Amending the Governing Documents for your Association 

If you live in a community association, whether it is a condominium, townhome, or apartment complex, you know that you live by certain rules usually determined by the governing documents of your homeowners association (HOA). Some of them may be in regard to financials, while others may help keep the peace and general running of the property with specific rules for unit owners. Every once in a while, those documents will need to be amended. Here is a quick guide on that process. 

What are the Governing Documents? 

If you are new to living in an HOA, you may not be aware that there are three main documents that help your community function. The basic HOA legal documents that may need amending are the Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). You should have been given digital access to these or a printed version upon signing your lease/mortgage with the community governing board. If you do not know what these are or can not find these documents, ask a member of your HOA board and they will help get you acclimated to the paperwork. Your property management company should also have an idea where you can gain access to this information. 

Why Amend Governing Documents? 

The reasons for a change or amendment to a governing document can be varied. For example, some communities find that there are inconsistencies in documents that help manage the community. Others find that local, state, or federal statutes or laws have changed that make it necessary that the community makes changes to its governing laws as well. The list for why a document needs to be amended is long, but the process does not need to be equally painful. 

Here are just a few possibilities as suggested by Echo Educational Community for HOA on why amendments sometimes need to occur. 

  • To eliminate obsolete provisions.
  • To eliminate provisions no longer observed or enforced.
  • To eliminate provisions that conflict with current laws.
  • To eliminate provisions required by the Department of Real Estate in a start-up project that are no longer needed.
  • To eliminate developer privileges no longer being used, such as two-class voting or exemption from use restrictions.
  • To improve poorly drafted documents by clarifying ambiguous provisions.
  • To tailor documents to fit the living experience of owners/members.
  • To provide for changes in technology (satellite dishes, home office use, etc.).
  • To make documents more “user-friendly” – better organization, add a table of contents and descriptive paragraph headings, etc.
  • To eliminate or correct mistakes and errors.

How Often Should Amendments Occur? 

Optimally, governing boards of HOAs should try to review the documents every few years but, occasionally, events or issues arise where the documents need to be evaluated in a limited time period. Usually, it is recommended that the community’s attorney amend the documents with input for the board and community members. Someone with knowledge of the community and how it is run would be a best-case scenario. 

Does your HOA need help with updating or amending their governing documents? Visit our website and contact our professionals who can help get you started. 

Importance of Year-Round Property Maintenance

One of the biggest perks of living in an association is not having to deal with the general property maintenance that individual homeowners deal with. Think about all that time that has been freed up since you don’t need to think about all that upkeep and regular care. As a part of a community, the HOA (and your monthly dues) usually takes care of each season’s specific tasks. It is important to have the regular care of a property maintenance crew to handle what Mother Nature hands us each season here in New England. 

Top-notch, maintenance can help create a positive first impression, keep the area clean and tidy, allows for the safety of residents, and allows for unit owner’s satisfaction that they are living in a well-cared-for area. 

Every season brings with it new areas and equipment that should be inspected, cleaned, repaired, or replaced. Here is a guide to what your property maintenance team may look out for the association in your community. 

Fall and Winter 

The fall season is one of the busiest times of year when it comes to maintenance needs. In order to prepare for the winter season, much of the building and grounds must be surveyed for possible hazards. For example, all gutters and overhanging branches should be cleaned out and trimmed back respectively. Outdoor pools should be closed and locked down for the season. Outdoor patio equipment should be cleaned and stored until spring. Final plans for snow removal should be completed at this time, whether it is hiring an independent contractor or using the maintenance crew at the association. Make sure you have all those ducks in a row. 

During the winter, the pipes should be examined in common areas to be sure there is no possibility that they will freeze as the temperatures dip even further. One of the main jobs of maintenance during the winter months is watching the weather carefully to be sure that all walkways, driveways, and roads within the community are cleared and safe for residents to use. 

Spring and Summer 

And just like that, winter disappears and maintenance crews are no longer worrying about road salt and shoveling, but rather about planting and landscaping the community so that it has a first-class curb appeal. 

