Recertify Your CMCA: Keep Your CMCA Up & Your Stress Level Down

Don’t Miss Tomorrow’s Free Webinar!

The next CMCA Recertification deadline is coming up October 1! Do you have all your credit hours together?

Join us during this 30-minute webinar as we review all the continuing education opportunities approved and accepted by CAMICB. We’ll review what you’ll need to complete your CMCA Recertification Application and walk you thorugh the process on how to complete your Recertification.

This interactive format allows for questions during the 15-minute program. Or, you can save your questions for the 15-minute Q&A after the presentation.

DATE: Sept 5, 2019
TIME: 3:00 p.m. ET/2:00 CT/1:00 MT/12:00 PT
COST: FREE!

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Pool Rules – A Confusing World

By Jim Slaughter

With warmer weather, we’re getting our usual barrage of pool questions.  Many deal with appropriate pool rules and pool signs.  Without question, pool issues are one of the more confusing areas of our practice in that there are few absolutes.  That’s particularly the case when it comes to dealing with Fair Housing Act issues.

The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) was originally adopted in 1968 and prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  The FHA was amended in 1988 to add protected classes of disability and familial status.  The short version as to familial status is this: associations should not treat families with children differently than other residents in the community.  Unfortunately, there is no FHA model pool rules list, so associations sometimes find out that wording is bad when a claim is brought against the association.

Based on FHA language and various cases around the country, association attorneys have come up with some standard pool suggestions.  The focus is basically that pool rules must be related to health and safety and not simply discriminate against families with children.  So:

  • “Adults only” pools or swim time are almost certainly violations, in that such rules are based on age and not swimming ability.  If the concern is safety, lap swimming or lap lanes may address such concern without being discriminatory.
  • “Children must” be potty trained to use the pool or use water diapers are almost certainly violations, in that the rule discriminates against an age class without taking into account that adults can also be incontinent.
  • “Children not permitted in the pool unless accompanied by parents” is almost certainly a violation on two fronts—the rule discriminates against children with no regard to swimming ability (children as young as 15 can be certified as Red Cross lifeguards) and it requires parents present for children to swim without regard to other family members or a legal guardian.  In fact, a case from California (Iniestra v. Cliff Warren Investments) found a rule that “Children under the age of 18 are not allowed in the pool or pool area at any time unless accompanied by their parents or legal guardian” was discriminatory on its face.

All of these rupool_0les could be rewritten to be more neutral while still addressing issues of safety, rather than just targeting children or families with children.

As an example of how this can get confusing, let’s take a look at a specific instance.  North Carolina has statutes and state regulations regulating “public swimming pools,” which the NC Department of Health and Human Services says apply to all homeowner and condominium association pools.  15A N.C. Administrative Code 18A .2530 provides that for pools with no lifeguard:

[T]here shall be signs legible from all bather entrances with a minimum letter size of one inch stating: “CHILDREN SHOULD NOT USE THE SWIMMING POOL WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION” and “ADULTS SHOULD NOT SWIM ALONE.”

Under the FHA, should a community association pool sign begin with “CHILDREN SHOULD NOT . . .”?  NO.   Does North Carolina seem to require that community association pool signs say “CHILDREN SHOULD NOT. . .”?  YES.

As state regulators work through the FHA and state pool rules, it is likely the mandated pool sign wording will change.  Until then, please understand why wading through pool rules for community associations is not as easy as it seems.

James Slaughter is a partner at the law firm of Rossabi Black Slaughter, PA. His areas of practice are Community Association / Planned Community Law (Homeowner Association and Condominium Association Law); Condominium and Homeowner Association Mediation; Real Estate Litigation; Business Litigation; Parliamentary Law.

It’s Trivia Time at CAI Press!

TRUE or FALSE? National Trivia Day is March 15.  

FALSE. It was Jan. 4, but we’re still celebrating. Join us by taking the CAI Press trivia quiz!

TRUE or FALSE? The Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles combined for one season to become the Steagles.
TRUE. And, if they can come together, so can your residents. Find out how in Volunteers: How Community Associations Thrive.
(Read the Steagle’s story.)

TRUE or FALSE? The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing sells five-pound bags containing $10,000 worth of U.S. currency for $45.
TRUE, but the currency is shredded. Piecing it back together is almost as challenging as collecting delinquencies. We have an easier way: read Delinquencies: How Communities Collect Assessments. It isn’t shredded.
(Take a look at $10,000.)

