Category Archives: property management

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.  

 

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. 

 

rental apartment

The Impact of Covid-19 on the Rental Industry

The outbreak of the coronavirus last year continues to impact the nation socially, medically, and (not surprisingly) financially in major ways. Our hospital systems are stressed, families have gone months without seeing each other, and families are struggling with unemployment issues that are having a ripple effect in the rental industry. Let’s take a closer look at this problem and how it is currently being dealt with in Massachusetts and across the nation. 

medical mask

What the Statistics Tell Us

According to a study conducted on 1,000 U.S. renters by Entrata, a property management software company, showed that most of the study participants started the COVID-19 lockdown with virtually no savings and had to work with apartment management to defer or cancel rent payments. Many renters reported using their stimulus checks to keep a roof over their heads.

Other national research estimates that one third of all tenants did not pay their full April rent on time. Some did not pay because they had lost all sources of income and did not have sufficient savings to cover their bills. Others were waiting for their stimulus checks to arrive before paying the rent. 

Closer to home, newly appointed Boston Mayor, Kim Janey announced late in March that $50 million in new funding for the city’s Rental Relief Fund would be released.

The human impact of these difficulties goes well beyond these statistics and may never really fully be understood. 

the scales of justice

What to Expect Regarding Rental Payments & Potential Evictions

While this issue is extremely fluid and may change and evolve over the next few months, this is where we stand right now. 

Halt on Evictions

Most states have implemented a moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent during the pandemic. More specifically, Nolo, an online legal resource states that, “On September 1, 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an Agency Order titled Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19 (Order). The Order went into effect on September 4, 2020, and was extended on December 27, 2021. (See Section 502 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.). The CDC’s latest order extends the residential eviction ban until at least June 30, 2021.” 

Pause on Utility Shut Offs 

In addition to halting evictions for this year, most states have and paused utility shut-offs due to non-payment. It is a temporary pause, not forgiveness, of the amount owed. 

Rent Relief Bills 

Most rental property owners do not have the luxury of considering rent forgiveness. State governments, however, have started programs for Rent Relief that can help take the pressure off both the tenants and the property owners who also need the income to pay their bills. Massachusetts Rent Relief bill details can be found here for reference. 

 

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. 

student reading library book

The Pros and Cons of Renting to College Students

Is your rental property located in a college town? If so, you may be considering opening up your rental units to students who attend classes at the neighboring college or university. If you have doubts about renting to a less mature group, be sure to know the perks that you may be missing out on if you pass up this opportunity. Is renting to college students in your best financial interest? 

College students often come with a bad rap, but there are some key factors that may balance out the risk of renting to this group. Read on to find out what college renters are looking for and whether this rental relationship may be advantageous or conversely, disastrous for your and your property. 

college lecture hall

What College Age Students Are Looking for in a Rental

According to the College Board, 44% of college students live off campus. That translates into millions of students looking for housing each and every year. In the college saturated region of New England, college towns dot the map from Maine to Connecticut and can provide a huge chunk of revenue for small towns and big cities alike. 

College students are often looking to live off campus in residential housing in later years of college in order to spread their wings and potentially save a little bit on room and board costs. They search for characteristics such as:

 

  • Proximity to campus
  • Affordability
  • Proximity to public transit
  • Walkability
  • Security of the neighborhood
  • Laundry facilities
  • Access to Wi-Fi

Benefits to Renting To College-Aged Students 

Given the list above, the property’s location, and amenities granted by your rental unit(s), you may be in a position to benefit by opening up your rental agreements to college students attending school nearby. 

High Demand 

To start with, the demand and stability of rentals in college towns or cities is constantly high. The turnover every year and the fresh load of students means you will rarely have a vacancy. With thousands of students on the hunt for vacancies you will be able to fill your rentals easily every year. 

Higher Rent Yield 

The housing market is all about supply and demand. With the demand for college town rentals incredibly high, owners or property managers can generate higher cash flow than traditional investment properties. According to Fortune Builders, an average house near a college town can yield 30-40% higher rents than the same house five miles away.

Lower Marketing Costs 

Renting an apartment or multiple units in some areas can be costly. Advertising in newspapers and online can add up to a significant cost depending upon your turnover rate. With college students competing for rental, you will not need to invest as much in your advertising budget. 

university building

Risks of Renting To College Students 

The risks or disadvantages to renting to students that are less mature run the gamut from being late with payments to noise complaints. Here are a few things to take into consideration when weighing the pros and cons of renting to this group. 

  • Increased risk of damage that will need repairs. 
  • No rental or credit history to access prior to approving a rental agreement. 
  • Potential noise complaints. 
  • Potential late or missed payments. 
  • Frequent turnover at the end of each school year. 
  • Potential local regulations. 

Deciding to rent to college students can be a complex one. Be sure to do your due diligence as to looking into local regulations as well as those required by the neighboring schools. In the end, do your research and plan knowing the best and the worst of what it could be like when opening your units to college-aged students. 

 

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

 

hammer with nails

Do I Need Approval to Renovate My Condo Unit? 

Have you been bitten by the DIY bug or perhaps have been watching too much HGTV this winter? If so, you may have started dreaming about making some changes to your condo unit. Maybe you are thinking big and considering a structural change, or maybe you just want to change out the color in the bathroom. Either way, you probably are facing the question that comes up when you don’t own the building…Do I need to get approval from the HOA (homeowners association) before I renovate my unit? 

The answer is complex and often includes the words “it depends.” Mostly, however, the answer is that you should get approval from your homeowners association before you start making major changes to your unit. Here is a quick breakdown depending (that magic word) on your HOA and their bylaws. 

paperwork

Where to Start

Most HOAs have tight control over establishing rules that unit owners must follow, especially when it comes to remodeling. The first thing you will want to do is determine for yourself what changes you would like to make on your unit. 

From there consult with the governing documents for your community. You can find these guidelines laid out in the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).

Do these documents give any insight on what can and can not be done in a unit? Are there stipulations about what scope of work can take place and what contractors will or will not be allowed to work within the building? The bylaws and governing documents should be your first resource before you set your plans in motion. 

Beyond the governing documents, talk to your neighbors and find out if they have had any work done on their unit, how it went and what kind of hoops they needed to jump through before work could get underway. 

circular saw

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself

Many condo owners feel like the interior of their home is fair game for renovations and they start their projects without approval from the HOA board. Unfortunately, this means that if you don’t follow your HOA’s condo rules, the board may subject you to fees or court time- neither of which are fun to deal with. So to avoid these repercussions proactively stay informed and in accord with the CC&Rs. No one wants to deal with the cost of a renovation and then face fines from their HOA due to that project. 

Consider why these rules exist. If you begin knocking down walls or changing the structure of the building you could potentially harm the integrity of the unit or the units above or below. Always seek approval before you make any structural changes. 

Have you made changes to your condo unit in the past? How did it go? Drop us a line in the comments or check out our Facebook page.