10 Lessons for Community Association Directors

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By Mary M. Howell, Esq.

Over the last 40 years of representing associations, I have had many occasions to counsel boards in the midst, or right on the edge, of association meltdowns.
Here are 10 lessons I have shared with directors over the past:

  1. If you think it could land you on the 6 o’clock news, think again.
  2. Every homeowner confronted with a breach of the CC&Rs is convinced the board is ONLY pursuing him/her, not the neighbors who are doing the same thing…
    Your job is to let that owner know that the board is prepared to pursue all violators. Particularly if names and addresses are provided… and then to explain patiently that you are not going to share the prurient details with one and all.
  3. Directors, don’t have private conversations with members.  
    One or both of you are going to hear and remember selectively, and possibly incorrectly.
  4. No good turn goes un-stoned. 
    If you lean over backwards to help someone, that’s going to be misinterpreted as unfairly favoring one homeowner over another.
  5. “Transparency” for the sake of transparency isn’t always a good idea.  
    Some aspects of association governance are SUPPOSED to be confidential, usually to protect the association from getting sued for something. It is no secret that crowds cannot keep one.
  6. Avoid conflict.  
    The wise man always does, until the insult cannot be borne at risk of damage to all. A soft word turns away wrath. Don’t stoke the fires of dissent. Make peace, not war.  Those are all ways of saying, ‘Litigation is not healthy for children and other living things.’ PS, it’s ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS expensive and should be regarded as a last resort.
  7. Always curtsy, it gives one time to think. 
    Borrowed loosely from Lewis Carroll. The idea is this: no one, not even highly paid professionals, come up with the perfect riposte while under fire. You won’t serve yourself or your community very well if you open mouth before engaging brain.

    Just say, “a serious accusation/question/concern such as this deserves an equally serious response. We will investigate the matter carefully and advise you of our findings.”

  8. It takes TWO to tango.  
    You have to know how and when to engage. Don’t be provoked into a nasty or heated reply just because the speaker gets carried away, because you will not win. Let the speaker finish. If you can reply briefly and effectively, with facts to document your answer, then do so. Otherwise, DON’T engage. Simply note, at the end of a tirade, “Obviously we disagree. I’ll respond at length shortly. Let’s move on.”
  9. If a meeting is getting out of hand, recess briefly, and LEAVE THE ROOM.  
    After the recess is over, if the meeting is STILL nasty, consider a motion to adjourn.  You’re a volunteer, for Pete’s sake.  Neither law nor fiduciary duty requires you to put life and limb at risk.
  10. Remember what it’s about: Service.  
    Service to the entire community, given freely and responsibly.  Not ego, not proving something (or proving someone else is wrong.)  Service always comes at a cost, by the way. Too often, the only thanks you will get is found under “T” in the dictionary.  But that’s what you signed on for. The people worth helping in the community will know the truth of the matter.

    There’s a saying in my husband’s country: ‘A good horse kicks up dust.’ If you have provoked the naysayers in your association to protest, it’s because you were brave enough to take a stand. The satisfaction of knowing that might not do away with the nastiness you endure, but who ever said doing the right thing would be easy?