Spring and summer is the time to take inventory of repairs that need to be done after the winter ravaged roofs and other areas of the community. Pavement may need repairing after the salts and plows created cracks or holes. In addition, summer is the time to tackle major renovation projects that will need nice weather and time to complete. 

Maintenance is a year-round job that allows for the smooth running of any association and community. Learn more from HOA Leader online about the maintenance you hope to support in your community. 

 

Ready to Move into a Community with an HOA? 

Are you thinking about packing it all up and moving to a community that has an HOA? Communities that have a Homeowners Association have a ton of advantages including the amenities, freedom from landscaping the lawn every weekend, and being in a secure environment. If you are new to community living, you will want to be aware of some aspects that come with this type of community. Here are some of our tips for your move. 

Understand the Rules of Your Community 

Living in a community is different than owning your own property or home. It is important to note that there are rules and bylaws that govern each community. You will want to ask specific questions when considering a move to see if you and your lifestyle are a good fit. For example, ask about rules concerning pets, smoking, parking, guests in the amenities areas, noise restrictions, rules on renovations, and the list could go on and on. Carefully read all Governing Documents before you decide on purchasing in a community. 

Understand the Insurance Differences

You probably already know that there is a master insurance that covers all exterior aspects of your building and common areas in your community. But what you may not realize is that you must also have individual insurance to protect the items within your own unit. Be sure to talk to your agent so there are no gaps in coverage. 

View the HOA Budget

Where a community spends its money can tell you a lot about what is valued. Ask to see the budget, which should be available from any HOA Board members. Look to see how often maintenance is completed on common areas, amenities, the roof, exterior structures, painting, landscaping, and paving the parking areas. 

Engage with the Community 

Ask about community events, how the pool or gym works, and find out if there is an association email that you can get your name on so that once you move in you will begin feeling like you are a part of the community. 

Know Who to Contact 

Unlike owning your own home, when there is a problem you will need to know who to contact. Get a list of board members as well as a contact person who can tell you whether you are responsible for calling a repair person or whether the association will deal with it. Usually, if the problem occurs in your unit you are responsible, while outside it is the responsibility of the association. However, there are questionable times like if there is a roof leak, water pipe burst, electrical problem and so on. 

Are you preparing for a move to an association? Here are a few sites to examine when dealing with a move that can help you out. Good luck and welcome to your new community! 

 

HOA Insurance Issues

Knowing what to expect from your HOA master insurance policy and what you need to insure on your own is important to sort out before you purchase your condo. It’s also critical to know if your HOA carries enough information to handle a catastrophe in your unit or a unit next door. Being underinsured can spell trouble, especially if your individual insurance has any missing gaps with the master insurance. 

Homeowner insurances for town homes, condos, or duplexes that are part of the master insurance of an HOA usually cover all the public, common areas of a development. This includes areas where there are amenities, elevators, and all outside features such as the roof and exterior siding. Individual homeowners need to insure only their own units, including their own personal items and appliances. In addition to insuring “things,” these two parts of any HOA insurance should also cover liabilities for injuries. 

Let’s face it, most people don’t put too much thought into insurance until the unthinkable happens. Whether it is a fire, flood, tree damage, smoke damage, or an accident, not having insurance or being underinsured can create a huge headache, not to mention a financial disaster of its own making. 

Know the Difference

From an insurance point of view, it is worth learning where the HOA insurance stops and your individual unit’s insurance should begin, so as to make sure no gaps exist that could leave you without coverage after damage occurs. You should know what the different items are that are covered by each type of insurance. Some homeowners find it helpful to use the same insurance carrier or have both carriers connect to be sure that gaps do not exist. 

 

Know the Limits 

It is also recommended that unit owners understand that there are limits to the HOA insurance. Your condo association’s master policy will cover property damage to the building and common areas, but only up to its limits. Depending on what those financial limits are, there’s always a chance that a severe incident could exceed them. If that happens, it might fall on the condo owners to make up the difference and help repair the damage.

Know the Liability Requirements

Most HOAs require that individual unit holders have some liability insurance in case a visitor gets injured in a unit. The master insurance should have liability insurance to cover common area accidents but your unit also needs to be covered. Talk to your insurance agent about how much is reasonable and if your HOA has any requirements of level of coverage.

