Political Yard Signs and HOA Rules During Campaign Season

As Election Day draws near, disputes over political yard signs can lead to lessons of free-speech in America’s neighborhoods. Homeowners’ desires to the express their political views by planting yard signs may collide with community association boards’ efforts to preserve their communities’ appearance.

It is important for your community to have reasonable rules about political signs and even more important to have the knowledge and skill to effectively guide the residents and/or an association board through the process of creating, communicating and enforcing community rules.

The courts have found that the right to display a political yard sign in community association-governed property is not protected under free speech rights.  Instead, the association’s governing documents as well as city, county and state statutes dictate if yard signs are permissible.

Community association managers are like small town mayors, with the responsibility to be reasonable and fair while upholding rules. If your community has yard sign regulations, make sure they conform to state and local laws and enforce them consistently. A CMCA-certified manager should be knowledgeable of best practices, industry standards and laws affecting political signs.  Make sure your community is protected with competent management.

For associations whose covenants don’t currently regulate the display of political signs but are considering it, we urge the following:

  • Consult state statute.  State law may already regulate such signs.
  • Consult local town or county regulations. Some counties regulate the duration and placement of signs.
  • Develop a rule that will be effective for your community during next year’s election, which will include a very important presidential election.
  • Don’t prohibit signs without exception.  The right to express political views during campaign season is dearly held.  If your association’s rules are content neutral, reasonable and consistently enforced, there’s less chance of expensive litigation.
  • Remind residents of sign rules prior to election season.
  • Don’t forcibly remove signs.  This is only a last resort, because it will cause hard feelings.
  • Approach enforcement in a friendly, neutral manner.

What are you community rules about political signage?

Political Yard Signs and HOA Rules

As Election Day draws near, disputes over political yard signs can lead to lessons of free-speech in America’s neighborhoods. Homeowners’ desires to the express their political views by planting yard signs may collide with community association boards’ efforts to preserve their communities’ appearance.

It is important for your community to have reasonable rules about political signs and even more important to have a community association manager with the knowledge and skill to effectively guide the residents through the process of creating, communicating and enforcing community rules.

The courts have found that the right to display a political yard sign in community association-governed property is not protected under free speech rights.  Instead, the association’s governing documents as well as city, county and state statutes dictate if yard signs are permissible.

For associations whose covenants don’t currently regulate the display of political signs but are considering it, here are suggestions:

  • Consult state statute.  State law may already regulate such signs.
  • Consult local town or county regulations. Some counties regulate the duration and placement of signs.
  • Work with your Board to develop a rule that will be effective for your community for federal, state and local elections.
  • Don’t prohibit signs without exception.  The right to express political views during campaign season is dearly held.  If your association’s rules are content neutral, reasonable and consistently enforced, there’s less chance of expensive litigation.
  • Remind residents of sign rules prior to election season.
  • Don’t forcibly remove signs.  This is only a last resort, because it will cause hard feelings.
  • Approach enforcement in a friendly, neutral manner.

How is your community handling the political sign issue?  Please leave your ideas and suggestions in the comment section.

Disaster Preparedness in 6 Steps

We can’t predict the weather, except we know it is getting wilder and weirder.

And, sadly, 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?

What’s a reasonable accommodation?

The Sun-Sentinel had a great article about associations providing and paying for interpreters.  Get a glimpse below and read the full article here by Lisa Magill, Esq.

Discrimination claims against associations seem to be on the rise. Community leaders and managers should know that the Fair Housing Act prohibits any person to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a handicapped person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit.

What if a condominium owner or resident is deaf and cannot participate at meetings since she or he cannot hear what is being said? Would the association have to provide an interpreter under those circumstances?

The housing provider (community association in this context) must make requested accommodations unless:

1. the accommodation imposes an undue financial or administrative burden, or

2. requires a fundamental alteration in the nature of its program.

Leave your advice or experience in the comments below.

Eye on Ethics: Morals, Ethics and Character

By Jim Stilwell, CMCA, PCAM

When I was the GM/COO at Warner Springs Ranch, a 250-room, member-owned, old-California resort I taught a class to all new employees of Warner Springs Ranch as part of our Academy in which employees learned  what was expected of them as employees, and what they could expect from us as managers. One segment of this instruction dealt with morals, ethics and character. To keep things simple, I defined the principles as follows:

Morals – Knowing right from wrong.
Ethics – Knowing right from wrong, and choosing right.
Character – Knowing right from wrong, and choosing right – even if no one is looking!

All managers face ethics issues on a daily basis. However, because most managers have been brought up “right” and have a good blend of training and experience, the ethics issues seldom rise to the level of a challenge. The “right” thing is automatically done.  There are, however, some cases in which managers wonder, “What should I do?”

May I provide information to one board member without providing it to the others? Some might say this is okay as long as the information was specifically requested by the one director.  However, in this age of e-mail and PDF files don’t play the “knowledge is power” game.  Direct your e-mail with attachments to the director who requested the information, but copy all others.  And while we are discussing e-mail, stay away from “bcc” and beware of the “reply to all” tab.  Improper use may raise ethics issues.  Remember – it only takes a millisecond for an error in judgment to propagate through the Internet and across the world.

Who do I work for? Is it the developer who hired me or is it the HOA? A person may not serve two masters. Although there are some who would argue otherwise, the manager’s obligations of duty, obedience, and loyalty belong to the HOA. It might be a tightrope, but it must be walked.

