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.

 

Selling Your Condo? Learn How Paint Can Help!

Looking to sell your condo and want to get the best price possible without breaking the bank on improvements? Paint may be just the trick that can help you sell fast and for the price you want.

According to online real estate listings like Zillow, there are 920 condos for sale in and around Boston (as of this writing). With the median price of single home properties has increased by 44% in the past five years, many young people are hoping to step into the real estate market through a condominium purchase.

This is good news for Bostonians hoping to sell. However, there are still some things that you can do to help make your condo stand out from the rest when potential buyers come for an open house. If renovating your kitchen or bath is not in the cards due to budget or time, then paint may be a great option to make your condo look and feel fresh and new.

Painting is one of the less expensive and most impactful improvements you can make as you prepare your condo to sell. Here is why:

Fresh Paint Gives Positive First Impressions

A fresh coat of paint can be a positive first impression to house hunters. The largest square space of any home are the walls and ceilings. If there are chips, stains, scuff marks, or peeling paint, the potential buyer could be turned off. A new coat of paint can give a room a new look that appeals to many buyers. Making a good first impression is important since most buyers make up their minds within the first few minutes if they are even going to consider your condo a potential option.

Fresh Paint Means A Well Maintained Home

Paint has a way of conveying a message to potential buyers that the home is well maintained if it shows no signs of wear-and-tear. Buyers like to know that the interior of a condo has been properly cared for and well-painted walls, ceilings, and trim communicate that message clearly.

Proper Colors Let in Natural Light

House hunters today are looking for light and airy spaces to call their own. Even if your condo is not especially light-filled or airy, paint can help make it feel that way. Choosing light or neutral colors can lighten up a space, and make it feel more open. Cover up dark paints that can close in a room or make it feel dated or small.

Paint Appeals to a Wide Range of Tastes

In order to make your house appeal to a large number of potential homebuyers, painting interior walls with neutral paint colors is advisable. Neutral colors like white, beige, tan, and cream provide a blank canvas for homebuyers. Try not to pick a color that is trendy, or may be off-putting to certain groups. Outdated paint colors negatively affect the overall appeal of your real estate property, so a new coat of paint modernizes and updates your home.

While it is hard to estimate the return on your investment when it comes to painting, realtors do agree that it is worth the time, effort, and cost to have a fresh coat of paint on the interior of your condo before placing that for sale ad. Check with your association and your realtor before beginning any improvements so you can make the most of your budget and efforts.

Selling? Check Out These Condo Staging Tips

Spring is prime time for selling in the Boston area, so this month we are focused on helping our association members take steps to sell their condos. The guidelines for staging your home or a condo are fairly similar with a few notable exceptions. Here are a few of our tips on how you could stage your condo to sell as quickly as possible and get the price you want.

Boost Your Curb Appeal

As a condo owner, you don’t have a whole lot of control over the appearance of the outside of your building, but you can do a few things that can make your condo stand out. For example, make sure your entranceway is well maintained, clean, and well lit. This may mean a few potted plants or even a welcome sign that could perk up the entrance to your condo. If lighting or cleanliness is a problem, inform your association that lighting or cleaning is being requested.

Declutter

Practically all realtors and home staging experts will tell you to declutter your condo. This will make the space look larger, more open, and allow house hunters to easily envision their furnishings in the space. If you need to, place boxes of your items in a short term storage container to keep the area looking clean and uncluttered. Remove personal photos and keepsakes that may distract the potential buyers from seeing the space.

Arrange Furnishings

Arrange your chairs, tables, and couches so that the rooms flow easily and the condo shows as open as possible. This may mean removing some furnishings so your space looks more open or rearranging where the items currently reside.

Open the Closets

Storage sells! Take a long hard look at all of the items in your closet. Are there items you could donate or pack up before you have an open house? If so then clean out that closet as much as possible. Potential buyers like to see open space when it comes to storage.

