A Guide to Self-Management
Over half of the community associations throughout the United States are self-managed. Furthermore, that number is rising because of increased foreclosures, nemployment, and the general downturn of the economy. Geographical areas experiencing extensive foreclosures often must choose between paying a monthly management fee and street lighting. If you are one of those communities, you will likely benefit from this article, A Guide to Self-Management. Over the next several issues, I will be providing information to assist those leaders that actively manage their association as well as those boards that are considering self-management.
Ultimately, the purpose of association management is twofold: first, is the protection, maintenance, and if enhancement of the value of homes within your neighborhood. Running the business of the association and the enforcement of its deed restrictions come next. This means that successful association management is much more than keeping the road cleans, the flowers fresh, and the entryway pristine.
My use of the term documents shall refer to bylaws, articles of incorporation, and Covenants for some and declaration of condominiums for others.
First, let us define self-management:
- A community without a manager or management company
- A community with a manager but without a management company
- A community with an accountant or accounting service only
- A community that managed entirely by volunteers.
Where does the board begin? The answer is with your association documents, which I will now define. Every association has a master set of covenants or a declaration of condominium. These coupled with a set of bylaws and articles of incorporation are your documents.
So make friends, snuggle up, and with a good deal of diligence, you will make your way through these tomes. The burden of understanding one’s community should fall upon the entire board, not just one. When only one understands the documents, expect that person based upon their understanding, to control or lead your community depending upon their nature and personality.
Why begin with these documents?
Herein lies the words of wisdom that the board is required to follow to manage the affairs of association. Boards have some flexibility with their management program and style, but not much.
As you read your documents, make notes on items that you question or believe are important. Do not be surprised if you find yourself more confused than informed.
In addition to the documents, the board must understand what is required of them by state statute.
Florida Statute 720 pertains to homeowner associations, FS 718 regulates condominiums, FS 723 applies to mobile homes, and FS 719 pertains to cooperatives. This is a separate bit of learning, expect it to be ongoing, and if you are fortunate to be living in Florida, there is an abundance of free education. For example, a board certification class is required of new board members in condominiums. Topics will include condominium management and operations, proper procedures for board member election, budgeting and fiscal responsibly, as well as an overview of current condominium laws to assist in the understanding of board members’ legal duties. Though geared for condominiums, there is enough general information to benefit those who live in other association communities such as HOAs, mobile home parks, etc.
A couple of times each year, most of the larger law firms sponsor seminars, which specialize in association law. In Florida, there are statutory changes each summer. Many of the firms provide legal updates at no charge, sessions on budgeting during the fall, and on elections during the spring. These firms are hoping you will remember them if there is ever a need for legal advice…and I can assure you that there will.
Seminars and self-study are an important part of learning how to self-manage; however, these resources are not sufficient for day-to-day management. One cannot wait for a seminar or wade through several publications, when a pressing matter requires action. Therefore, for those many times that you will have questions, it is important that you have a resource to draw upon when you need immediate answers. In Florida, there is the Bureau of Condominiums and DBPR who may offer general suggestions, but will not be able to interpret your association’s documents.
Unless your community has an attorney on the board, there is no way to get the free advice your board will need to manage the community. You must either consult with a management company or turn to the association’s attorney. Yes, they charge, but you have to understand your docs and education always comes with a price.
In closing, the good news is that boards that strive to learn will learn and after a few months, management will be easier. In future publications, we hope to shorten your learning curve by offering the best practices of our industry. In the next article, the topic will be resources. One needs resources to manage their community. Examples are technology, methods of communication, community volunteers…, and the list goes on. Until then…I thank you for your interest.
Bob Moyer is the President of Vanguard Management Group, Inc. in Tampa Florida and a principal of U-Manage Online, a subsidiary of Vanguard Management Group, Inc.