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Communication is key

March 27, 2010

By Lorraine Cyr

Every Community needs some guidelines or rules to live by and get along.  This is why every Association from an apartment complex, to a cooperative to a condo building to an HOA all have governing documents.  There are deeds with restrictions and covenants, By-Laws and House Rules.  But as we all know sometimes it is hard to enforce these rules and it takes time and money, but if one person is allowed to break the rule than it is even harder to enforce the next time.  Here are some simple ways to build consensus and by getting agreement you get voluntary compliance.  In all cases communication is key.

ANNUAL MEETINGS – annual meetings scheduled with advanced notice at least once a year.  Meetings need to be at a convenient time and place with adequate room and time for everyone to be heard.  The agenda needs to be set and published in advance.  The meeting documents need to be sent out in advance to allow time for review before the meeting and time for questions to be sent in before answered before the meeting.  The agenda needs to allow time for the exchange of ideas.  What this means is a smaller agenda with only one or two topics that will cause major discussions and they should be at the end of the agenda.  If you have a lot of problem areas I would schedule semiannual or quarterly meetings with committees working out the details and to help get the information out.  The more people involved the better the results.

COMMUNICATION – a newsletter or other regular communication with the members is key.  The Board needs to take credit for actions taken.  Share information with the members let everyone know in advance.  If the expenses are higher than planned talk about the reasons why.  Ask for help in either cutting expenses or correcting the cause of the overage.  This way when the Board votes to increase monthly fees, everyone understands why and does not blame the Board for not doing its job.  Communities that do not do well and have fierce disputes and drastic changes in management policies are caused by lack of communication.  The Board sees that there needs to be a 10% increase in March but does not share this information, gives the members no options to correct the problem and imposes the high increase and there is mass uproar.  At the next Board election the members vote in members who say that they will reduce cost to fix the mess and the cycle starts all over.  If members were given notice back in March and given options that said if we go ahead with the new sign at a cost of $10,000 and if we do not fix the leaking pipes then our fees will have to increase 10% at least then they would feel like they had some say.  Members would still be upset about the increase but at least they had a chance to work on it.

RULES – The rules need to be the same for everyone and they need to be enforced consistently.  If the rule is no guest parking on the lot then that is the rule for everyone and management cannot let person X bend the rules just because they are on the Board. When setting the rules involve as many people as possible and then let the membership vote on the rule.  At one community the Board made a decision that they did not want to be a gated community and they cited cost and looking like a jail even though the membership had voted that this was a priority for them.  At the next annual meeting the membership demanded that the Board install the fence.  Two years later the crime rate is down in the community and the families are not afraid to let their children out to play in the compound.  Everyone agrees the cost was worth the comfort and feeling of security.  And now they are upset when the gates are broken and do not close.  

GRIEVANCES AND APPEALS – If you have a set of rules that everyone must follow then you also need to have a policy to handle a grievance or appeal that includes members from outside the community.  A local church member, a professional mediator, a lawyer or even the accountant, but the members need to know that there is someone from outside the community that will hear both sides and settle any disputes without taking sides.

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