Category Archives: association living

software on a laptop

Benefits of Association Software in 2021

Running an association can be difficult and time consuming work. Responsibilities run the gamut from collecting association payments online to handling vendors for landscaping, electrical work, and plumbing issues. In addition to these tasks, constant communication with the HOA board and association members is necessary to make a property run well. Association software is one way to help streamline these tasks and make them more manageable. 

texting communication

What is HOA Software? 

Software helps most of us stay organized and on top of what’s going on in our home and work lives. For instance, many of us use a calendar program to stay up-to-date on family and work dates. We use accounting software to pay our bills automatically. We may even use a timekeeper app to keep us on schedule. 

HOA software is similar to these personal software programs in that they can help HOA boards or property managers handle a specific aspect of HOA’s operations such as operations, payments, scheduling, and CC&R (Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions) enforcement. 

Many times HOA software comes in a convenient bundle to manage all of these components of association life, but sometimes specialty platforms and programs should be used to help keep things organized. 

phone apps

What Are the Benefits of HOA Software? 

When it comes to managing an association, software can mean the difference between a well-maintained property and community amenities and one that needs some work. Here are the top benefits for enlisting the help of HOA software in your community. 

Security

HOA’s store and transmit quite a bit of personal and sensitive information including the payment methods, names, addresses, and phone numbers of all the people living in the community. Software that is backed by current security measures can keep that information from being hacked or falling into the wrong hands, ones with malicious intent. 

Streamline Data

Running a property or community means lots of maintaining information from the people who live there as well as from the vendors who help maintain the property. Requests for repairs, reports of CC&R violations, and payments can be done automatically with software at your fingertips. 

Improved Communications 

Depending upon the software you choose, everyone in your community will most likely have some level of access to communications whether it is a weekly newsletter or announcements of changes/repairs that are upcoming in the association. Both internal and external communications can improve by using software to help spread pertinent information to the right groups of people.

For a substantial list of the best software being used by communities across the country and right here in Massachusetts, check out this list of programs or platforms you may want to try out to manage your community.  

 

condo pool

Pool Safety in Your HOA Community 

If your community has a swimming pool as one of it’s amenities, consider yourself lucky as we embark on what is promising to be a scorcher of a summer in Massachusetts. Last year at this time many homeowner’s associations made the difficult decision to keep community swimming pools closed due to the coronavirus. This year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),has given new guidance that allows pools to open for the season. 

As pools begin to reopen this year, now seems to be a good time to review pool safety in your community and what the responsibilities of the HOA may or may not entail. 

lifeguard jumping in a pool

Lifeguard or No Lifeguard? 

Every community eventually faces this question regarding whether to staff the community pool with a trained lifeguard or to have a “Swim at Your Own Risk” policy. There are pros and cons to each in regards to cost and liability. 

Sadly, the CDC reports that there are more than 3,500 unintentional drownings every year across the country. To prevent this, many associations hire trained lifeguards or pool monitors to regulate behavior and the amount of people in the pool at any given time. The benefit of this is the added security and peace of mind that comes with a certified lifeguard at the pool’s edge. Unfortunately, hiring a lifeguard or even a pool monitor can be expensive and prohibitive for smaller communities. 

The “Swim at Your Own Risk” policy also comes with advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the cost savings of creating rules and allowing community members to follow independently is remarkable, but it comes at the risk of loss of life should a swimmer encounter trouble. The safety of the swimmers is left up to the guests at the pool, often with an emergency phone setup to use in the case of a situation should arise. 

Having a lifeguard means the liability and insurance for the pool area safety lies with the vendor supplying the lifeguards. Conversely, the “Swim at Your Own Risk” policy does come with liability issues for the HOA. Each community should review their insurance and liability requirements before opening the pool and other amenities each year to their community members.

condo association pool

Create Rules and Regulations for Pool Area 

Regardless of whether your community pool has a lifeguard or not, there should be a list of rules prominently displayed that explains what behavior is allowed and what is not. These could include: 

  • No Diving
  • No Running on the Pool Deck
  • No Glass Containers in the Pool Area
  • No Electrical Devices in the Pool or on the Edge
  • No Fooling Around in the Pool or on the Deck
  • No Swimming Alone 
  • No Swimming During a Storm
  • Swimming Only Allowed During Posted Hours
  • ____  Number of Guests Allowed 

Cleanliness of Pool Area 

Depending upon the property management rules, your pool area may be a carry-in-carry-out pool, meaning whatever you bring there, must leave with you. That includes trash, chairs, and towels. Having rules about the cleanliness makes the pool area nice for everyone in the community.