When it comes to insurance, it is essential to know the types, limits, and requirements for your individual insurance and what is covered in the master insurance policy. If you have questions, request a copy of your HOA insurance policy and discuss what gaps need to be filled with your individual agent. 

 

Common HOA Rule Violations

Do you live in a community with a Homeowners Association? They really can be lovely with the extra amenities like a gym, pool, or rec room. And it’s an added bonus not to have to worry about taking care of the outside of your home. Think of all the time and effort you save not having to mow the lawn in the summer or shovel in the winter.

There are, however, rules that must be followed if you live in a community or association. These rules are put there to maintain peace and allow for homeowners to be respectful and considerate to all who live in the community.

Property managers often deal with some of the violations to these rules. While every HOA community is different and the rules differ by location, there are some common violations such as:

Trash and Recycle Issues

HOAs try to keep the community looking clean and tidy. To do this they set rules about when and where trash can be put out for collection. Usually the rule includes the time at night before trash day (maybe 6pm) till the next day when they are to be taken in. Be sure to check with your HOA about what time and where the barrels should be placed.

Pet Issues

Most HOAs allow pets, but there are usually rules about the size and breeds that are deemed allowable. Be sure to also check where dogs can roam on leash in the complex. Be respectful about cleaning up dog waste and be aware that not all people are “pet people.”

Landscaping and Decorations

The outside of your condo or the walkway leading up to your residence is usually the domain of the association and whatever landscaping team they employ. Ask before decorating or adding flowers to this area. While it may seem like a no brainer that flowers will be allowed, it is best to ask first as some communities have gardeners or are trying for a uniform look.

Most communities have some sort of guidelines about when holiday decorations can be up, when they can be taken down, and what sort of decorations are permitted. Just about everything about the outside appearance of your condo is probably a part of the HOA rules, even down to the color allowed for mailboxes.

Parking Violations

In most communities there are rules about which parking spots are for residents and which ones are meant for visitors. Be sure to park in the correct locations and ask family and friends to park in the designated areas. In addition, be sure that work trucks such as cable and repairmen park in places that are not intruding on others.

If you’re new to your HOA board or looking to move into an HOA community, be sure to get a list of all the rules to be sure you do not face a fine or written violation.

Managing Cars and Parking Facilities in Condos

The demand for parking has increased dramatically over the past few years. In fact, the city of Boston and the surrounding communities have been ranked as some of the worst places to find parking. Despite the newer parking apps and a pilot parking program called “Performance Parking,”  finding a spot within the city and near your condo or living quarters is a near impossible feat. That is why, when a condo or association offers parking spots, they are considered priceless.

Managing these highly coveted parking spots does take planning and supervision. There are inevitably battles over spaces, guest parking and the size of spots that can be a source of constant headaches. Each association deals with these issues in varying ways with some commonalities. For example, most condo units that are lucky enough to come with a parking spot are usually either considered deeded parking, assigned parking spaces, or some are first-come, first served. Some condo associations determine the proximity of the spots and the number of spots based on the unit’s number of bedrooms, seniority or fee structure. The means by which each parking spot is allocated will somewhat determine how to solve parking issues that come up over the years.

Each condominium association will normally have what is called CC&Rs which stands for covenants, conditions, and restrictions. These clearly spell out the parking guidelines and rules for each unit. Depending upon your association’s rules, issues such as snow removal, security, larger cars, visitor parking, and commercial vehicle parking should be clearly understandable. If a rule is violated there could be complaints filed and fines assigned to each infraction or potentially a loss of assigned space.

Special circumstances are also an occasional issue when it comes to managing parking spaces within a condo association. If a unit owner is dealing with a disability and proves the medical need to be parked closer to an elevator or ramp then the community will need to deal with rearranging the parking in order to accommodate the owner. In addition, with the dawn of hybrid cars, many condo owners are now requesting that there be spaces designated as charging stations that can be used to power up their vehicles. Finally, seasonal issues may also come up where a unit owner needs to park an RV or boat for a short time. All of these issues are something your condo association or your property management company should be able to mediate and safeguard.