TRUE or FALSE? The world over, all McDonald’s golden arches are, well, … gold.
FALSE. A McDonald’s in Sedona, Ariz., erected turquoise arches to comply with the town’s design review standards. They must have read Design Review: How Community Associations Maintain Peace and Harmony.
(Check out the turquoise arches.)

TRUE or FALSE? Vending machines kill four times more people than sharks do.
TRUE. Which means hidden risks lurk everywhere. Learn how to protect against them in Risk Management: How Community Associations Protect Themselves.
(Find out what else is more dangerous than sharks.)

TRUE or FALSE? In the earliest versions of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s dog Toto was replaced by an unnamed donkey and a pet cow named Imogene.
TRUE. And you thought you had pet problems. Dorothy could have used a copy of Pet Policies: How Community Associations Maintain Peace and Harmony.
(See Imogene in this 1930 silent film version of the classic movie.)

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Managing a Major Project in a Condo Association: An Overview

By Better Condo Life

It is inevitable that there will be a major project in your Condo Association.  All major systems will degrade over time and eventually will need to be repaired or replaced.  Examples include roofs, garages, facades, elevators, HVAC systems, fire alarms, etc.  For our purposes, a “major” project will be defined as one that is paid for out of reserves and is around 10% or more of the Association’s annual revenues.  These projects are also characterized by being technical in nature – they likely involve engineers and directly affect the safety and security of the building as a whole.  Of course, these are all baselines – a smaller project could still be complicated and fall into this category.

This miniseries will be dedicated to walking you through the process of a major project in a Condo Association and ensure that you’re positioned for successfully carrying one out.  Today’s article will focus on an overview of the full life cycle, and future articles will provide a deep dive into each individual step.

This series will assume two things.  The first is that you’ve identified a system needs replacement – there are a number of ways this will happen, from the system outright failing (an HVAC system) to testing for deterioration (a concrete garage).  The second is that you have the money for the replacement in your reserves.  I’ll come back to those topics in the future, because both are worth discussing further.

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Step 1: Hire an Engineering Consultant to Serve as the Condo Association’s Representative

Since this is a major project, it is going to exceed your Board and Management’s technical capabilities.  You may not have a structural engineer on your Board, for example, and even if you did, they’re a Board member, not the person doing the work.  Remember, the job of a Board is to set policy and make decisions based upon receiving qualified input – not micromanaging everything.  So let’s get you some qualified help for your project.  If you’ve already got a firm you trust and have worked with in the past, you can skip reading this step.

No matter what the project, you’ll be able to find an engineer who can represent your Association.  Their cost will scale with the size of the project, so even for smaller projects, you can hire an engineer.  There are many things to look into when selecting a qualified engineer, but here’s a quick overview of what you want to do:

  • Get references, and speak to those references – ideally other entities/building owners who worked with them in the past.
  • Evaluate for their technical skills – have they managed similar projects of similar size and scope?
  • Evaluate their ability to communicate.  You’ll be working with them closely, and if they’re aloof or incapable of explaining things to a layperson, they may not be a good fit for a residential Condo project.
  • Clearly lay out what you expect from them.  Will they need to make monthly reports to the Board?  Interact with Owners?  Work off-hours?  If not scoped, these all could end up being billed at an hourly rate.

Finally, I strongly recommend having your lawyer review the contract with your consultant prior to signing.  The consultant is going to have a lot of power and responsibility, so make sure the contract is legally sound and protects the Condo Association.  AIA standard contract documents are generally available (for a fee), and should be used whenever possible.

Step 2:  Design and Bid Phase

Now that you’ve got a consultant, they’ll work with you to design and scope the bids to repair/replace your system.  Depending on the project size and intrusiveness into your Owner’s quality of life, this phase can get quite complicated.  For example, you might phase the work slower to minimize disruption, or faster to save money.  Money will be a big factor in this step – you’ll need to decide what’s important to you and if you’re willing to pay for it.  Also consider indirect costs to the project – you may need to hire temporary workers for your building’s staff or, in rare cases, you may need to relocate Owners to hotels, etc.  A project is often more costly than just what you’re paying the engineering consultant and project performer (i.e., budget for contingency).