Looking for more ideas on ways to keep your pool area safe this summer? Check out the guidance from the CDC and property management resources.  

 

gazebo and green grass

What Does Landscaping Say About Your Community? 

We all know the old adage that a “picture says a thousand words,” but did you know that landscaping, and the image that it portrays, can be just as important to a homeowners community? 

In fact, according to landscaping professionals, “landscaping can be one of the simplest ways that your community establishes its identity. Simply by insisting on annual flower rotations at entrances and regularly filling in mulch or pine straw, the community keeps a vibrant appearance and demonstrates that the residents care about their homes.” 

Look around your community. What does the landscaping say about your homeowners community? 

landscaped walkway

The Importance of Landscaping 

One of the top reasons why many residents choose living in a community is the bonus of not having to mow, weed, edge, trim, and plan out plantings or gardens every year. 

And, it’s not just during the warm, growing months that landscaping pays off for the community. During the cold winter months, the walkways are shoveled and the driveways plowed and treated by an adept landscaping crew. 

For many residents, this release from having to maintain the landscaping every weekend is enough of a benefit and why they find professional landscaping within the community advantageous. For others, there are a number of ways that landscaping curates an identity for the community. 

Here’s how…

Increases Curb Appeal 

In the world of real estate, curb appeal can either draw in a buyer in seconds or repel them even faster. This is true in single family residences and homeowner’s communities as well. 

Just like at any property, landscaping can send a signal to buyers that the property is well cared for and maintained throughout the year. Well-manicured lawns, carefully edged gardens, flower beds that are weed-free, walkways that are not overgrown, and trees that are mature and healthy can tell a home buyer how healthy the community is as well. If HOA communities hope to attract quality buyers, the landscaping needs to shine. 

walkway with landscaping

Promotes Safety

Landscaping isn’t just about mowing and planting. It is also about maintaining a safe environment for all community members. Professional landscapers can help keep the community safe by trimming and pruning tree branches before storms or ocean winds create a hazardous situation for structures and people living in the area. 

Landscaping also helps promote safety by keeping walkways and driveways clear of debris or overgrown bushes or trees that could pose a hazard for the residents walking or driving in the area. Removal of roots or pavers that are loose in the entertaining areas can prevent falls that could result in injury. 

During the winter months, landscapers often take on the job of shoveling, plowing, and de-icing walkways and steps that could pose a slip-and-fall threat for residents. 

Can Help Maintain & Increase Home Values 

Realtors have found that good landscaping can help maintain and even increase a home’s value. This goes for communities as well as single family homes.

In fact, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) suggests that you can increase your home’s value by 5% to 15% by spending the equivalent percentage on landscape maintenance and upgrades. A home or community’s value can be assessed in one viewing by a potential buyer. Make sure that the first impression is a vibrant and positive one. 

 

swimmers in a pool

The Best Community Amenities

Are you on the hunt for a stress-free living situation? Many young professionals, as well as people enjoying their retirement, love the idea of living in a community such as a homeowners association where the majority of the heavy work is done by landscapers, plow companies, and repairmen who take care of the property year round. 

Another bonus of living in a community are the wonderful amenities that many properties offer their tenants. Read on to find out more about the best community amenities that you may want in your next home. 

tennis courts

What Are Community Amenities? 

Depending upon the community you live in, amenities are generally thought to be either indoor or outdoor spaces that are meant to be used by residents and their guests. These could include a clubhouse, fitness room, pool, tennis courts, walking paths, playgrounds, golf courses, or outdoor entertaining areas with kitchens or fire pits. 

