Three options for homeowners in a weak homeowners association

Reader Question: We have a weak homeowners association board. Our homeowner’s association (HOA) has bylaws. The HOA is not proactive in enforcing them and has allowed residents to violate, only addressing the violations if someone files a complaint. This refusal to proactively monitoring property conditions puts the complaining homeowner in harm’s way by exposing them to acts of retribution by the offending unit owner or their associates. How can I get the board to take responsibility and be proactive in protecting property owners by monitoring and enforcing the bylaws for which we pay a yearly-required fee?

Monty’s Answer: You indicate the board is not active in enforcing the by-laws. You also suggest they do enforce the bylaws when a formal complaint is registered and that the offenders then somehow punish the complaining resident. It is unclear how many units are in the HOA. It also unclear what “acts of retribution” entails. Assuming your assessment of the situation is accurate, you have detected a sign of an uneducated and weak board, and in addition to the fear of retribution, their actions may also affect the marketability of units in the association.

Some background

Depending on the source, 2016 estimates of the numbers of HOA’s that exist in the United States is nearing 350,000 and expanding as new communities develop. The majority of these common-interest communities are homeowners associations, followed by condominium communities, and a small percentage of cooperatives. Volunteers guide the vast majority of these common-interest communities.

There are trade organizations that have organized in response to the need for education and training within these HOA’s. They offer a variety of resources to help foster professionalism, effective leadership, and responsible citizenship. Learn more about these organizations with an internet search for “HOA membership groups.”

Consider the following action plan

  • Identify other unit owners that share your frustration. This first step is important for multiple reasons. It is a reality check on your perception. If you cannot muster support, it may mean others do not envision the issue as you do. This step also helps determine if there is enough support to wage a campaign for change. Finally, the larger the percentage of unit owners who are also concerned means help with the legwork involved and potential out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Organizing other supporters is important because votes will be necessary to effect change. Invite a handful of unit owners who show interest to join you for coffee. Either in your home or at a nearby coffee shop. Present your thoughts in a concise fashion and go around the table seeking reactions. The assumption here is that you have already voiced your concerns to the board and the president, and they have taken no action. This attitude could change if the request is no longer a lone voice.
  • Meet with the board. One possibility is that the same group that is intimidating the unit owners filing complaints is also intimidating the HOA board. The board may be unable to reach consensus, so they do nothing. Many associations have committees that share the responsibilities of carrying out different obligations of the board. Bylaw enforcement is just one function that is often delegated to make the association stronger and also provides a potential source of future leaders. Your new group should try to understand the board’s motivation and work with them to solve the problem. Learn if they will establish a committee and give it the power to act.

Upon further review

Once you can gauge the interest level of other unit owners and possibly get an opinion from an attorney skilled in HOA law, you can decide what course of action makes the most sense. Here are your three basic options:

  1. Invest no energy in the situation. Take the position that you will accept the fact the unit owners are not at your level of expectations and do not want a change. If this is true, you may be fighting a losing battle. It could be a situation where it is prudent to acquiesce rather than try to beat them.
  2. Organize the members to oust the current board. Campaign with other HOA members to remove the current board to get things done. Consider an action like this only if the support for change is widespread.
  3. Consider relocating to an environment with owners sharing similar expectations. Do the math. It may be easier and far less stressful to spend your time relocating to a new environment.