Another important thing to consider is having the design that your engineering consultant carries out be peer-reviewed by another firm.  This is a process where another firm ensures the design is sound and meets the Condo Association’s needs.  This may not be needed for smaller projects, but it can be an important step when managing a major project in a Condo Association – it makes sure you’re getting the best value and that you’ll be getting your money’s worth by adding another layer of accountability – another “pair of eyes.”

Once the design is complete, you’ll move into the bid phase:

  • The request for proposal will go out and your consultant will collect and score bids for you from qualified project performers.
  • Review the bids with your consultant and narrow it down to the best 2-3 bids.
  • Interview the top bidders and make a selection.
  • Negotiate the best price possible, have your lawyer review the contract, and sign it.  Make sure a lawyer reviews it!

Now we move on to the fun part: letting your Owners know what’s coming.

Step 3:  Communicate with Owners

Now that you have a consultant and a project performer, it’s time to let your Owners know that a major project is imminent.  Although you’ve probably been talking about this in Board meetings for some time, chances are you have many uninformed Owners.  To ensure a smooth project, you need a communications plan to ensure your Owners are well-informed and to minimize disruptions.  Communication is particularly critical in projects that interrupt Owners’ daily routines – perhaps in your garage project, for example, you need to temporarily relocate parking.  My Communications 101 article has some good general tips, but you’ll also need to:

  • Prepare a packet of information for all Owners that explains the needs of the project.  Focus on outlining why the project is important (i.e., old roof means leaks, which are bad) and quantify the impacts wherever possible.
  • Consider holding a “town hall” style meeting with your engineers and project performer present where you present and describe the work while allowing Owners to ask questions.
  • Make sure your Board and Management are ready for an increased volume of communication with Owners, and have a plan to answer them in a timely manner.

Now it’s time to begin the project itself.

Step 4:  Project Execution

Execution is where the fun REALLY begins.  This could be very straightforward – perhaps it’s only a week’s worth of work so the impacts are comparatively minimal.  But many major rehabilitation efforts can last months or even years, which has a strong impact to quality of life.  Some things to keep in mind:

  • Be ready to monitor the field reports from your project performer and engineering consultant.  Your Management will have lead on this, but you also need to stay informed.
  • Expect the unexpected.  Your project performer may damage things unexpectedly. They may find new problems or unforeseen conditions. Who knows.  Be ready to make important decisions relatively quickly.
  • Owners will likely be upset from any impacts to quality of life.  Some will complain just to complain (be polite and move on), others will demand free stuff like hotel rooms (deny in almost all cases unless legally obligated to do so), etc.  This will not be fun for you as a Board.  Make sure you’ve got a process to triage, prioritize and respond quickly.
  • Factor in the administrative impact of the project to your Management and other staff.  If applicable, include the support details in their duties and annual review.  Consider hiring part-time staff if necessary to support them.
  • Keep tabs on your Management and staff’s morale.  They will be dealing with many more unhappy people than you will.  Consider everything from pizza parties to gift cards to even cash bonuses depending on the scope of the project.

As bad as this all sounds, you will get through it.  Hold the line, be polite and compassionate, but also remember your fiduciary duties to the Association.

Step 5:  Completion and Preventative Maintenance

Ok, you’re done!  Whew!  You’ve survived a major project in a Condo Association!  Congratulations!  Now’s the time to start thinking about a preventative maintenance program.  You may already have one – perhaps that’s how you decided it was time to repair/replace the system – but if not, you should work with your engineering consultant to develop a plan for maintaining your newly rehabilitated system correctly.  This will maximize the useful life of the system and ensure your investment is well-maintained.

Conclusion

Major projects in your Condo Association are no fun, but they are a part of living in a condo.  Proactive management, being thorough, hiring the right vendors, and communicating well will ensure that the projects are minimally disruptive and allow your Condo Association to rapidly return to normal.

Why Every Association Needs a Community Website

By AtHomeNet

The community association website will bring a community together by providing homeowners, board members, committee members and the property manager with a means to communicate and a place where homeowners can find information concerning their community. The association website will be the main resource for homeowners and others interested in moving into your community. An interactive community website will give you the means to get information out to residents quickly by posting announcements on the website or sending email bulletins to all the homeowners at once.

website design.jpgListed below are just a few ways your homeowners can use the website as an information and communication tool.

Document Storage Area
This is where you can store the association’s covenants, by-laws, rules and regulations, newsletters, or any forms the community uses such as maintenance requests and architectural review forms. Now everyone will have access to this vital information at anytime.

