amend any conflicting, vague or obsolete governing document. To avoid unnecessary conflict and cost, a Board should be forward-leaning and move to amend outdated documents before a conflict or a problem arises–it will be much cheaper in the long run.

4. Adopt communications policy. One of the most common problems experienced by community associations relates to inefficient or ineffective communication. A Board should resolve to adopt a communications policy governing intra-Board communication, as well as communication with association members, managers and third-party consultants or companies. If an association does not have a communications policy, even the most basic problem or issue can be blown out of proportion, resulting in increased conflict, cost and adverse consequences.

5. Reduce email. Electronic mail has certainly revolutionized American business. Unfortunately, the proliferation of email has also resulted in inundation of written communication which sometimes can be overwhelming and all consuming (e.g., iPhones, Droids and “Crackberries”). Email can also be far less effective than simply picking up the phone or speaking with someone directly. As part of a comprehensive communications policy, a Board may wish to define specific email protocols, including establishing limitations on subject criteria and response times. A Board should also establish association email accounts, such as GardenPointSec@yahoo.com or VillaCourtPres@gmail.com, etc., to eliminate the use of personal, company and government servers for association business.

6. Establish reasonable working protocols and expectations. Along with reducing reliance upon email, a Board may wish to set expectations as to when association business is to be conducted (preferably at Board meetings). Too often, Board members conduct business 24/7 via email or when confronted by an owner or other Board member in a parking lot or when getting their mail at the community mail kiosk. Everyone is busy juggling family, work, activities and Board service, but not every association related issue is urgent or must be dealt with by the Board. A Board that sets reasonable working protocols and expectations for itself as well as when dealing with homeowners and managers, is much more effective and productive.

7. Facilitate better communication and relations with management. All too often association Boards complain that their professional manager or management company is deficient in one or more areas. However, when asked if they have addressed the issue or issues directly with the manager, they often offer an excuse of one type or another. It may seem that the grass is greener at the adjacent community, or community manager, but it is surprising how much turnover there is among managers and management companies that could be avoided if communication was increased and expectations mutually agreed upon. Tying performance metrics to contract terms also is a must. Rather than dump its current manager in hopes of finding a better match, it may be more effective to work on the current business relationship to improve communication, relations and expectations.

8. Run efficient meetings. Almost every Board president or chair could strive to increase efficiency and productivity of Board and association meetings. An efficient meeting starts with proper notice and a well planned agenda. Thought should be given as to physical set up of the room, including location of the Board seats and table in relation to where the association members sit. Time limits should be set for each category of business and presentation, including any owner input, assuming the Board allows an owner forum as part of its meeting (versus hearing from owners before or after the official Board meeting is conducted). Lastly, meeting minutes should be concise and bulleted facts, with minimal narration. Minutes are not a substitution for attendance.

The start of 2011 is as good a time as any for a community association Board to consider adopting one or more of the preceding “New Year’s resolutions.”

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