Do your homework before running for seat on association’s board

July 15, 2011

I want to run for election to our community’s board of directors. What exactly does the board do? What can it not do? Please advise.

A board of directors must deal with a wide variety of issues, including pet and parking restrictions, crime on the common grounds, trash, tot lots, employment and tax issues.

Service on a board is an unpaid, thankless task. Yet, a major investment — your home — is at stake, and that is why many homeowners make the difficult decision to serve their community. What many of them don’t realize from the start is that community associations are big businesses with budgets that often exceed $1 million annually and revenue that can top those of other businesses and even local governments.

Finance and budgetary matters are perhaps the most important function of a board. It must establish an annual budget, so that the amount of the owners’ assessments can be determined.

It is important to remember that the board establishes policies and procedures. It is not, and should not be, the manager. Many writers have likened community associations to a mini-government. In this context, think of the board as the legislative arm of government, and your property manager as the executive branch.

Work closely with your property manager, who typically prepares the association’s budget and submits it to the board. Some associations have legal documents that allow the board to adopt and approve the budget and others require the entire association membership to approve it, usually by a simple majority vote.

Don’t fight the property manager all the time. There has to be a team effort, and the team generally includes the property manager, the association’s attorney and the accountant. You probably do not have the expertise or experience to craft your own budget, but the buck stops with the board. If next year’s budget is too low or if there are unforeseen emergency expenditures, you will have to pass a special assessment. Go tell that to your friends and neighbors!

Enforcement of association documents, including architectural covenants, is another function of the board. Some boards harshly and strictly enforce their rules, which is why homeowners sometimes refer to their association boards as the “local KGB.”

While rules and regulations must be enforced, common sense and a bit of humanity and heart must be part of the enforcement process. The law is quite clear that arbitrary and selective enforcement will not stand the test of litigation.

Every board member of every community association should read “Be Reasonable: How Community Associations Can Enforce Rules Without Antagonizing Residents, Going to Court or Starting World War III,” a publication available through the Community Associations Institute. Permit me to quote from it: “It’s time for associations to write responsible rules and review existing restrictions. To eliminate restrictions that are outdated and illogical, and to address specific problems with clear, specific solutions. To realize that overzealous, unreasonable boards of directors can be more damaging to property values than the violations they so vigorously try to prevent. It’s time to be reasonable.”

Still up for the job?

Then do your homework. Start by reading your state’s statute dealing with community associations (whether you live in a condominium or a homeowners association.) Also read and understand your association’s legal documents.

And finally, let’s get one thing straight: If you are on an ego trip, or merely want to be called “Mr./Madame President,” forget it. This position is not for you.

Good luck on your campaign!

Benny L. Kass is a Washington lawyer. This column is not legal advice and should not be acted upon without obtaining your own legal counsel. For a free copy of the booklet “A Guide to Settlement on Your New Home,” send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Benny L. Kass, 1050 17th St. NW, Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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