Homeowner associations generally believe that these spaces are great ways to attract residents to a community and keep them as loyal association members. These conveniences can really raise the bar, so to speak, to make your community desirable to the audience you are hoping to attract. 

For instance, many 55 and older communities offer amenities that include concierge services where groceries or other needs can be delivered if a senior can not get out. Conversely, communities that hope to attract young working professionals may offer areas to mingle, fitness rooms, or health spas. It all depends upon the needs and wants of the people in your community. 

Here are some of the trendiest community amenities for your residents this year. 

Fitness Centers 

Given that many gyms and fitness locations were closed or reduced hours due to the pandemic, many associations have loved that fitness centers were a part of their living community. 

Not only do fitness centers help association members reach their fitness and health goals, they also are a great way to mingle within the community and get to know the other people living in the area in a safe way. Financially, having a fitness center or gym on the premises can save community members from shelling out high gym fees monthly. 

treadmill and gym equipment

Outdoor Recreation 

Along with a fitness center, community members are always looking for entertainment. Given the surge in Americans getting outside to hike, walk, bike, play tennis, and swim, your community would be smart to add amenities that encourage these pastimes. 

Hiking trails, pools, tennis courts, bike paths, and outdoor game areas (think cornhole) are great ideas for communities hoping to keep their members active and outdoors. These amenities can help people de-stress and maintain their health all year long. 

While a pool and tennis courts do require regular maintenance, you may find that home buyers are willing to pay the extra cost to have these amenities at their disposal. 

Pet-Friendly Amenities 

You may have heard that Americans are adopting pets during this pandemic at record rates. That means that many homeowners are looking for pet-friendly areas such as dog parks, walking paths, and even doggy babysitting options. This added amenity can really set your community apart especially for city dwellers who are always looking for a safe, fun place to bring their pooch. 

Child-Friendly Amenities 

From playgrounds, to dedicated indoor play spaces, communities have begun to expand their child amenities offerings. Parents need a way to get out of the house in a safe and fun way. HOAs that offer areas where children can play without risk of interrupting other community members are doing a great service for the parents of their community. 

What amenities does your community have? Which would you like them to add? Comment below or drop us a line on Facebook

 

 

woman communicating on the phone

How to Maintain Great Communication Between  Homeowners & Property Managers 

How does your community maintain good communication? In light of recent global events, there have been fewer and fewer in-person interactions. This goes for people living within a community as well as every day interactions on the street. Has your community, including property managers and homeowners, adjusted their communication methods to account for these changes? 

Today we are taking a closer look at how communications can (and should) occur within a community. Often homeowners will have building maintenance issues or property managers may have notifications that they would like to pass on to community members. That open and transparent line of communication is critical to keeping a community running smoothly. 

texting communication

How Property Managers Can Foster Good Communication

Property management is a partnership between homeowners/renters and management… with communication as the bridge between both. 

Property managers or even landlords can do a few things to help foster this communication bridge. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make it easy for tenants or community members to get in touch with you or your team. A published list could help immensely. 
  • Create multiple channels for community members to use for communication including: email, online tools, and have regular call hours where an actual person can be reached to handle problems. You may also want to include an emergency number for after hour emergencies. 
  • Respond quickly to issues. You may want to have a policy of answering emails or online requests within a certain time period. Responsiveness is the key to fostering good communication. 
  • Make it a priority to communicate regularly. You may not feel the need for a monthly email newsletter, but the more informed your community members are, the better relationship you will have with them. 

email and online communications

How Tenants/Community Members Can Foster Good Communication 

On the other side of this partnership are the homeowners/tenants/community members (depending upon your situation). Here are a few ways for people in this position to increase communication. 

  • Prioritize your communications. In other words, if you have a list of maintenance issues be sure to state in writing what is most important. Less pressing issues may need to wait.
  • Put all communications in writing, if possible. Phone calls are a different story, but you may want to note what day and time, as well as the person you spoke to, when you called to report a problem for future reference. 
  • Give as much detail as possible for your requests. For instance, what is the problem, how long has it been happening, and details about the problem that could help resolve it. 