Events Calendar
The calendar displays a monthly view of all events. There is no limit to the number of events you can post on the calendar and it can even be exported to a resident’s own personal Outlook calendar. So now homeowners will have an easy way to keep track of when board meetings and other events are being held including the place and time. Homeowners can even RSVP to a particular event.

Message Board
Residents can post a comment, question or problem and other homeowners can post a reply. The message board allows homeowners to share or seek information from their neighbors.

Requests and Questions
Homeowners can post a message or ask a question. This means less phone calls to board members or the property manager but gives the homeowners a means to ask a specific person, such as the board president, a specific question.

Survey
A means for homeowners to voice their opinions and check interest on certain topics. This gives homeowners a voice and a feeling they are being heard.

AtHomeNet provides powerful website services and fanatical support that 
enhance communications in community associations and make managing associations easier.

Customer Complaints

By Margaret Heffernan

Bristle at Customer Complaints? That’s the Last Thing You Want to Do.  You may be tempted to view negative feedback as a nuisance. But, if you respond the right way, it’s a gift.

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The other day, at JFK airport, I watched as a fast-food outlet got everything wrong.

What caught my attention chiefly wasn’t the host of mechanical breakdowns, but the failure of the workforce to respond with any hint of ingenuity or resourcefulness. Customers that might have been mollified were ignored, infuriated, and resentful. A bad situation was made far worse by the nonchalance with which service personnel responded.

I thought of writing to the company to explain just how badly everything had been handled. But I didn’t. Not because I minded the effort but because, on consideration, I don’t really like the company, its food, or its strategy. If I were going to spend time on a complaint, I wanted that to go to a business I’d like to see thrive.

It struck me then that a complaint is a gift.

If a customer is willing to invest the time and effort required for a coherent complaint, you’re lucky. You’re learning from the frontline what is really going on and how it plays to your market. While it may be human nature to trivialize negative feedback, don’t. Recognize it as a value insight into what’s really happening.

I remember once writing to an airline to complain about a particularly horrible trip. I got a fantastic response which I remember to this day. It started with the words, “Thank you for your complaint,” and went on to say how useful it was for an executive, stuck in an office, to know what was being done in the company name. That, and a host of other things, made me a loyal customers for years.

So the next time you get a complaint, don’t throw it away or dismiss it as an annoyance. Treasure it.

Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2011, she published her third book, Willful Blindness. @M_Heffernan

Community Association Boards

Board members can make or break your homeowners association. You’ve run enough meetings to see great members share a number of characteristics. Recognize these?

1.They want to help the community.They don’t get on the board to work out a vendetta or serve themselves. Instead, they have the best interest of their community at heart.

2.They’re fair and can see both sides.They can’t be a “do as I say, not as my friends and I do” kind of person. They have to apply the rules fairly to everyone, including themselves. They can also mediate disputes by seeing both sides of an issue.

3.They can run a meeting.Not every HOA decision is a life-or-death matter, but in order to carry on, decisions must be made. Great board members can set forward an agenda, give things necessary time for discussion and help reach decisions, one by one.

4.They listen. Perhaps the most important thing for board member to do is listen to the community. “If community members have taken the time to come to a meeting, chances are they have something to say,” said Kelly Moran, Vice President with Rampart Properties of Tampa, Fla. “The quickest way for a board to be overturned is to not listen to homeowners.”

5.They’re honest. That means being willing to admit not knowing the solution to a problem. It also means being law-abiding, and giving honestly and freely of one’s time.

6.They have foresight.“A board member can’t get caught up in the here and now,” Moran said. “They need to have foresight as to where the association is going and move the association forward. That’s what makes great communities.”

7.They can do nothing.Not every argument or issue needs to be reacted to, especially if it takes the board’s focus away from bigger, or more uplifting, issues. “The two hardest things for a volunteer board of directors to do, is ‘do nothing,’ and ‘say nothing,’” said Bart Park, CEO of Capital Community Management Corporation, Cave Creek, Ariz.

8.They have fun. Board members who can laugh when things are good—or bad—are well on the way to being a great board member.

Your turn: What makes a great HOA board member? What makes a bad one? Respond in the comment section.

Battling Bully Board Members and Homeowners

You’ve seen them (and felt your anxiety level rising).

The homeowner who takes four “guest only” parking spots for his cars. The board president who goes on a vendetta by holding secret meetings, making unapproved purchases and breaking confidentiality rules.