Stage Your Extra Room

If you use an extra room as an office, a den, or something else, it may be worth it to stage it as a bedroom so that buyers can see that your space can be used for such a purpose. Don’t let home buyers get confused about the purpose or potential purpose of each room.

Clean, Clean, Clean

Before any open house or walk through, clean every room. This includes the showers, sinks, and toilets so that they sparkle. A clean house sends a message that the home has been well maintained.

Set the Table

Whether you have an eat-in kitchen or a formal dining room, set the table like you have company  coming. Show off your best dishes and stemware so that the rooms look inviting and welcoming.

Let There Be Light

Open the window curtains and turn on the lights before each open house so the rooms look light and open. Don’t forget, if you are opening shades and curtains, wash the windows so that streaks and smudges don’t distract the homebuyers.

Need more help staging your condo for sale? HGTV and other online sources give so many amazing and simple ideas that can help your condo sell fast and at the price you want.

HOA and Individual Insurance

No one ever thinks about insurance policies until an accident or injury happens. Then recovery and rebuilding rely upon the coverage you have. Living in a community means there are two types of insurance that homeowners should worry about: association insurance and individual insurance on the unit. Let’s take a closer look at “who covers what” when it comes to insurance coverage within an association.

What is a Master Policy?

Living in an apartment complex, condominium unit, or townhouse potentially means that you are part of an association otherwise known as a homeowners association or HOA. Many HOAs carry what’s known as a “master policy.” Generally, the Master Policy has “walls-out” coverage for all units in the building.

What is Covered Under a Walls-Out Master Policy?

This type of policy typically provides coverage for both physical damage and personal injuries. Items that are usually covered in an insurance policy of this kind may include damage to the parts of the property shared by all owners, such as roofs, common walls, lobbies or atriums, stairways, elevators, basements, fitness centers and pools, ponds or lakes, playgrounds, and clubhouses. The damage could be caused by Mother Nature, vandals, theft, or even homeowners who have experienced an accident. The governing documents of your specific HOA should state exactly which areas the HOA master policy insures.

Personal injuries that occur in the common areas and amenity areas are also usually covered under the master policy. For example, if someone slips and falls in the pool area or is injured in an elevator, those injuries would be most likely covered under the HOA master policy.

What Should Individuals Insure for their Units?

Individual homeowners need to insure only their own unit. While the master insurance covers the basic building(s) such as walls, roof, floors, and elevators, it leaves to the unit owner the responsibility of insurance appliances, carpeting, cabinets, wall coverings, and other items in the unit. Individual insurance should also cover personal property including clothing, jewelry, electronics, and upgrades you’ve made to your unit.

Using the same company that insures the master policy for your HOA as your individual insurance for your unit may have some advantages in that the company will easily be able to spot gaps in insurance. If you are not using the same company, you and your insurance specialist will want to take 

a close look and consider what is left out or what not to buy duplicate coverage for.

Do you have questions about what is covered and by whom? Call Thayer Associates at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.

Questions to Ask your Homeowners Association

If you are getting ready to buy a condominium, townhouse, or a unit within an apartment complex, you will benefit from having fewer responsibilities of property upkeep than many single-family homes require.

No whittling away your weekends mowing the lawn, or watering the grass when you live in a planned community. There are many positive aspects of living within a Homeowners Association (HOA).

There are, however, rules that you may be bound to follow legally under your particular association’s bylaws. Before you buy a home that makes you part of an HOA, here’s a list of questions you may want to ask before you sign on the dotted line:

Rules will vary according to the location, amenities, and management requirements of your specific HOA, but, in general, you will want to know about these main categories.

Moving In With Pets/Service Animals

Are there pet restrictions? For example, are certain pets allowed while others are not? If pets such as dogs and cats are allowed, there may be a weight limit, breed requirement, and/or specific restrictions of where the pet can be within the association. Registered service animals are protected by disability laws, so be sure to have the appropriate paperwork if you have a service animal.