Thayer Associates are experts in managing and resolving parking disputes. We understand the value of a clean, well-maintained parking spot. We also know that commuters in our region face tight quarters and weather that sometimes is not cooperative. Questions? Call Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.

 

Thinking about Joining the Condo Board?

Are you a born leader and want to get more involved in your community? Want to have a say in what happens to the finances, rules, and maintenance at your community? Being a part of the Homeowners Association Board may be the right fit for you.

A homeowners association is the cornerstone of a planned residential community. Properly run, the board can promote a feeling of community and keep things running in a way that community members would like. This is especially true of the common areas and services offered at many condo associations. Board members can decide to improve areas, change rules, and offer incentives for long-term residents.

There are usually four main board members positions: the president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. Together they usually serve without compensation unless the bylaws of the community allow it.

If you are considering becoming a part of your condo board, here are just a few of the job responsibilities you may find yourself taking part in.

Budgets and Finances

Board members should be very familiar with the finances that run your community. This means understanding the governing documents including the bylaws of your association. The board must decide what are the necessary expenses and costs of operation and administration, plus a reasonable reserve for capital repairs and emergency events. The board will then adopt a budget and collect assessments from the homeowners. In a way, an HOA is merely a way for the homeowners to pay for the various expenses of operating the property including the pool, gym, tennis courts or other services that your association provides. Most importantly when it comes to finances, a board provides adequate insurance coverage, as required by the bylaws and local governmental agencies.

Rules and Bylaws

While enforcing the rules of your community may not sound fun, it really is in the best interest of everyone if these rules are followed. Most of the time the job just entails passing rules and advertising the rules. On occasion, however, homeowners must be reminded in writing of the rules that are being broken and what the consequences will be. Even more rarely, a board member will need to authorize legal action against owners who do not comply with the rules.

Maintain Common Areas

Board members have the duty of making sure that the areas that all residents use are kept safe and clean. That may mean prioritizing maintenance work, budgeting for larger projects, and allowing for regular inspections. A board that is well put together can avoid crisis events if a maintenance schedule is carefully followed.

Are you looking for what a board’s legal responsibilities may be? Follow the link, or contact Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480, or visit our website.

 

The Importance of Proactive Property Maintenance

Isn’t it great when everything in your condo works well and runs smoothly? Yeah, we think so too! No one wants to be living in a building where the elevator is under repair, the pool is closed again, or the grounds look disheveled. That’s why we advocate for proactive property maintenance and here is why.

What is Proactive Property Maintenance?

Managing a community is tough work. It takes diligence, communication, and a whole lot of patience. In our world, there are some managers who are reactive and some that are proactive. The former simply waits for something to happen and then takes action. The latter takes the initiative to recognize when an issue is brewing and acts to fix things before they actually become a problem.

Avoid Crisis Mode

Every condo community has its fair share of emergencies. A cracked pipe, broken water heater, or furnace that quits in the middle of the night are usually the culprits. Most of these cannot be foreseen unless the manager has some sort of sixth sense. But there are some events that can be avoided if regular maintenance is conducted. Annual inspections and repairs should be done on all utilities that the condo association is responsible for. By keeping a watchful eye on these services and equipment, property managers will be able to anticipate that a problem is forming and avoid the crisis mode that sometimes occurs when an emergency pops up.

Reduce Overall Costs

Let’s face it, repairs can get costly especially if the fix happens in an emergency setting where help needs to arrive during off-hours. Being proactive about pool maintenance, elevator inspections, and other condo utilities can mean savings for the association and eventually the condo owners themselves. Remember that emergency calls cost more than regular maintenance.

Access to the Best Contractors

Sometimes when an association is known for reacting to one “fire” after another they can get a reputation as being hard to work with. Condo associations that are proactive and plan ahead tend to get access to the better contractors who have “been around the block” and know a thing or two about staying on top of repairs and annual maintenance.

Does your condo association react or are they more proactive? Saving money, better access to assistance, and saving yourself from crisis mode is a way to keep your community happy. Check out some of our services that can help your community. Call Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.

