5 things HOA managers should avoid at all costs

Date Published : Jan-11-2022

Written By : Kim Brown

Every association will expect something different from HOA managers. That’s part of the reason why their careers are so interesting. But, there are a few things that no manager should do for any community. 

Managers handle the day-to-day operations so that the board can focus on “big-picture” items. They may be asked to prepare documents for the board, offer guidance about the latest changes to state rules  or collect fees from owners. 

Good management can make a real difference for associations that are struggling to keep up. But they must also take care to find a happy medium between micromanaging the board and being too laid back.

Below are 5 things that HOA managers should never do if they want to avoid unhappy clients and legal issues. 

  

1. Assume you know what’s in the governing documents

HOA managers are usually responsible for helping draft community rules and regulations, monitoring community activities, listening to complaints and enforcing rules.
The governing documents—made of CC&Rs, bylaws, and rules—are what tell every concerned party how the HOA must operate and what owners can and cannot do. These documents can vary greatly from one community to the next. They can be very long and technical, but HOA managers must read and thoroughly understand them. They must also stay up to date with the latest versions of these documents as they do change from time to time.  

Without having processed a development’s governing documents, a manager cannot effectively enforce the rules stated within them. When managers don’t understand the rules, they’re far less likely to take action when the rules are broken. This can lead to confusion, arguments and hours wasted trying to solve disputes that could have been avoided. Do your homework and study the governing documents of each community you manage.

  

2. Waive the rules

Dismissing rules is almost as bad as failing to familiarize yourself with them. Managers don’t have the authority to waive late fees or make compromises regarding violations without explicit permission from the board.  

You might be attempting to give an owner a break by letting them pay late without incurring a late fee, but that could easily lead to more problems later on. If another owner finds out what happened, they may complain to the board that rules were selectively enforced. Homeowners associations cannot arbitrarily or capriciously enforce rules – they must be enforced consistently and fairly, for the good of the community. Furthermore, the owner might take advantage of your kindness and try to make a habit of paying late.  

Similarly, managers shouldn’t be asked, nor should they offer, to make the final approval for architectural modification submissions. The final decision should be made by the board.

  

3. Take sides when neighbor-to-neighbor disputes occur

Yes, managers will be responsible for resolving owner issues. But they are strongly discouraged from trying to act as a mediator if the issue between neighbors is personal, and they should never take sides. Remain as calm and objective as possible; you can be empathetic, but decisions must be made based on facts, not emotions.

To minimize the number of personal problems that owners bring to you, create a formal complaint process. Ask for complaints to be submitted in writing. You should take each complaint seriously; however, if after investigating, you conclude that no rule was broken, you can state that no further action will be taken.

Owners may be instructed to try and resolve the issue on their own or hire a mediator to help them reach an agreement. Neither you nor the association should be spending its limited resources on trying to solve disagreements between owners.

  

4. Try to solve every problem by yourself

There will come a time when the association you manage will have an issue that is too big or complex for you to solve on your own. For example, if a resident is getting ready to take the HOA to court. When problems like this arise, ask for help from an expert as soon as possible. Attorneys, city officials, local authorities and architects can all be valuable allies. However, if you take action before consulting one of these experts, you may end up in a difficult situation and make matters more complicated.

We all need help. Don’t be shy about asking for it when you need it. As a best practice, have the names and numbers of experts ready for whenever you might need them. This way, you’ll know who to call when an issue suddenly comes up.

  

5. Take a back seat when a new board has been elected

Board members are elected by other owners to serve the community. However, these hard-working volunteers don’t always have special skills or knowledge to help them excel in their roles. First-time board members in particular may need extra guidance while they figure out how things work behind the scenes. This is where you can really shine.

As an HOA manager, you must be confident enough to voice your opinions without making board members feel as though you’re forcing them to side with you. Some board members will be very opinionated, and you should be prepared to respond to them constructively.

HOA managers can create calendars that detail when boards are required to meet (per their governing documents) and what the objectives of the meetings are.  

Newer boards may also need help with managing finances. While you should not be asked to make or approve budgets, you can offer feedback and help them prioritize expenses and projects. You may monitor bank accounts as well to ensure the money coming in and going out makes sense. 

Finally, in addition to informing members about required meetings, managers are encouraged to schedule regular meetings to talk with their boards. If a board member can’t be present, arrange a video call or recording. Not only will this give you an opportunity to learn about their issues or concerns, but it will also give you a chance to answer their questions, provide some direction and build stronger connections. Minutes should be recorded and distributed, just like any other meeting. 

It’s great when managers and board members have an easy-going relationship, but don’t get too casual about business. When informal chats take the place of formal meetings, responsibilities will start slipping through the cracks. Most boards will appreciate that you are willing to take on a leadership role. If you are concerned that you’re overstepping your boundaries, you can always ask members for their feedback. Good communication goes a long way – don’t make assumptions and don’t hesitate to ask questions. 

  

Conclusion

HOA managers often serve as a pillar for residential associations. They offer critical assistance to the board, individual owners and the community as a whole. Because they’re expected to act with haste and confidence, managers need to be deeply familiar with best and worst practices.

Not all managers offer the same services, and every association will ask for something unique. Nevertheless, there are a handful of things that HOA managers should never do or be asked to do. Know your limits and make sure your actions will help the community as a whole.

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