Homeowner Association Parking Rules

How many parking spaces are given? Ask questions about what spots are considered yours and which are meant for guests only. Do you have an assigned space for your car or is it a first-come, first-served policy? In addition, you will want to ask about the snow plowing and regular maintenance that will be done in the parking lots or garages. If you have a boat or RV, you will want to ask if there are special parking facilities that you may access.

Financial and Legal Questions for HOA

As you consider buying into a community, you will want to know if there any current litigations pending involving the HOA. If so, what are those litigations? You will also want to know how often the homeowner’s dues have been raised and what the current homeowner’s dues are.

Inquire About Smoking Rules

If you smoke or vape, you will want to find out what rules apply to your association and to your individual unit. Questions you would ask include finding out where smoking is permitted and restricted. Are there smoking regulations in common areas such as the gym, pool, or lounge? Concerning individual units, are there any restrictions for smoking including on unit patios.

Decor Rules

Many condo associations have certain rules that limit the number and type of outdoor decorations. If you’re someone who loves to decorate inside and out when the holidays come around, you’ll want to ask what rules apply before you move into a HOA.

Guest Requirements

Many people who live in an association love the amenities such as the pool or gym. Be sure to find out what the guest rules are that would allow you to have a friend or family member use the facilities.

Ensure Your Privacy

When living in an association, many people worry about their privacy and how they will get along with neighbors. Ask about the soundproofing between units, and what to do if there is a noise complaint or neighbor dispute.

Master Insurance

No one wants to think about the worst case scenario, but you will want to ask about the master insurance in the case of a fire or a liability. Emergency preparedness is important. Before making a condo purchase offer, you are entitled to a copy of the latest financial statement for the complex to check the reserves, annual income, and expenses.

For over 30 years Thayer Associates has been providing property management, maintenance management, financial services, and governance services for associations in the greater Boston region. If you have questions about our company or your potential purchase, contact us today at 617-354-6480 or visit our website.

The Worry of Water Damage in Your Condo

New England has its fair share of wet weather to deal with, from rainstorms in the spring, summer, and fall, to ice storms and mounds of snow in the winter. Add in issues of frozen pipes, aerial flooding, coastal flooding, and water/sewer backups, and “Earth’s most abundant resource” (water) can quickly become a huge problem. Water damage is a common and tricky issue that homeowners all over our region deal with no matter the season. Let’s take a closer look at the questions to consider when trying to determine where responsibility may lie.

Whether it is a small “drip, drip, drip,” or a larger “gussssh,” the problems related to water damage can be one of the more complex issues when it comes to living within an association. There is often a fine line that determines who is responsible when it comes to water damage. Determining who is liable for the damage means taking into account several factors such as the root cause of the damage, the location, and insurance guidelines. The general rule of thumb for HOA repairs versus homeowner repairs are usually differentiated based on whether the damage is to the exterior of the building or the interior. Unfortunately, many cases of water damage tend to start on the exterior of a building and work their way inward. This makes it difficult to decide where to draw the line. The answer, then, to the complex question is often found within the governing documents of the condominium association.

Questions to Consider:

While it is difficult to discern specifically who would be responsible for what in this blog, there are some questions you will want to consider.

  1. Where in the condominium complex did the water damage occur? For instance, did the leak happen in a common area such as a hallway, stairwell, lounge, or gym? Normally, this would be covered by the HOA.
  2. What was the ultimate cause of the water damage? For example, did your toilet back up or a pipe burst in your condo unit? In that instance, your condo insurance will most likely be the one to contact about repairs, not the HOA. If the water damage is caused by a roof malfunction the HOA would probably be responsible for the outside damage and then determine if interior damage will be the responsibility of your insurance or the association.
  3. What is covered and what is not? Before you buy into a condo association, always ask what may or may not be covered. For example, would water damage be covered from a flood? Who would handle the financial responsibility if a leak originated in another unit and spilled over into yours? What would be the deductible in the case that the leak originated within my unit?

The answer to these questions and who is responsible for water damages is unique to each association. Be sure to review your copy of the master insurance as well as your own condo insurance. Any questions? Contact Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.