Transparent communication, whether it happens in writing, virtually, or over the phone is a hallmark of a great partnership between property management companies and their owners. 

carrying moving boxes

Abandoned Property: What Happens When Tenants Leave Items Behind? 

What are the legal requirements when a property management company or landlord finds items that have been left behind? You might be surprised to find that the answer is not as simple as throwing it all out.

The laws regarding the responsibilities of landlords or property managers when it comes to property left behind by former tenants or lease owners are not straightforward or cut-and-dry. 

One would initially think that the most obvious answer would be to dispose of the items. Let’s take a closer look at why that is not the first step in this fairly complicated process. 

abandoned red chair

What Is Considered Abandoned Property? 

Your tenants have moved out, but some of their possessions have been left behind. Now what?  Landlords are faced with the issue of wondering what they can legally do with items once the tenants are no longer in the picture. 

Abandoned property is considered any possession that has been left in the unit, storage areas, or parking spots after the tenant has moved out or been evicted. Property that has been left behind could include: 

  • Things stored in a garage, attic, or basement.
  • Cars or other vehicles parked on the property.
  • Air conditioners or other fixtures that have become a more permanent part of the property. Permanent fixtures added to the apartment such as shelving, grab bars, or ceiling fans often become a part of the apartment and fall under the landlord’s domain.
  • Pets that have been left in the unit or on the outside of the property (yes, it happens). 

couches in an apartment

Steps in the Complex Process of Dealing with Abandoned Items

Depending upon the state in which you own property (or manage the property), you may have different legal requirements to check off before you can dispose of or sell the items in question. Here is a quick rundown of what you may need to do before packing it all up or hauling it to the dump. 

  • Determine why the tenants left. Check local laws for specific rules. Guidelines may be different depending upon if they were called up for military service, were evicted, or their lease came to an end.
  • Review your rental terms for clauses related to abandoned property. Many leases include a time allotment that tenants have for returning to claim abandoned property.
  • Document and inventory the abandoned property and damages. This should include not only pictures of the items but descriptions of them as well. 
  • Give the former tenant legal notice of abandoned property.
  • Sell, dispose of, or store the property, depending on local laws, the amount of time that has passed, and the steps you took to notify the previous tenants of the items. 

As you can see, handling rental properties and the items that were left behind is a fairly complex and legal process where the onus is put on the property owner or property manager to determine that they have fulfilled their legal duty to the tenant. Be sure to check with your legal team for your local laws and regulations regarding abandoned property. 

 

hammer with nails

HOA or Homeowner Repairs: Who Is Responsible For What? 

The regular and thorough maintenance of a condominium community is one of the aspects of living in a homeowner’s association (HOA) that many unit owners appreciate. In fact, many unit owners potentially chose a community because they would not need to take care of typical chores that other homeowners need to deal with, such as mowing the lawn, trimming the bushes, regular repairs, plowing the driveway, repairing broken and well-worn aspects of the building, and cleaning of the common areas and amenities. 

While most HOAs have bylaws and governing documents that clearly outline who needs to maintain and repair what areas, it can sometimes be confusing to figure out who handles certain repairs. Therefore, the goal of today’s blog is to educate unit owners, future buyers, and association members about maintenance responsibilities which fall in a unit owner domain versus those of a homeowner’s association. 

How HOA’s Are Divided

Before buying a condo or moving into a community, it is always good to understand how the responsibilities are divided. Association responsibilities are usually divided between the governing board and the individual unit owners. 

Individual unit owners are generally in control of the rights of that unit. Unless otherwise stated in the association bylaws or documents, this includes: the floors, ceilings, and walls of each unit including the airspace and paint on the interior walls. In townhome communities, this area of responsibility extended to the individual piece of land surrounding each individual unit, as well as any other structure/s within it.

Likewise, associations and the governing boards connected to them, have areas that they are responsible for maintaining and repairing. The Declaration, Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) document should have detailed information that will set out specifics for each community. This document is made available to all community members. 

The HOA handles the maintenance of shared common areas as well as the overall building structure. Limited common areas are the shared responsibility of the HOA and unit owners who benefit from them. 

