Those of us who've lived with community associations, whether for single-family homes or condominiums, know that there are times when change is called for. Keeping in mind that the people you are dealing with are your friends and neighbors, there are a number of things you can try before going to one of the extremes of moving or filing a lawsuit.
Most associations require a certain percentage of the board to vote to change a rule and a certain percentage of the membership to vote to change bylaws. The easiest way to change rules or bylaws in a community association is to run for election to the board of directors. If running for the board is not a possibility for you, get to know your neighbors, convince them of the need for change and start a "grassroots" movement including petitions and attendance at all board meetings.
According to Findlaw, there are over 150,000 community associations in the United States. Over 40 million of us reside in a single-family or condominium community. Community associations are established for the common benefit of all residents and any changes in the bylaws or other documents that control operations must apply to all residents equally. Get to know your association's bylaws, covenants and rules. There will be sections in your bylaws or covenants describing what steps need to be followed to change rules or the controlling document itself.
Frequently, declarations of covenants and restrictions filed by developers are written for the benefit and protection of the developer more than the residents. In order to change these covenants, check for a section within them, listing a schedule for transition of control of the board of directors from the developer to residents. These transitions are often gradual and tied to the sale of units or properties within a community. Campaign and run for a position on this board as soon as possible. First boards often determine the long-term success of a community by the rules that they adopt. Early board members often have more influence with developers when they propose changes by demonstrating the benefit to the developer in terms of making the community more marketable.
Existing bylaws and compacts need to be updated from time to time to keep up with the needs of the community and current law. As a community ages, its maintenance needs change and its population generally ages. If you are a board member in an older community association, you may want to appeal to your older members to participate in encouraging rules and programming more appropriate to their needs. If you are proposing changes in maintenence, be sure to have some expert opinion for reference.
The most common problems in community associations are poorly or vaguely written rules and management problems. Remember that rules must be reasonable and must apply to everyone in the community equally; situations, behaviors and actions should be spelled out carefully in terms of their measurable effects. Before changing management companies, always attempt mediation and avoid changing companies in mid-contract.
Property values can be damaged by over-regulation, unreasonable rules and bad management of common areas.
If your excuse for not running for a position on your board of directors is that you "don't have time", you're not serious about the change you're advocating. If meetings take too much time, the first changes you should insist on are to organize agendas, farm out committee work and enforce Robert's Rules of Order.
Homeowner and Condominium Associations are corporations, not clubs. Every resident is a shareholder. They are governed by bylaws and covenants and have financial reporting responsibilities.
The first hire any association should consider is a qualified attorney to advise the board on its legal responsibilities.
People who have never been in a position of authority and have little management experience sometimes hold community associations "hostage" by taking over on governing boards. They are generally bullies who have nothing better to do with their time. Two or three well-versed board members with management or educational credentials can usually silence the bullies if they band together, do their homework and insist on civility at meetings.
- Condominium at Night image by Nont from Fotolia.com