 

Pets and Service Animals within your Association

If you have a pet, you know that they are, “one of the family” in many ways. Nothing compares to coming home to a loyal companion who can bring comfort, security and, of course, unconditional love. But what if you live in a condominium that is run by a homeowners association (HOA)? Their job is to create pet policies that will benefit the group as a whole. Let’s take a closer look at what issues you may be dealing with in your HOA when it comes to common household pets as well as service animals.

Common Household Pets:

A typical homeowners association and the property management team that handles the maintenance, financing, and insurance for your place of residence will usually have a pet policy in place that will guide owners. The policies usually include rules that address:

  • The type and number of pets allowed in an association.
  • The size and breed allowances of each pet.
  • Guidelines on pets being spayed or neutered.
  • Guidelines on pets being up-to-date on all vaccinations and health exams.
  • Rules for outside areas that can be used and guidelines for picking up and disposing of pet waste.
  • Requirements that pets be on-leash while outdoors and meet all municipal rules and regulations.

In addition to these considerations, management will have guidelines on what to do if a pet causes damage, excessive noise or becomes a nuisance to other pets or condo owners. There will probably also be rules about pet identification and registration of new pets within the association.

Service Animals:

There are other considerations when it comes to service animals: pets that work, provide assistance, or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. Under the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), a disabled person may use or seek to use an assistance animal in housing where the provider (the association) forbids residents from having pets or otherwise imposes restriction or conditions relating to pets and other animals.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a memo about when it comes to the question of a service animal. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the regulations narrow the definition of service animal specifically to dogs.  “Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals.” Additionally, the definition of “service animal” excludes emotional support animals.

Creating a pet policy that is fair to all who live within the association is fairly straightforward and requires making rules that are fair and enforceable. Legal assistance may be necessary when making accommodations for homeowners who wish to apply for a service animal exception.

 

Resources:

The Human Society Guidelines for Pets in HoAs

Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA)

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Are You a Good Neighbor?

Living in an association, whether it is a co-op or a condominium association, can be wonderful as there are usually many shared amenities like pools, tennis courts, walking paths, and community clubhouses where unit owners can schedule gatherings. There are also seasonal advantages such as always having landscaping that is well manicured and walkways and parking lots are plowed and treated when the snow storms hit. The benefits of living in a community far outweigh the occasional nuisance behaviors that can pop up when people live in close proximity to their neighbors. That is why we have put together this guide, and continue to post on our social media, ways that you can be a “good neighbor.”

Reduce Excessive Noise

Common hallways, amenity areas, and parking lots can seem like areas where you can talk louder than normal or, if you have children, let them run around and play a bit. Try to be sensitive about your noise level and at what hour you are making the noise.

Use Common Areas Responsibly

If you share a laundry facility, hallway, pool deck, or even an outdoor seating area, be especially respectful when using the facility. That means pick up after yourself, use the furnishings carefully, and treat equipment knowing that others will want to use it after you.

Take Care of Your Trash

While it might be tempting to put your trash outside the door of your unit, in order to remember to bring it out later, it could become a problem. The smell or sight of your lingering trash bag could be a nuisance to your neighbors. In general, it is a good idea to put the filled trash bags into the trash bins immediately for health and pest control reasons.

Park Respectfully

We know that New England in the winter can mean snow-covered lots. But whenever possible, park in the right spot and allow for space for your neighboring cars to get in and out easily. If you have guests visiting, remind them of the proper places to park their cars.

Clean Up After Your Pets

If you live in an association where pets are allowed, be sure to pick up after your dog. Keep your pet on a leash and encourage good behavior by not allowing him/her to jump on neighbors or bark excessively.

Being a good neighbor is easy if you follow the golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated. Here at Thayer Associates, we handle many aspects of being a good neighbor with our property management. From online association services to community building services, we offer a host of ways to make your living community happy, safe, and well maintained. If you are searching for a property management team, contact Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.

 

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 nearly 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 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.