It’s recall time. Do I support the “A” team or the “B” team? The truth is you support neither, and you support both. Remember, you are the governance expert in the community.  You know how the board works (or how it should work).  You know the rules and bylaws.  You know where the bones are buried.  Your duty is to the Association, its governing documents, and the law. Don’t take sides and don’t offer advice, but do make sure the process is correct.

An owner has made a records request. I know what he wants, but he is requesting the wrong information. Do I help him?  The simple answer is “yes”.   The correct thing is to sit down with the owner and see what the issue is. An owner will sometimes ask for the entire budget document when all he is looking for is your contract. Face it head on. If your documents say he is entitled to information, help him get it.

If you have to think too much about the “right” thing to do, it is probably the wrong thing. If in doubt, seek counsel from your peers or from a professional in the field in question.  Do not be afraid to ask questions of association attorneys.

Jim Stilwell is currently General Manager/COO of Desert Princess Country Club and Resort, an HOA in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, CA.  He was formerly GM/COO of Warner Springs Ranch, a historic, 2,500 acre resort, in Back-Country, San Diego County, California. He has 20 years of experience as General Manager of communities in both the public and private sectors following a distinguished career in the Merchant Marine, where he commanded some of the largest and most technically advanced vessels under the U.S. Flag  He also provides consulting services through his own company – YOUR Community Management, LLC

From the Field

Natural Disasters Underscore Need for HOA Disaster Plan

These days, when tornado sirens blare, condo owners in Judy Rosen’s 70-unit St. Louis high-rise go straight to the building’s underground, windowless garage and huddle in the center.

They won’t soon forget the late April “Good Friday” tornado that carved a 22-mile track of destruction through their city, damaging 200 homes and leaving thousands of people without power.  Although the community wasn’t damaged, residents were assured by the Crescent Condominiums’ disaster preparedness plan.

“I would be just panicked if something happened to the people who live in my community,” said Judy Rosen CMCA, AMS, PCAM, community manager with more than 30 years’ experience.  “But because I took the time to sit down and write an emergency preparedness plan, I know I had done my job. That prepares me, and that prepares my community, for whatever can happen.”

With more than 60 million Americans living homes governed by community associations, emergency planning has become an essential skill of HOA managers. Community managers play a key role in any emergency response effort. HOA managers must understand what types of disasters are likely to occur in their community, develop emergency response protocols, practice them and then communicate them.

Disasters range from summer wildfires to hurricanes, tornadoes to blizzards. Their impact on communities varies, depending on their size and location, the age of the housing stock and a community’s degree of preparedness.

According to the American Red Cross, writing a disaster preparedness plan has six steps:

  1. Committing to preparedness for the community or property. This means getting the HOA board and other top leadership committed to disaster planning.
  2. Conducting 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 that happened to someone else.”
  3. Developing an emergency response plan. “If you already 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?” Sullivan says.
  4. Testing your plan.  An untested plan is not a real plan – so go ahead and plan those drills.
  5. Communicating about preparedness. Managers must make preparedness top of mind in their communities, through      newsletters and bill inserts.
  6. Helping others.  By definition, a commitment to disaster preparedness is a commitment to helping others – so some communities consider adopting a local school or church or hosting a blood drive.

“CMCAs learn these are things they have to be aware of,” said Rosen, who teaches classes on emergency preparedness. “They know they are responsible for the people in their community, and they have to have a written plan.”

Do you have a plan in place?  Tell us about it.

5 Core Beliefs of Extraordinary Bosses

1. A company is a community, not a machine.

Average bosses consider their company to be a machine with employees as cogs. They create rigid structures with rigid rules and then try to maintain control by “pulling levers” and “steering the ship.”

Extraordinary bosses see their company as a collection of individual hopes and dreams, all connected to a higher purpose. They inspire employees to dedicate themselves to the success of their peers and therefore to the community–and company–at large.

2. Management is service, not control.

Average bosses want employees to do exactly what they’re told. They’re hyper-aware of anything that smacks of insubordination and create environments where individual initiative is squelched by the “wait and see what the boss says” mentality.

Extraordinary bosses set a general direction and then commit themselves to obtaining the resources that their employees need to get the job done. They push decision making downward, allowing teams form their own rules and intervening only in emergencies.

3. My employees are my peers, not my children.

Average bosses see employees as inferior, immature beings who simply can’t be trusted if not overseen by a patriarchal management. Employees take their cues from this attitude, expend energy on looking busy and covering their behinds.

Extraordinary bosses treat every employee as if he or she were the most important person in the firm. Excellence is expected everywhere, from the loading dock to the boardroom. As a result, employees at all levels take charge of their own destinies.

4. Motivation comes from vision, not from fear.

Average bosses see fear–of getting fired, of ridicule, of loss of privilege–as a crucial way to motivate people.  As a result, employees and managers alike become paralyzed and unable to make risky decisions.

Extraordinary bosses inspire people to see a better future and how they’ll be a part of it.  As a result, employees work harder because they believe in the organization’s goals, truly enjoy what they’re doing and (of course) know they’ll share in the rewards.

5. Change equals growth, not pain.

Average bosses see change as both complicated and threatening, something to be endured only when a firm is in desperate shape. They subconsciously torpedo change … until it’s too late.

Extraordinary bosses see change as an inevitable part of life. While they don’t value change for its own sake, they know that success is only possible if employees and organization embrace new ideas and new ways of doing business.

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 as 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.