About five years ago, I drafted an article influenced by a particularly hostile meeting requested for the purpose of recalling an existing board. This existing board was comprised of a group of new owners in the community that we’re concerned about how the “old guard” had been conducting business. The supporters of the “old guard” tried to remove this new board since it was not doing things the “way they had always been done.” Not realizing at that time what was to become of the politics within the United States, this apparently was a precursor of things to come.
Now, five years later, much of what transpired that evening continues to show up from association to association. In the last few years, we have seen an increase in demands for information, maintenance, and demands for insurance coverage. Additionally, we have seen associations reviewing ways to decrease costs to operate the community while attempting to push maintenance obligations to an owner or group of owners.
On top of all of this, the United States is coming out of a global pandemic in which a large percentage of the population was locked at home. Owners took the time (or were forced to take it) to really look at their surroundings, their homes, their communities, their associations’ operations and took great interest in it. Owners, using the tools available to them, looked at their rights in relation to documents, looked at the declaration (possibly for the first time ever), and looked at state law. Owners and boards are confronted with the tension between owner input and a desire for accountability in spending and the board’s attempts to keep costs and assessments down. This tension is causing frayed patience on both sides.
Boards are complaining that owners are hostile, confrontational, and going beyond what is acceptable. Owners complain the boards are acting with impunity and since they are in a position of authority, must deal with the harassment. The funny thing I found is that even when the complaining owners are able to “take over the board,” the complaints about the board remain the same; just the people making them have changed.
My advice to boards is to listen to the concerns of owners, do not just dismiss the complaints as disgruntled owners that do not have merit. Explain to the concerned owners why the board is taking the steps it is taking. Boards should also strictly adhere to their associations’ policies. Do not ignore the conduct of meeting policy, election policies, or inspection of record policies. The policies are there for a reason, and it is the inconsistent use of these policies, or uneven enforcement of the declaration, that gives rise to the perception that the board is acting in a less than upfront manner.
Additionally, the board should use action outside of meetings sparingly. CCIOA attempts to encourage open transparent operation, therefore the use of email to make decisions should be kept to a minimum. When an association has an election, it should make a call for candidates to encourage people to run for the board. Finally, boards need to remember while at heart the Association is a business that must adhere to corporate formalities, it is also a community of neighbors who all want to preserve and enhance their property values.
As to owners, remember the board is made up of volunteer members. These are your neighbors and, in some cases, friends. As stated above, a board must treat the community as a business, which must be able to cover its expenses. The board must also follow corporate formalities, so if you as an owner believe something must be done differently, based upon the governing documents, the way you want to do something may not be possible. The association, through its board, must protect the corporate entity and act in compliance with all laws and governing document requirements. Sometimes, what is good for the corporation may not be what is best for a particular owner or group of owners; however, that does not make the decision wrong.
In closing, I believe if adhered to, current Colorado law is more than sufficient to protect owners and associations and strikes a fair balance between ownership and corporate interests. That said, while an association is a business, it also exists for the benefit of its owners, and until an association can find a way to reconcile this dichotomy, a house may not feel like a home in such a community.