Specifics to Your Association 

Before you request a repair or start working on one within your individual unit, you may want to consult the CC&R for your association. Here are a few areas that could get confusing so you will want to ask for clarification. 

  • Roof and exterior walls: Depending upon the guidelines of your community, these areas are most often defined as common elements, but the unit might include the interior surface or drywall.
  • Floors or ceilings: Similar to walls, the unit might include just the surface, halfway through, or the whole floor or ceiling. Check your CC&R for specifics. 
  • Windows and doors: As determined by your association contract, the frames, glass, and the hardware might or might not be a part of the unit. It could be considered a common area. 
  • Permanent fixtures: Cabinets, flooring, sinks, and the like are typically considered part of the unit and thus the responsibility falls to the owner of the unit. However, certain fixtures including outdoor porch lights or garage lights might not be included.
  • Plumbing, electric, air conditioning systems: The portions serving air, water, and electricity to the unit may be under the unit owner’s domain, but when these areas serve other units as well, it could be considered a common area.  
  • Decks, balconies, and patios: These might be part of the unit, common elements, or limited common elements. (Source: Nolo Law) 

As you can see, the determining factors of what responsibilities belong to which party is mostly included in the documentation given to unit owners at the time of the purchase of the property. Examine those documents before you begin any repairs to determine who is physically and financially responsible. 

 

outside of a condo

What Landscaping Can Do For Your Condo Community 

Landscaping can have a huge impact on a condo community. Think about the last time that you drove into an association. How well were the gardens, walkways, bushes, trees, and lawns cared for? Were they well manicured, trimmed, and mulched cleanly? Were the hardscapes kept in good repair? These aspects could probably tell visitors and homeowners alike quite a bit about what it would be like to live in that community. 

Landscaping can not only tell a story about what the community looks like aesthetically, but also how well managed the community is as a whole. Well organized and financially structured homeowners associations are able to not only maintain year round landscaping projects but also major repairs and additions to outside amenities like grilling areas, outdoor activities such as pools, tennis courts, and fire pits. 

walkway

Benefits of Having Top Notch Landscaping 

Landscaping doesn’t just send the signal that the grass, trees, brushes, and gardens have been cared for, but also that the community at large is in good hands. Here are a few of the overall benefits of a great landscaping program for your community. 

Safety 

First and foremost, landscaping can send the signal that the safety of the community is a top priority for the Homeowners Association (HOA). Landscaping can include installation and upkeep of walkway lights, motion detectors, keeping debris away from high traffic areas, trimming bushes away from windows, pruning trees for roof and structural safety, and repair and general maintenance for hardscapes to prevent slips-and-falls. 

Home Values

Realtor® Magazine reports that landscaping improves a home’s overall value by as much as 12%. For Homeowners Association (HOA) communities, which on average already have homes valued at 5% to 6% higher than those in non-HOA communities, the increase can be even higher, depending on the landscaping techniques used.

landscaped birch trees

Reassurance of Future Buyers 

Landscaping not only shows off the current condition of the property of a homeowners association. It also shows that finances have been allocated by the HOA for general upkeep of the community. 

Well maintained landscaping that is well cared for on a regular basis shows dedication to consistent maintenance throughout the property. This can be comforting to potential buyers and tenants who want to be sure that building management cares about the quality and upkeep that goes into building, and will take care of internal issues in the same professional manner.

Complete, year-round landscape maintenance takes care of all of these factors. Is your community well tended? A landscaping routine can add so much to your community including: safety, a reassurance that your investment is well managed, and a positive return on your investment. 

 

paperwork

What Happens When A Tenant Breaks Their Lease?

The legal agreement (or lease) between renter and landlord is usually pretty straight forward. The renter or tenant agrees to pay for the use of the property and the landlord or property owner promises to uphold all aspects of the rental agreement. Seems pretty simple right? But what about when circumstances occur that cause the tenant to break the lease? 

In most typical situations, renters stay the entire term of their lease, whether it is 6 months, a year or two years. Unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way of completing that agreement. A new job, a loss of job, a move, a medical illness, or even a military deployment can cause a tenant to break the lease. 

lease paperwork

Who Is Responsible for the Remainder of the Lease? 