Or, as one Colorado CMCA shared at a recent meeting, the individual who felt insulted at a board meeting, threw a chair and then put up posters throughout the association attacking the manager’s character.

There’s no strict definition of a bully, but we know them when we see them, says anti-bullying expert Ben Leichtling.  Unlike decent people who are angry about a particular issue but want to work out a solution, bullies:

  • are never satisfied
  • treat you like a servant or slave
  • can be “professional victims” who take offense too easily
  • can also be aggressors
  • want to wear you down and beat you up

Bullies might be only 1 percent of the population, Leichting says, but they take 999 percent of your time, energy and emotional reserves.

So you want to fight?

Your attorney can point you to legal tactics to fight the specific actions of a board bully.

Check your governing documents. If the bully is an officer, your board may be able to vote the bully out of office, and back to a director position.  (Officers are generally elected by the board; taking someone off the board may require a homeowner vote.)

If the problem is lack of confidentiality, the board may want to create a confidentiality agreement that spells out the director’s fiduciary duties in writing.

For other “irregularities,” your attorney may also want to take the board member aside. A simple “talking to” can sometimes derail particular behaviors, if not change personalities.

Overcoming Fear

But what if the problem isn’t a board member, but a homeowner? And what if the only tactics available are expensive (i.e. lawsuit) or scary (verbal confrontation)?

Now the human side of battling bullies becomes paramount.  Leichtling, who runs www.bulliesbegone.com and has written numerous books bullying, advocates a six-step system:

1)    Take care of yourself physically and mentally.  Surprised? “Bullies want to wear you down, so that you’ll give up and give them what they want,” Leichtling says. “Your job is to keep yourself at your best.” So do whatever it takes to keep your humor, courage and strength.

2)    Don’t take it personally.  “Bullies want to make you think it’s your fault,” Leichtling says. “You can take it seriously, but not personally.”

3)    Watch for early warning signs.  Bullying is more likely when there’s someone new on the board, or when someone is going through a rough personal patch: a divorce or job loss. Keep your intuition up for these signs.

4)    Begin with relationship:  Don’t assume you’re dealing with a rational person. Assume you’re dealing with someone who is on the emotional razor’s edge.  So get together with the bully, speak emotionally and calm them down enough so they can be rational.

5)    Get on their side: Figure out what you can given the constraints of the situation, without backing down. You may even want to get on their side of the desk or table.

6)    Meet in person: When people are upset, email is not a good strategy. Even if this costs you time and money now, a personal meeting is much less costly in the long run.

No, this won’t work with every bully, and every situation.  Rather, it’s an escalating scale of actions to take before legal or board action.  It gives you the assurance of having done everything possible to work it out, short of giving in.

 

Disaster Preparedness in 6 Steps

We can’t predict the weather, except we know it is getting wilder and weirder.  Hurricane Sandy has devastated the northeast coast.  Most of us are ill prepared in case a tornado, hurricane, flood, fire or simple electrical outage hits our homes. Likewise, most businesses – and most homeowners associations – don’t even have an emergency preparedness plan.

Can you make time for disaster preparedness?

Red Cross research shows that every $1 invested in preparedness yields $6 in times of disaster. To help organizations get started, it has developed a readiness self-assessment tool called www.readyrating.org

This 120-question self-assessment isn’t a pass/fail tool. Instead, ReadyRating is a FREE program helps organizations understand where they are on the readiness continuum, and it gives them tools to improve. The program involves six steps:

  1. Commit to preparedness for your community or your property. This means getting your CEO and other top leadership committed to disaster planning.
  2. Conduct a hazard vulnerability assessment. George Sullivan, an expert in disaster preparedness for the American Red Cross says, “A lot of people write an emergency response plan based on something happened to someone else.” If you don’t know what hazards you face, call the American Red Cross which can help you assess risk.
  3. Develop an emergency response plan. “If already you have one, now is the time to revisit it and ask all the big ‘what ifs,’ such as ‘what if we’re no longer able to operate in this location?”
  4. Test your plan. An untested plan is not a real plan – so go ahead and plan those drills.
  5. Communicate about preparedness. Ask yourself, how can I make preparedness top of mind in my community, through newsletters and bill inserts.
  6. Help others. By definition, a commitment to disaster preparedness is a commitment to helping others – so once you go down this path, consider adopting a local school or church, hosting a blood drive.

Are you prepared for disasters? How?