By: David A. Firmin, Esq.
When I arrived home after a 4.5-hour annual meeting of the owners this week, I sat and reflected over the last ten years and how these meetings have changed. On average, I attend 1.5 meetings a week—or about 75 meetings a year. Some are meetings of the owners, and some are meetings of the board. Some are contentious, most are not. However, there has been a noticeable change in the tone and conduct of these meetings over the last ten years that can’t be ignored.
During the economic downturn, associations struggled with accounts receivable. Most associations weathered the storm, delayed projects, and the owners seemed to understand the issues. But now, much like the discussions on the national level where the actions of one political party are promptly praised by members of that party and condemned by the members of the opposite party, association meetings are heated. Every action is challenged and the benefit of the doubt is given to no one. Owners are filing complaints against their boards, their managers, their landscapers, their painters, and even their attorneys.
Owners are quicker to sue the associations to address these perceived and, in some cases, actual grievances, and let the courts sort out the problem. This, of course, merely leads to more discontent amongst the non-suing owners because they are caught in the middle: involuntary passengers within the internal battle.
While I have no answers on how to change the feelings of owners, I have had the ability to observe good and bad meetings, and notice some differences between the two. Below are several ways to make meetings go more smoothly:
- Information: In many of the situations, owners are seeking information from the board of directors. If you provide information to the owners before meetings, owners will have time to review the information and not be caught off guard. Owners will also be able to take the time to digest the information and ask for more if needed. Thus, by the time of the meeting, they will have their questions answered. Additionally, Colorado law mandates that certain information be made available to the owners. Do not fight these requests for information. Provide what you can freely.
- Listen: I know it is a cliché, but in many situations, owners just want to be heard and know that their concerns are understood. Association costs are rising. Owners understand this, but they want to know that you are good stewards of their money and that you are not wasting it. By actively listening to the owners and acknowledging their concerns, you will foster trust with the owners, and they will believe that you are doing right by them. In a recent meeting I attended, the implementation of a special fee that would impact some owners differently than others, was discussed. While the parties disagreed as to the fee itself, the owners were able to accept that the board would research the fee and its structure, amount, and implementation, and report back to the owners. The owners at that meeting understood that the board heard their concerns and would report back prior to taking action.
- Keep everything out in the open: Often, I have seen boards reduce their public exposure and try to do more behind closed doors when challenged. Resist this temptation. While it may be easier to take a vote by email, boards should keep as much as possible in front of the owners. It may be more difficult to conduct a vote in person due to the interruptions of the owners, but they are the members of the community and deserve the respect of transparency.
With this said, owners must also remember their duties and obligations to the board:
- Come prepared: It is not productive to come to a meeting just to ask questions about information that was previously made available. This will slow down the meeting and lead to frustration of other owners and the board.
- Get involved: Board positions are unpaid, volunteer positions. In many associations, board members run unopposed year after year because owners will not get involved by volunteering for the board, leaving the governance to others. Over the last ten years, with very few exceptions, I have not seen boards that are “in it for themselves.” Rather, members who serve on a board of directors are usually attempting to look out for the best interests of the community. While owners may have differing ideas as to what is in the best interest of the community, by acknowledging that board members are operating from a mindset of what is best for the community, owners can make finding common ground easier.
Remember everyone, you are all in this together. These are your neighbors, friends, and peers. You see each other every day, and the best way to improve how an association works is to put the community back into “common interest community.”
If you have questions or would like additional information concerning HOA meetings, please contact a Altitude Community Law attorney at 303.432.9999.