 

Protecting Association Data from Cyber Crimes

In our last blog we examined the physical security needs of homeowners associations and how screening, communication, surveillance, and access limitations can bring peace of mind to homeowners. This week, we are looking at some of the steps an HOA and Condo associations can protect their communities from cyber crimes.

Think about all the information that a condo association has at its fingertips. The data kept for Board of Director purposes and billing purposes may include each homeowner’s name, address, phone number, email, bank check routing number, tax information, credit card number, and probably social security number.

Given the scope and depth of the data that a homeowners association has, it would stand to reason that there would be many layers of security to protect that data. Unfortunately, many HOAs do not have the resources to protect sensitive data as they should.

Knowing that defenses may be down in a small business like an HOA, hackers have been known to attack in some common ways. Here are a few questions to consider when arranging your HOA cybersecurity measures.

Who should have access to the data?

Cyber experts believe that HOA boards should determine exactly who can gain access to sensitive data and who will not be given access. Keep the list of people who will have access to only those who will need it to deal with finances and condo owner issues. In addition, HOAs should limit where the data can be accessed. Unfortunately, an association’s odds of falling victim to a successful data breach increase every time someone downloads association information and stores it on their personal computer.

 

Is there an IT consultant who can help?

Every HOA should have an expert they can call upon when there are questions about things like firewalls, dual authentication, passwords, backups, and how to maintain security for the HOA server. An HOA can hire IT experts on a full-time basis, or as contractors. This person can train personnel as to what to look for in suspect or malicious emails, viruses, and security breaches.

 

What type of cyber insurance does your HOA have?

Board members for your HOA should routinely check with their condo insurance broker about the community’s potential cyber risks and what type of cyber insurance coverage may be appropriate for your association. Known also as cyber liability, cyber risk, or data breach insurance, this type of liability insurance protects the HOA in the event of data breaches, viruses, network attacks, computer theft, and other losses or compromises of the HOA’s computers, network, or websites.

Cybercriminals only need to see a small vulnerability to make their way into your HOA data. Do you have a strong security protocol for your association? For more information contact Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.

 

How Secure Is Your Homeowners Community?

New England, and Boston in particular, is a pretty safe place to call home. Unfortunately, no community is immune to crime. Burglars are always looking for vulnerabilities and cracks in security systems to infiltrate and take advantage. This is true in single-family residences, apartments, and condos as well. Security, therefore, is one of the main tasks of a solid homeowners association.

If you live in a condo in the Boston area or in the surrounding communities, how secure do you feel your condo association is? Do you feel safe walking at night, visiting common areas, or navigating the parking lot? These are all things that can point to good security within an association. Let’s take a closer look at some of the security protocols your association can and should be maintaining for the safety of all who live in your community.

 

Smoke, Fire, and CO

It is imperative that an association understand and maintain these three security practices when designing and building a condo complex. It is the board’s duty to maintain, repair, and replace common area security for smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detection. Compliance for these fundamental security steps is mandated both locally and federally.

Screening Vendors

Most condo associations have common areas that are maintained by outside vendors. For example, vendors are used to maintain elevators, landscaping, pools, gyms, and gardens, as well as to paint, and repair the exterior areas. HOAs should regularly screen the vendors to make sure they have the proper permitting, licensing, and insurance. Many HOAs make it a policy to inform owners when a vendor will be on the property and for what reason. This screening and communication can give owners a sense of security when they find repair personnel around the grounds of their building.

 

Access and Surveillance

No one likes a security camera watching them at every turn, but they are a big deterrent for criminals who do not want to see their crime on the nightly news or social media. Surveillance cameras can be a great deterrent in both interior and exterior common areas. In addition, many HOAs have access keypads that make common areas accessible to only community members. Include well-lit walkways, driveways, and ancillary parking lots and condo owners will have peace of mind when they are at home.

What are some of the security protocols that your association uses? What protocols do you feel are missing. Join in the conversation in the comments below. The next blog will take a closer look at digital security for association data. If you have questions about security in your HOA, call Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.