Empowering HOA and Condo Boards: Three Tips for Resilience

A late Happy New Year to all who are reading. So far, this year has been plenty busy here at EQUES®, with new opportunities, new clients, and new challenges. Of course, we attorneys are trained and willing to handle all kinds of legal challenges on our client’s behalf. That said, our work can be easier (and often cheaper) with a solid working relationship between ourselves and our clients. With clear and easy communication, we can swiftly learn how best to help our clients when a new dispute arises. More so, we attorneys may better empower our clients to manage risks and prepare for conflict and dispute.

In the interest of empowering my clients through communication and transparency, here are three general pieces of advice to help HOA and condominium boards prepare for when life inevitably gets a bit rocky.


TIP 1: DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT

The Ohio condominium and community association statutes both require associations (and their boards of directors) to keep records on behalf of the association. The association must be able to produce certain documents upon request by owners, but this statutory duty is not the only good reason to keep complete and organized records.


I’ll illustrate with an example: The February Condominium Association has a laundry room full of washers and dryers. The room itself is a common element of the association, but the machines inside are owned and licensed to the association by Laundry Co. One day, Laundry Co. visits the association to replace some faulty washers. However, a few months later, it becomes clear that something is wrong, and water has been seeping into the wall and floor of the laundry room. The February board is sure that the water damage must have been caused by Laundry Co.’s work in the laundry room.


Will February be able to collect their damages? The answer to that question depends on a lot of factors, but it depends largely on the quality of recordkeeping. In order to collect damages, February Condos will need to prove its claim (to Laundry Co. and any insurers). A contractor may inspect the laundry room and estimate the approximate onset of damages, but it is important to also have a record of the time and details of the work performed by Laundry Co., any work performed before and after, and the state of the laundry room prior to Laundry Co.’s visit. If the board and property management have kept good records which they can produce timely upon request, their chances of recovery skyrocket, and the costs of chasing after such information stay nice and low.


TIP 2: BE CURIOUS

As volunteers chosen by the membership, an association’s board also has a duty of care to the association as a whole. This duty does not require any kind of expertise on the part of the board, but it does require some degree of attention and dedication. I’ve said it before—board membership is sometimes a thankless job, but it is one that must be performed, and I believe there is honor in that!


My next bit of general advice is for board members to be curious. No one expects a new board member (or even a veteran) to know it all. Feel free to perform research, ask around for advice, and pose questions.


Returning to my allegory: The board at February Condos has a duty to act in the best interest of the association, to a reasonable degree. I would advise this imaginary board to confer with its property management and contractors, to get a good idea of what problems there are and when they arose, and to figure out if the contract with Laundry Co. is up-to-date (before they run it by their trusty HOA/Condo attorney).


I cannot speak for others who work for community associations, but as an attorney, I am happy to answer questions and help empower my clients. All too often, attorney advice is only sought after damage has already been done, when it could have prevented or at least mitigated the costs. Knowledge is often the best weapon and shield!


TIP 3: RELY ON EXPERTS

What a lovely segue into my final bit of advice, which is to not try and do everything alone. It is true that plenty of associations self-manage, and do so effectively. However, it is my opinion that some jobs are best done by those with experience. Or at least with expert advice.


Returning one final time to my hypothetical: The February Condos board may well keep notes regarding Laundry Co.’s work on the laundry room and the subsequent issues, but a property manager may have better resources and foresight due to experience with many such scenarios. Additionally, the property manager may have a reliable network of contractors to perform any necessary maintenance.


Meanwhile, if the association already has an attorney, it is a simple matter to bring legal counsel on board and initiate settlement negotiations with Laundry Co. Like the property manager, the attorney’s experience in such matters may assist the association in reaching an optimal outcome. Of course, we suggest that HOAs/condos seek the help of an attorney who is familiar with the specific needs of community associations. Even many seasoned attorneys aren’t aware that there are specific requirements for condominiums and HOAs, independent from other nonprofit entities. The EQUES® Law Group has one of the few Ohio HOA and condo law experts on our team, with years of experience in assisting community associations large and small.


Thank you for reading! Go forth and be empowered!

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