A lease is a binding agreement that’s supposed to protect both the landlord and the tenant. Therefore, depending upon the state in which you live, there are laws that protect both the landlord from being stuck with a vacant property until a suitable renter is found and a tenant from having to pay rent for an apartment that they no longer occupy. 

Depending on the reason, the landlord might be legally bound to release the tenant without damages, or conversely, the tenant may be bound to paying the rent until a replacement tenant is secured. Check leasing laws in your state for more guidance. 

When Is a Tenant NOT Responsible for the Remaining Rent? 

While every case is different and should be examined on its own merits, there are several situations in which a tenant is not deemed responsible for continuing to pay the rent after they have given legal notice of moving out. 

military jets

When Called to Active or Military Duty 

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows those in the armed forces, National Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Public Health Service the right to break their leases to start active duty or if their orders take them far away (50 miles is the accepted minimum distance). A 30 day notice must be given to release from the lease. 

When Living Conditions Are Unsafe 

Landlords are required by law to provide a habitable and safe place for tenants to live. Heat, hot water, working plumbing and electrical systems, and a generally safe (up to code) environment that doesn’t constitute a health hazard are required or tenants may be released from their lease without penalty. 

When Domestic Violence is An Issue 

Some states allow victims of domestic violence to break a lease without penalty by providing the landlord a written notice. Check your local and state laws and consult a local attorney if you want to learn more about the rights of victims of domestic violence.

The Question of Loss of Wages or Employment

This one gets a little trickier. In the age of covid many renters have found themselves out of work and a way to pay rent through no fault of their own. Some states require that landlords work with renters on making accommodations such as a payment plan or deferred payment. There may also be federal, state, or local laws that temporarily limit or prohibit landlords from evicting a tenant for nonpayment of rent. 

For more information about breaking leases and the Cares Act which currently protects evictions during the global health crisis, click here

 

two people hugging

How HOAs Handle Guest Policies 

Does your homeowners association have guest policies? How strict or lenient is it? Does it allow for long-term visitors, Airbnb or Vrbo allowances or is it merely a daytime visitation policy? Let’s take a closer look at guest policies, what they are, and why they are put in place.

condo grounds

What Are Guest Policies Within HOAs? 

There are a couple of layers of guest policies when it comes to living in a community. First, there is the concept of allowing people who are not living in the community but are with a member of the community to visit and use the amenities such as the pool, fitness center, and common areas of the community. 

This periodic hosting tends to be short lived and often benign. The rules surrounding this type of guest visitation are usually fairly simple and clearly stated within the bylaws of the community. Some communities limit the number of guests that you can bring with you to the pool for safety reasons or limit the number of hours/days a guest may leave their car in the lot as a visitor. 

Then there is the second layer of guest policies that address unauthorized renters, or home-sharing situations such as Airbnb or Vrbo. These alternative, long-term guest accommodations are often seen by owners as a way to create revenue for the homeowner and a cost-effective way to find lodging for visitors. They, however, are often a nuisance for other members living in the community.

pool

The Problem with Unauthorized Renters or Guests

While Airbnb enthusiasts have become somewhat the norm in the traveling world, they can be quite the conundrum for homeowners associations and landlords alike. Not only do these guests have no real concept of the rules for living in these communities, they have no vested interest in preventing abuses and liabilities. 

Furthermore, once unauthorized renters have entered the property and been given access to common areas, questions are raised about HOA insurance and how it would work should someone be injured or harmed as a result of these long-term guests. 

Potential Policies for Guests and Home Sharing

Many HOAs have begun adding terminology and specific language to their bylaws that include not only reasonable limits for period hosting of a guest but also for long-term home sharing or house rentals. Within the language of the bylaws often is an allowance for a certain number of weeks a year that each owner must live in the property without home-sharing. Other HOAs are outright banning home-sharing and third party rentals without permission being granted by the executive board. 

What are your associations’ rules about guests? Drop us a note in the comments or on our Facebook page that let us know what works and doesn’t work for your community.