I recently read an article published by U.S. News & World Report titled, How to Win a Fight With your Condo Association – Without Going Broke by Teresa Mears. The article includes some solid guidance. A more accurate but less flashy title might have been – How to influence Association Policy – Without a Fight.
Much of the article is common sense to those of us that work with association boards and owners on a daily basis. However, it is important to remember that most owners have little experience with how community associations actually function. Here are a few snippets from the article that board members and industry professionals might consider common sense.
- Being cordial and businesslike goes a long way, and it costs a lot less than a lawsuit.
Again, this might seem like common sense, but how often do homeowners (and, perhaps sometimes even board members) go into a situation looking for a fight. If you go looking for a fight, the odds of finding one are pretty high. As the article says: Be pleasant. This is great advice no matter which side of the table you happen to sit.
- Respond in writing.
This is good advice. If an owner has a grievance or concern, a short precise letter outlining their position goes a long way, particularly if they can communicate their position without attacking or disparaging the board, their neighbors or their manager. Likewise, communications from a board to an owner are often more effective when they are short and to the point.
- Don’t argue the existence of a rule.
This is a key point. Most boards take their obligations seriously. Attacking them for enforcing current policies and rules is not productive. Rather than attacking the board for enforcing a rule, state an argument for changing or eliminating the rule, or why the rule is not meant to apply to your situation.
- Don’t quit paying your assessments.
Another key point. Refusing to pay assessments in protest immediately creates an adversarial situation. It will also add attorney fees, late fees, interest, property liens and possibly foreclosure into the dispute.
So how do you encourage owners who have disagreements with their association to employ these ideas? I encourage every manager and board member to have an “elevator pitch” to use when an owner comes to them with a disagreement. The idea is that within the time of an elevator ride (20-30 seconds), you can start the owner down a path that will minimize the risk of combative discourse and litigation.
It might be something like this:
I hear your concerns and I have some advice. The best way to influence association policy is a letter to the board outlining your position. It doesn’t need to be long. In my experience, being cordial and businesslike is very effective. Attacking the board for enforcing its current rules and policies is not effective. Lastly, if you feel that change is needed, identify the issue and consider proposing solutions.
If you already have an “elevator pitch” for homeowners, we’d love to hear about it.